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The Iron Dragon's Daughter is a novel by Michael Swanwick, published in 1994.
The main character is Jane, a human girl who's a child slave in a factory that produces parts for Iron Dragons - that world's equivalent to fighter jets. One day, during a failed escape attempt, she finds a discarded grimore, which turns out to be a operational manual to an Iron Dragon. This leads her to to discover an old, broken down dragon who's Not Quite Dead. Melanchthon, Dragon #7332, offers to help her escape if she helps him restore his basic functions.
The story follows Jane as she tries to carve out some sort of life for herself in a world where humans are near-powerless rarities, first with the help of Melanchton, then without him when he abandons her, then with him again when he decides it's time to carry out his master plan: The destruction of Spiral Castle, and with it, the entire fantasy world.
Iron Dragon's Daughter is, at it's heart, a deconstruction of the Plucky Heroine archetype, as Jane is nothing special (as a human, she has no innate magic, nor any of the physical attribute of other species) and stays that way, even as she's drawn into Melanchthon's web of madness.
This novel contains examples of the following tropes:
- AI Is a Crapshoot - Magical items given sentience are prone to not working correctly or at all out of sheer spite (Or just being JerkAsses)
- All Just a Dream - ...OrWasItADream
- Always Chaotic Evil - DRAGONS. They're weapons, after all.
- Back From the Dead Rocket, and Puck...sort of.
- Break the Cutie - Jane's breakdown after seeing the names of her friends listed among the dead after the Teind.
- Crapsack World - Unless you're an Elf (and sometimes even then).
- Deconstructor Fleet - While the book is a savage reworking of the standard Trapped in Another World plot, tropes throughout fantasy literature are invoked and warped.
- Deus Sex Machina - Sex magic is much easier to learn and master than "true" magic
- Dragon Rider - the Dragon pilots
- Dungeon Punk
- Evil Versus Evil - Melanchthon duels a hunter sent to catch Jane.
- The Fair Folk - Subverted. Elves just come off kind of like an exaggeration of amoral, decadent rich people.
- The novel is set in the Unseleigh Court, which explains a lot. The Seleigh Court exists in the book as well, albeit offscreen, and the two are locked in apparent open warfare:
Melanchthon: You may call me Death if you wish. I killed your kind by the thousands in Avalon.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture - There are no direct parallels, but much of Faerie seems to resemble the NE United States circa 1975.
- Five-Finger Discount - Jane's preferred method of shopping.
- Genre Savvy: Once Jane learns Puck's True Name, she avoids him to try and keep him from meeting the same fate as his other incarnations, Rooster and Peter. It doesn't work.
- Humanity Is Superior: Inverted. A human's one edge (no True Name to manipulate) is offset by the utter lack of innate magical or physical special traits.
- I Know Your True Name - Played straight, except for Jane (who, as a human, doesn't have one.)
- New Weird
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero - It turns out that pretty much every time Jane tried to say "Screw Destiny", she ended up scuttling the Goddess' plans for her to experience some happiness and bring same to those around her.
- Open Secret - Most everyone in the word (save for Jane, of course) knows that astrology doesn't work. However, since any number of corporate interests find belief in astrology useful, the schools teach it as fact.
- Our Dragons Are Different - they're sentient, sapient (and filled with rage) fighter jets in dragon form.
- Our Elves Are Better - And they know it.
- Rage Against the Heavens - More or less Melanchthon's entire reason for living.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech - Jane is told by a female elf noble that as a human, the best she can hope for in life is to be a brood mare for the elves until "Sleeping Beauty's Disease" takes her.
- Sex as Rite-Of-Passage / I Call Him "Mister Happy" - Jane goes through a "naming ceremony" to render "Little Jane" a "friend for life." Males name their dangly bits as well, but the text never states whether not they have a similar rite.
- Shout-Out - At one point, Jane activates a hand of glory by inscribing it with the mystical initials "s f w a".
- Star-Crossed Lovers - Jane and Rooster, Peter, Puck, and Rocket - who are all incarnations of the same soul
- Take That - In interviews, Swanwick has claimed that The Iron Dragon's Daughter was his response to derivative mass-market fantasy.
- Villain Protagonist: Jane devolves into this in the end.
- Weirdness Censor - The run-down cottage Jane lives in after her escape is really Melanchthon in disguise.
- Word Salad Philosophy - Whenever characters lapse into prophetic trances, this is what normally results. However, the "prophecies" are just a farrago of media from our world, ranging from ad jingles to political stump speeches to the first three minutes of Neil Armstrong's first transmission from the moon.