The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1993)

Backcover Synopsis: Jane is a changeling child, living a Dickensian nightmare, enslaved in a factory that makes terrible engines of war, the iron dragons. When she discovers a grimoire that holds the secret of the dragons’ sentience, it enables her to use one of the beasts to escape. Now bound, seemingly, to the dragon forever, Jane’s progress as a thief and outsider is set in a world rich in wild magic and sharp-edged technology, a world of sorcery, passion and deceit.

A fantasy novel that combines the grim and gritty feeling of the Victorian era with fairy tales (not the Disney ones, the ones where fairies are deadly and ambivalent). It’s a book full of neat ideas, but the best thing is the writing. At times it’s so intense that you feel as if the characters want to burst out of the pages. Swanwick conveys skillfully how the perpetual death of her friends scars Jane deeply, makes her harsh and at times cold. But I could still root for her, even for her malicious ally, the Iron Dragon. The ending was excellent, Jane’s attitude in the face of the goddess was, at least in my opinion, what the book was all about, surviving and not bowing down to the stuff life throws at you.