The Book of Dragons Book Review & 5 Qualities of a Good Short Story?

I saw this anthology on NetGalley and hello…dragons…so I was all in! The release date on this book is July 7, 2020.

As I read this book, I thought a lot about what I like and don’t like about short stories. This book contained a few I didn’t care for and several that I loved. All were well written, but some stood out above the others. I analyzed them and came up with 5 qualities which make a good short story. I’m sure these are not all the qualities of a good story. You might like short stories for another reason. If so, let me know!

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The Book of Dragons

Anthology Edited by Jonathan Strahan
Published by Harper Voyager

Look at this line up!

Garth Nix 
Scott Lynch 
R.F. Kuang 
Ann Leckie 
Rachel Swirsky 
Daniel Abraham 
Peter S. Beagle 
Beth Cato 
Zen Cho 
C.S.E. Cooney 
Aliette de Bodard 
Kate Elliott 
Theodora Goss 
Ellen Klages
Ken Liu 
Patricia A. McKillip
K.J. Parker 
Kelly Robson 
Michael Swanwick 
Jo Walton 
Elle Katharine White 
Jane Yolen 
Kelly Barnhill 
Brooke Bolander 
Sarah Gailey 
J.Y. Yang 
Rovina Cai (Illustrator)

The first piece is a poem by Jane Yolen. So that’s awesome! Peter S. Beagle and Kelly Barnhill are the authors I was most excited to read.

“Matriculation”, the second piece, started so cool– steampunk & dragons! I loved the characters. The story was rich with detail and description…and then it stopped. I hated the ending. I like nice neat endings, and this did not have that. Most of all, I hated that this story ended.

Perhaps this was a fluke. Some stories just stop and leave it to the reader to decide the ending for themselves. But the next three stories did not impress me either. I began to think that maybe I just don’t like short stories. They are a breed all their own. I often crave lengthy stories that immerse me in fantastical worlds, far from reality. Short stories often force the reader to face some aspect of life and its brutal reality. Blah. I have also read some lovely short stories. So I didn’t give up. I kept reading, hoping that some favorite authors wouldn’t let me down.

Jo Walton, author of Among Others, has a poem that was nice.

“Habitat” by KJ Parker was the next story I read. It was the classic King sends a man to hunt down a dragon. I liked this story. It was longer, but it meandered in the way an old man with many life experiences that culminate into a life story. This story had a very satisfying ending! There was also a clever little take on dragon lore that I’d never considered before.

“We Don’t Talk About the Dragon” by Sarah Gailey was another story I found satisfying.

Kelly Barnhill wrote a short story with her usual lyrical prose. You may have heard me rave about this author before, when I talked about fairy-tale narrative style of writing, or when I first discovered her writing and reviewed The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

“Except on Saturdays” by Peter S. Beagle this story surprised me–less fairytale and more urban fantasy. It had a twist I’d never seen before, based on mythology I’ve not studied before.

“A Final Knight to Her Love and Foe” by Amal El-Mohtar is a lovely poem. I’m not a poem critic, but this poem had some nice juxtapositions in it.

“A Long Walk” by Kate Elliott is possibly my favorite short story in this book. It had a contemplative mood. It reminded me of a moment I experienced with my grandmother when I was in high school–the disconnect in viewpoint. It also had a twist I hadn’t seen coming.

You can preorder this book on Amazon and all your favorite bookstores!

***A few spoilers are below for some of the short stories in the book**

So What Makes a Good Short Story? (in my opinion)

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels
  1. It must have a satisfying ending. To me this is one that has closure. I don’t like stories that have ambiguous endings in which the reader decides what the MC ultimately did.
  2. Oddly enough, I liked stories that had a line of repetition.
    • For example, in “We Don’t Talk about the Dragon” it repeated “Cecily is [age], and there is a dragon in the barn.” with each glimpse of that time period. In “Habitat” it kept repeating that 1,000 angels is a lot of money.
    • I like these stories with repetition because it creates a pattern, like poetry. I like that the story keeps coming back to that line because you know eventually that line will change.
  3. Story above prose. Lyrical prose is lovely with the right kind of story. I admire beautiful prose, but generally read stories with efficient, utilitarian prose. Ultimately, I’m in it more for the story. If you can give me both, like Kelly Barnhill and Ursula K. Le Guin, then go for it. If you are a beginner, I’d learn to master story first. Many newbie fall into the purple prose pitfall.
  4. A twist on a classic. Dragons are classic. There are thousands of stories about dragons out there. The good ones will deliver something original. In “Habitat” dragons reproduce by infecting a person like zombies. One scratch and you might turn into a dragon yourself.
  5. A surprise. In “A Long Walk” old women with no use in society anymore take the Long Walk to become dragon food. It surprised me to learn that the dragons did not consume the women; they sheltered the women and gave them a pleasant life. In fact, if the women chose, they could become a dragon themselves.

Each of the stories in this book offer something new, interesting, unique, a twist, or a surprise. Reading short stories like these are a magnificent way to study varying techniques and views of amazing authors.

I would love to hear from you about what you look for in a good short story! Do you prefer ambiguous endings? Drop me an email: kathryn @ Quillandbooks.com

Professional Reader 10 Book Reviews 80%

Reading Rush 2020 is coming!!

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