Marvin Kaye, editor,
The Dragon Quintet
(Tor, 2005)

Marvin Kaye doesn't mention what inspired him to collect The Dragon Quintet. Dragons have been fabled for so long that it would seem a daunting challenge to collect five tales that both honor those myths and add something new. But through the offices of the editor or the power of dragons themselves, The Dragon Quintet has brought out something special in a collection of already very solid authors.

Orson Scott Card's "Dragon House," following the adventures of a boy in his childhood home, is quiet and unsettling as a night of summer heat lightning. Almost without leaving a hallway, Card takes his flight through endless skies and alien rock gardens, creating a spell any magic-wielding dragon might envy.

The other authors give their pets more room to play. Michael Swanwick gives "King Dragon" rule of an entire country, made alien by its haunting familiarity. The nameless village of the dragon's reign is a looking glass away, the winter home of stray fairy tales that resonate without duplicating the more familiar stories. Every house in the village reveals a new bit of myth that feels too familiar to be Swanwick's invention, too new to be established folklore. The dragons are one of the least startling aspects of this story, whose dark corners beg for a deeper exploration.

Elizabeth Moon's "Judgment" illustrates the ways of dragons in a sort of shadow play, with an entire village and several kinds of fantasy folk changing their lives to please the beast, which barely makes an appearance. The dragon's mere presence in a scene is enough to explain both the importance of the dragon and the importance of their invisibility. The dragons are more physically present but less well understood in Tanith Lee's "Love in a Time of Dragons." Graphic and human to a disturbing degree, "Love in a Time of Dragons" uses its grit and fixation with the flesh to create an ethereal romance and give dark strength to medieval tales of all-consuming monsters.

Mercedes Lackey's "Joust" is rather disappointing as a study in dragons, who have so much personality throughout the other tales, but fans of her work will appreciate her usual character exploration. The dragons here are closer to trained beasts than to the alien powers of the other tales, but even such weak dragons manage to alter the world of the young serf who tends them.

Kaye spends an editorial and an afterword discussing the usual portrayals of dragons, the wise Eastern demigods and the greedy European monsters. It's a welcome relief that neither is represented in The Dragon Quintet. These dragons defy classification as intelligent being or beast, fable or mortal; and their sense of good and evil is about as relevant as the morality of a cat, or a hurricane, depending on the author. It's a richer, more nuanced and vitally convincing take on the grand old creatures. With no direct homage to the portrayals of the ages, The Dragon Quintet leaves a convincing sensation that here indeed there be dragons, in the fiery flesh and iron fantasy.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 28 May 2005

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