Title: The Dragons of Babel
Author: Michael Swanwick
Publishing: Tor Fantasy; Reprint edition (April 28, 2009)
Grade Level: 11+
Awards: 2009 Alex Award
Summary: Will le Fey has a secret, a power within him that he doesn’t understand. As he travels from his home in the countryside to the magical but industrially decadent Babel he encounters politically minded dwarves, elitist elves, time traveling witch women and host of others. Once there he’ll have to grapple with who he was, who he has become and the dragon within.
Comments: Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy that blends fantasy with science fiction in that it usually takes place in the late 19th century and veers into “what would happen if” storylines that change history and feature steam powered technology. The Dragons of Babel fits into this sub-genre because it blends the magic of Middle Earth and Camelot with current technologies. If New York were the home of elves, drarves and centaurs and had an industrial revolution and then developed for half a century it would be Babel.
With that being said the novel is layered and the story complicated. This would not be something that reluctant reader would be able to handle nor would it be something that I would recommend to someone who wasn’t extremely interested in Fantasy. The characters are well-developed and there seem to be quite a few very strong women portrayed in the novel, but there are downsides. Sometimes the juxtaposition of modern technology and magic can be unsettlingly odd. There is also an otherness to some of the characters that reeks of subtle racism. Of course they’re not really races they’re ogres or haints (dark ghostlike characters that smoke, gamble, talk jive, wear gold teeth, walk through walls and are literally called “spooks”) but the imagery is again, unsettling.
The descriptions are vivid and the language is sophisticated, but there is quite a bit of gratuitous sex that I would recommend school librarians taking a good look at before blindly placing it on the shelves.
Georgia Performance Standards:
ELA9RC1 The student reads a minimum of 25 grade-level appropriate books or book equivalents (approximately 1,000,000 words) per year from a variety of subject disciplines. The student reads both informational and fictional texts in a variety of genres and modes of discourse, including technical texts related to various subject areas.
- Have students discuss the merits of the steampunk genre and how it blends fantasy, science fiction, and history.
- Have students discuss and create their own genre by blending exisiting literary themes. Have each student write a one paragraph description of a novel within this novel and then discuss the plausibility or readablity of each.