My first thought when I started reading this book was, "Whoah, this thing is long!" And it is. At the moment, it's over 1,800 pages from beginning to end. I like thick books, but I have to say, this one was a record for me - I think I've only ever read one other that was more than a thousand.
This wasn't a problem, of course, since I had the time and I did enjoy reading it. I think the biggest issue I have with the length of this book is its sheer mass. I honestly don't think I remember half of what I read, just because there are hundreds of short stories in here and the timelines bounce around all over the place - it's a lot to take in. I'll have to read it probably two or three more times before I'll get a real grip on it.
So, to the content of the book. There are hundreds of short stories and poems inside it. Almost all of them are chronologically out of whack - scenes that take place in a character's childhood would sometimes pop up after the character's death a hundred pages earlier. So reading this was kind of like reading a jigsaw puzzle, where I was trying to remember the names and histories of around fifty characters so that when they popped up again, I'd recognize them and be able to fit their new chapter somewhere it belonged.
There were also a lot of stories that contradicted the "real" history of these characters. You know: what-if stories, alternate dimensions and such. The author always told you when these popped up, though, so it was fairly easy to tell what really happened and what didn't.
I'll be honest: I've never really been into short-story collections. I don't have anything against them once I read them, but when I'm looking for something to buy my eyes go to the novels first. With that said, though, I did really enjoy reading this book.
It was different. The world-building and characters were very uniquely handled, and it really was kind of fun trying to put people's histories back together. I've never read anything like it - space dragons don't seem to be tackled as often in literature as the medieval kind, and reading about them was a refreshing change.
The character who appeared the most often in this book was Ashuton Karrucci. (I love his name, it's beautiful, isn't it?) A lot of the time he was impatient and ungrateful and self-absorbed, but some of the time he was really cool. I loved it when his "good" streak showed through, when he actually decided to be a hero, and some of his scenes with his brothers were very sweet. I loved his relationship with them. No matter how I look at him, though - and I don't think I would get along with him in real life - he was a very realistic, believable character. (So were his brothers, actually. They were easily my favorites, even though their appearances were pretty rare.)
There was a lot of tech-talk in this book. Some of the short stories were nothing but long blocks of computer coding. I'm sure all the tech-heads out there would love this, but since I'm too stupid to understand it I found myself skimming or skipping over a lot of it.
There was also a lot of poetry in this book, and while I'm not usually a fan of poetry, some of it was really beautiful. I think I liked the poetry, as a whole, better than I actually liked the more straightforward stories. Maybe I'm just more forgiving of abstract or unexplained poetry. I don't know.
The author's style of writing is wonderful. She does make some...odd...word choices, but other than that she really comes through with a clear, fun voice. Reading this book almost made me feel like I was listening to her tell the story - she doesn't distance herself from her writing. After each story/poem there would be an author's note where she would comment on it, and maybe explain something that might've gotten overlooked. I liked this because it really made it feel like she'd paid attention to her work and her readers.
Really, now that I think about it, the entire book seems like it was working very hard to entertain me. With all the different genres, perspectives, what-ifs, questions, answers, characters, scenery, and moods, it seemed like it was doing its absolute best to find something for everybody. There were androids, sentient computers, young children, dragons, orphans, teens, adults, soldiers, and really people from all professions and all walks of life. One thing this book doesn't lack is variety.
Speaking of: this book tries really hard to put down racism. I love it for that, it has people of many nationalities popping in all the time to say hello. I think it's maybe a little pointed in some places, such as a certain dragon only dating black women and scorning all others, but mostly it was very well handled.
Oh, I didn't like much of the romance, though. This is probably just me being picky again, but it seemed really rare when there was any actual love between the characters. There was plenty of lust, but love? No. One or two pairs of characters did have a sweet relationship, but most of them just annoyed me. Also, there was some bestiality in here....ugh. I know the dragons kept repeating that they weren't animals, but it's still nasty to me.
Aside from the romance, the reason I'm giving this four stars instead of five was the editing. There were a lot of typos, missing or misplaced punctuation, misspellings, and words that were used slightly out of context. (Its/it's, and who/whom were the most frequent.)But hey, everyone has typos and such, so this doesn't matter much to me. I loved the book anyway. If it weren't for the nasty romance, I would have given it five stars no matter what happened to the editing.