What fantasies need above all is depth, the sense of a complete world with its own rules, and Mr. Swanwick’s creation has this more than any other fantasy world since Tolkien’s Middle-earth. But because of bleed-over, it’s tantalizing: Just one more clue, you think, and I can figure this out . . . Meanwhile you’re there with the crones and the luck-eaters, the glamours and the geases, the haughty elf-dowagers and the strange artifacts left over from Creation. It is, in every sense, a fantastic achievement.
At first, Swanwick’s technique of peppering his version of Faerie with familiar names and products along with the more traditional furniture of dragons, mermaids, haints, invisibility wards, and such may seem whimsical, but whimsy is never the point; it’s more like an assertion of writerly authority, a reminder that he, and not our expectation, is driving this vehicle. If there were a slogan for Swanwick’s approach to fantasy, it could just as well be 'Why Not?' When it comes to characters, family relationships, and the manipulations of power, though, he plays it straight: no one is allowed to be a cartoon, though some—like the trickster Raven who assists the protagonist here—fill archetypal roles. The story opens fully grounded in our own world ... The dragons themselves get relatively little time onstage, but the irresistible appeal of Swanwick’s version of Faerie, along with his usual skill at drawing vividly complex and conflicted characters trying to solve a mystery whose stakes keep spiraling outward, lend the novel a density and texture that seems a bit surprising, considering all the fun we’re having along the way.
The Iron Dragon’s Mother is the rare feminist fantasy novel by a man. The author is well aware of the many terrible things males...do, and he doesn’t shy away from depicting them. The women Swanwick depicts are strong and clever, but they’re not necessarily good. They’re neither plaster saints nor parody whores; they’re flawed individuals ... The Iron Dragon’s Mother is gritty, but the grittiness isn’t the sort that characterizes the 'grimdark' school of fantasy. Every obscenity in Swanwick’s Faerie has its counterpart on Earth ... Swanwick is as economical with words as he is profligate with effects: He doesn’t over-explain, confident as he is that the details he seeds will blossom into an entire world in his readers’ imaginations. There’s enough invention in this one volume to stock whole shelves, but Swanwick works by implication, not elaboration ... This is one of the best fantasies of the year[.]
The scintillating narrative, sprinkled with black humor, bulges with symbols and allusions to topics in science, alchemy, magic, folklore, mythology, fantasy/science fiction, and literature ... A few signs warn that Swanwick's extraordinary inventiveness may be running down, with recycled characters and scenarios and too-frequent passages where descriptions lapse into itemized recitations, like laundry lists. Still, these are minor blemishes in what is primarily another bravura performance, with a surprise ending that, after a moment's reflection, isn't so surprising after all. Discworld meets Faust. They do not like each other. Philip Pullman picks up the pieces.
Traveling through a vast, dark faerie world, Swanwick’s gripping sequel to 1993’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter poetically tells the tale of a dragon pilot who’s running from accusations of crimes she didn’t commit ... This epic is full of carefully crafted lands, characters, and creatures, and readers will savor each page.