One of the things that I find challenging to read is collections of short stories by single authors as well as anthologies of stories by multiple authors. Part of the reason for this is that, for me, just as I'm getting involved in a given story and it's beginning to really make me want more, the story comes to a close.
That said, I like and adore theme anthologies, which seems to be the prevalent way to go with anothologies for the most part these days (other than the Year's Best stuff). I'm rather partial to stuff about dragons, so it was no surprise when I purchased The Dragon Book edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. This book comprises 19 all-new stories by relatively well-known writers such as Naomi Novik, Jonathan Stroud, Gregory Maguire, Tanith Lee, Bruce Coville, Mary Rosenblum, and others. Pretty much all the stories contained herein are for all ages, although the themes at times keep the stories unsuitable for those younger than older teens (in my opinion). One of the best things about this book is that while the book is comprised largely of short stories, there was an almost novella sized tale along with several lengthy, 30-page stories, giving a wide range of reading styles. More importantly, the stories in The Dragon Book had an interesting array of dragons: good, bad, those who fly, those who swim, with wings and without, those who breathe fire, those that breathe ice, and so forth. While many of the stories are told from a human point of view, several of the tales were also told from the dragon viewpoint as well, making for entertaining reads.
Several of the stories contained within this volume stand out to me. There is Naomi Novik's "Vici", a quirky story set in ancient Rome of a man sentenced to death when his punishment is to single-handedly kill a dragon. Humourous, but rather violent at times. Kage Baker's "Are You Afflicted with Dragons?" was a great story with Smith of her Anvil of the World setting as the protagonist, who requires unusual pest control measures when the seasside resort he operates has a bunch of small dragons that roost on his roof, wreaking their own form of havoc. An enjoyable, humourous ride at times by an author who died recently. Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple weave a wonderful tale about the Russian revolution and Rasputin in "The Tsar's Dragons". The dragons here are more metaphorical than in other tales, since this story is about empire vs. communism, but was pretty well done as stories go. "The Dragon of Direfell" by Liz Williams was a very well executed story of a mage hired by a small Dukedom to rid it of a worm-like dragon wrapped around a mountain. The mage undertakes what should be a routine job and finds more than he expected, with deeper magic at work, as he tries to expose the hidden dark mage things are even more complicated than they had appeared. "Puz_le" by Gregory Maguire is a delightfully twisty story, where one rainy afternoon, a boy works on an old jigsaw puzzle picked up at a garage sale with strange results. Then there is Mary Rosenblum's "Dragon Storm", in which a girl with "bad-luck eyes", Tahlia, has a special closeness to the surf-dragons, who finds a dragon egg that hatches, but not into a surf-dragon. A fabulous story where the truth of what is going on unravels as the dragon hatchling ages, and where Tahlia proves to be the saviour of her people, despite their hatred and maltreatment at their hands. Brilliant stuff. And then there is fantasy grandmaster Tanith Lee's "The War that Winter Is". In a land where winter lasts nine months of the year, and may well last longer as time goes by, the tribes have learned to cope, but one thing they have no control over is the dragon, Ulkioket, who can blast a village with its breath of ice and freeze everything and everyone glass-like ice that will shatter. When a hero is born of one of these tragic village remains, the story deals with the belief that he is meant to rid them of the dragon...until he actually confronts the dragon. Masterful storytelling by a true light in the field.
Overall, The Dragon Book is an excellent, varied anthology of stories that will appeal to readers because of their varied nature, both in style and type of story. I would recommend this book to any reader of fantasy and science fiction, regardless of whether they are fans of dragons in literature or not. You won't be disappointed.