Saturday, December 08, 2007

Novel Girls

I haven’t written much about books of late, mostly due to reading the long and involved House of Niccolo saga by Dorothy Dunnett. I’m on the last book “Gemini” at the moment and it has been so pleasurable reading the eight books, I will be sorry to finish.

Dunnett’s books are monsters in size and weight, so during the daily commute I have been taking lighter books in my bag for the journey. The first was Michael Swanwick’s “The Iron Dragon’s Daughter” – a book I had been considering reading for years and finally purchased on a discount voucher from Borders. It’s now one of the Fantasy Masterworks Series published by Gollancz. The other is “Trixie” by Wallace Graves, a book discovered unread on my bookshelf, an old Penguin paperback.

I realised the other day that the heroines of both "The Iron Dragon’s Daughter" and "Trixie" are pretty similar in many ways. The stories differ of course, one is set in a fantasy world and the other is set in Los Angeles in the 1960s.

The “Iron Dragon’s Daughter” is the tale of human changeling Jane trapped in Fairyland and how she seeks to free herself from its thrall. The Faery of this novel is like no other. It is not cute or Tolkienesque, but steam punk, nasty and a satirical mirror of the real world. Jane is a spunky heroine. At the opening of the novel Jane is enslaved in an iron dragon manufacturing plant, working in Dickensian conditions as a factory hand along with children of other species. She comes across a grimoire and realises that she has the power to use it. Something else knows this, a disabled Iron Dragon who plots revenge on the world. He courts Jane’s attention and manipulates events to the extent that Jane is forced to flee. To do this she steals the dragon and they fly beyond the factory into the larger world outside, whereupon the Jane and the dragon part ways.

Jane realises her lack of knowledge limits her ability to truly escape from this faery world so she sets herself to get an education, concentrating on alchemy.

The novel follows Jane’s acquisition of knowledge and her adventures in the academy until she eventually reunites with the dragon who is still using her for his own purposes which have become Jane’s own.

It is an unusual novel and a very originally envisaged fantasy world.

The Wallace Graves book is also an odd novel and Trixie the heroine is unusual in many ways.

She is a near white illiterate orphan who has been lured onto campus with promises of a college education by two unscrupulous professors, one who uses her for sex and her knowledge of popular music and the other as the subject in a McLuhan-style pre-literacy study.

Trixie however is smarter than they think.

The novel is written in the style of a diary recorded by the sassy Trixie. The first entry covers the assassination of John F Kennedy and introduces the reader to Trixie in her words:

"This is the wurst awful that happen.
Somebody kill him. The president of the U.S. of A. is ded!"

Trixie’s prose, in a kind of illiterate dialect at first, improves as her education progresses. Her diary documents the major events of the time she lives in – the race riots, the black power movement and the struggle for integration by the blacks of America – as well as telling her own story with disarming frankness.

Living at the College campus Trixie is a changeling in a new world, like Jane. Trixie struggles to free herself from her past and escape into a brighter future, through education, like Jane.

Trixie’s sixties world of sex and drugs and rock n roll is echoed in the similarly decadent fairyland of “The Iron Dragon’s Daughter”. It is these elements that made the connection in my mind between the two novels.

Though very different, both are interesting and unusual novels. I think it uncanny that after finishing the Swanwick novel, I picked out Trixie quite by chance and found how similar they were.

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