East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Raphael Ordoñez’ Dragonfly, a biased review


Dragonfly-by-Raphael-OrdoñezI promised a review and here it is.
I spent the weekend immersed in one of the most intriguing, baffling and intelligent books I read in a long while.
The book is Raphael Ordoñez’ Dragonfly, a novel I discovered thanks to the Black Gate blog.
The review published by Black Gate promised much – and the novel delivered in full, and possibly more1.
What was an impulse purchase, based on a great review and a great cover (by the author himself), turned out to be one of the best reads of this year.

The novel takes place on the Counter-Earth at the Cosmic Antipodes, whatever that may mean, and indeed much of the setting is shrouded in mystery.
Is this the past, the future, some place else or our own world? Are the strange individuals the hero meets aliens, members of different human branches of evolution, or something completely different?
The novel follows the rhythms of the planetary romance, Ordoñez plays a neat game, providing precise, rich descriptions, almost pictorial in their detail, while leaving us in the dark about a lot of aspects of his world.
We explore the Counter-Earth through the eyes of Keftu, last of his race, as he travels the world in search of something he thinks he knows – but maybe is not the true object of his search.
Keftu’s travels lead him to the immense and decadent city of Enoch, a metropolis that circles an ocean on three sides.
Here Keftu meets a number of characters, from the sinister and vaguely alien Granny to the beautiful and enigmatic Seila.
He loses himself and finds himself again.
He makes allies and enemies.
And all the while he travels – over the city roofs and beneath its streets, inside and outside of the city itself.

The novel is written in a very polished, elegant language, filled with unusual words and terms taken from ancient mythologies (or are they made up? ah!) just as the city of Enoch is filled with anachronisms and relics from ancient technologies.
The end result is an object of beauty.

I am usually wary of comparisons – I like when what I write is compared to some author I love, I like it a little bit less when I am compared to authors I detest, and in both cases I fear comparisons are misleading and create the wrong expectation.
And yet, I found echoes of C.A. Smith in this novel, and of Jack Vance in his Dying Earth stories.
There’s Gene Wolfe, too, and possibly some images might recall William Hope Hodgson‘s The Night Land, or even some shadows of E.R. Edison’s Zimiamvia.
And what about Peake, in the description of the derelict architectures and grotesque characters, and Zelazny, with the smart, competent, sneaky hero?
Anyone familiar with my tastes in reading matters will realize I found in this book something very very close to my most cherished authors and themes. And indeed, I enjoyed this novel very much.

But, as I said, comparisons are misleading.
Dragonfly is original, fresh and very much Raphael Ordoñez’ own creation.
I enjoyed the setting and the descriptions, I was intrigued by the well-rounded characters, I enjoyed both the wit and the weight of the dialogues.
Dragonfly comes very close to being perfect, as far as I am concerned2.
It possesses a timeless quality that makes it feel like a long-lost gem from the golden age of imaginative fiction, and at the same time will probably grant it much longevity.
It is also the first in a series of four, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the second volume, that has already been announced.
This is very different from the run-of-the-mill stereotyped fantasy we are normally offered.
And that’s the reason it is so good.
I can’t recommend it enough – go get it!

  1. as I said before, Black Gate Magazine is slowly and steadily draining my meager finances by suggesting excellent reads. 
  2. my only pet peeve – there is no digital edition. This is really a pity. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

3 thoughts on “Raphael Ordoñez’ Dragonfly, a biased review

  1. I’m more than delighted that you enjoyed my book. An e-book is coming soon to Kindle, as you’re not the only one to mention this; it should be available for free to those who already got the print version. Of course, then you don’t get the retro wrap-around cover…!


    • Cheers!
      Glad to know an ebook is coming, because I hope it will help reaching as wide an audience as possible.
      Pity about the cover – the paperback wraparound art id just gorgeous 🙂


  2. Pingback: A second serving of Enoch… | Karavansara

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