THE BOOK OF DRAGONS
Edited by Jonathan Strahan
Harper Voyager/Paperback/576 pages/$26.77/Available at bit.ly/BookoDragons_JS
3 1/2 stars
Anthologies are like sampler platters, with authors taking turns to serve up a fresh, bite-sized twist on a classic dish. Occasionally, each morsel of food on the plate is united by a common theme. In this collection, that theme is dragons.
And if you thought the mythical beasts - so frequently featured in classic fantasy that they risk becoming something of a trope - are overdone, The Book Of Dragons could change your mind.
Its pages feature a colourful assortment of dragons reimagined, ranging from feathered lizards with chameleon-like abilities of camouflage to steampunk creations made of magic, steel and chrome.
And for the purists, there are also plenty of the fire-breathing, winged variety found in the Western canon as well as the water-dwelling spirits more commonly portrayed in Chinese mythology.
Each story captures the essential qualities of dragons that have contributed to their lasting popularity in fiction: mystical and otherworldly beasts, whose encounters with humans are frequently brief but always fascinating.
In this anthology, editor Jonathan Strahan has pulled together a diverse cast in more ways than one.
For one thing, it features veteran voices like Peter S. Beagle - author of The Last Unicorn - alongside relative newcomers, such as Chinese-American author R. F. Kuang, whose debut novel, set in a fantastical version of China, was published in 2018.
The book also includes stories from writers around the world, including Singaporean J. Y. Yang's tale of an exile on a strange planet and Malaysian Zen Cho's story about a surprisingly relatable dragon king.
These short stories are interspersed with poems about dragons, which serve as delightful palate cleansers.
The average diner is unlikely to fall in love with every morsel on a sampler platter and the same principle applies to anthologies.
Even so, the sheer variety on offer in The Book Of Dragons means that there is something for everyone, and a reader will likely come away hungry for more.
If you like this, read: His Majesty's Dragon, the first book in Naomi Novik's Temeraire series (Del Rey, $14.02, available at: bit.ly/HMDragon_NN). The nine-book series reimagines the Napoleonic Wars if humans had waged aerial battles on dragons, instead of airplanes.
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