The Dragon Quintet
edited by Marvin Kaye
Published by Tor Books
304 pages, 2005
Reviewed by Andi Shechter
Sending me a collection of dragon novellas to read is a risky proposition. I tend to shrug off dragon stories as much as I do those tea-cozy mystery novels. I'm sure they're very nice and popular and have a lot going for them, but I tend not to like quaint. OK, I do. Sometimes. And I've read a few cozy mysteries in my day and liked 'em. And after decades, I'm still an enthusiastic fan of Le Guin's Earthsea books. And I like to think I'll at least try any book sent to me for review because there are always new authors to discover.
Elizabeth Moon got my attention in 2004 with her brilliant The Speed of Dark, a novel that I raved about. So I admit, I read her novella in The Dragon Quintet first, knowing, of course, that it would bear little resemblance to that Nebula-winning science fiction novel, but I had wanted to read something else of hers. "Judgment" satisfied, although it's not a world I normally inhabit; I confess, nowadays someone mentions trolls and rock creatures, I think "Terry Pratchett" and the magic sort of snaps. But hers was an interesting tale of truth and lies, the power of dragons and a well-realized world.
Orson Scott Card's "In the Dragon's House" succeeded at times and failed at others. I felt that, even though we're talking novella here, the framing device took away from the heart of the story. There was fun interesting stuff there, but it took me too long to get to the inner meaning of this story. I feel bad for being impatient with what was, after all, only a few pages, but maybe that's why I had problems; I knew there was only a short time to get to the heart of the tale, and it went off track. Michael Swanwick's "King Dragon" was chock full of great ideas (the fantasy dragon world where dragons are machinery as well as living beings, and technology exists and works) but again, I somehow lost interest as the story went along.
While the stories in this collection have charm, I'm not sure they'll expand the appeal of the whole dragon thing; I think this collection is aimed at those who already dig dragons. Nothing wrong with that mind you, but the pull of an anthology at times can be that it's a taste of an author's work, a glimpse into what else a writer has to offer, and I didn't feel especially pulled in by this collection. Too much "boy meets dragon, boy loses dragon" (mostly), maybe. A little too much arcane language. Given the worldwide appeal of such a mythical beast, there do seem to have been a lot of common themes here, which I wasn't expecting at all. I would have valued more variety.
The only very slightly misleading title -- which hinted to me of a connection among the stories, not just five stories about dragons -- really had as its result that for hours "She's About a Mover," by the oddly named Texas group the "Sir Douglas Quintet" floated around in my head. That and I started pondering Lawrence Durrell and wondering about The Alexandria Quartet (and other jazz ensem ... no no no). No one's fault, exactly -- sometimes, I'm just easily influenced. But I do appreciate the urbandragons comic strip that editor Kaye steered me to in his Afterword. | February 2005
Andi Shechter has been a publicist, chat host, interviewer, convention-planner, essayist and reviewer. She lives in Seattle with far too many books, an old-but-cute purple computer, not enough soft toys (including a small but select hedgehog and gorilla collection), many figure skating videotapes and an esoteric collection of hot sauces. There's a Hugo Award on her mantelpiece which belongs to her partner, cartoonist and artist Stu Shiffman.