I read a fantasy novel in the 1998 or 1999 that I'm trying to identify.

The most specific thing I remember was a scene where the main character was sneaking through a building and he saw a naked armless troll writhing around on the floor and there was a very specific description of the troll's penis as being worn raw. Pretty gross, but that's why it stuck with me.

The book was in English and was probably American. It was a dark urban fantasy novel with lots of explicit sex and violence, probably over the top to the point of cheesiness. It had all the standard fantasy creature like elves and trolls and I'm pretty sure it was set in a fantasy world not in a variant of our world.

I can't confirm when it was written, but it was on the new books shelf at my library so it was likely written in the late 90s. I don't recall the cover image as the book didn't have a jacket. I'm pretty sure it was hardcover.

I don't think it was written by a major fantasy author like Michael Moorcock or Terry Brooks, as I was reading those authors and probably would have remembered. I also don't think it was explicitly part of a series of books, but it could have been the first book in something that became a series. It also wasn't part of a some larger franchise, like a Dungeons and Dragons or Magic: The Gathering novel.

I wish I remembered more, but that one scene was all that really stuck with me.

  • Welcome to Science Fiction & Fantasy! This question would be improved by going through the checklists here; How to ask a good story-ID question?
    – Valorum
    Jul 27, 2018 at 18:16
  • 2
    Thanks! I made some edits to the question based on those checklists.
    – Ed C.
    Jul 27, 2018 at 18:22

1 Answer 1


The book is The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick (1994). Here's the plot summary from TV Tropes:

The main character is Jane, a human girl in a world of faeries and magical beings, 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 grimoire, which turns out to be a operational manual to an Iron Dragon. This leads her 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.

The Iron Dragon's Daughter is, at its heart, a subversion 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.

A relevant bit from Roz Kaveney's review of the novel:

The high elven lords here are genuinely powerful and glamorous; they are also completely ruthless in their exploitation of everything and everyone that can be exploited to provide them with more power or with more entertainment. There is grim satire on the yuppie era here and on the pleasures we take for granted - it is not as if the pleasures of the high and the mighty are fine or intellectual. Jane weasels her way into the circles of the powerful and finds herself slumming with them in low dives where armless trolls are sexually stimulated into prophesy.

The scene you remember is:

The troll groaned. He had the most amazing hard-on. It was a raw pink for most of its length, as if the top layers of skin had been abraded away, shading to a bruise-like purple at the tip. From the slow way he twisted about, Jane thought at first that he was masturbating. But then he turned over on his side, and she could see the stump by one shoulder and realized that he had no arms with which to perform that function.

There's a sequel, The Dragons of Babel (2008).

  • That is it! Thank you so much! You're a wizard! Just out of curiosity, how did you find that book? Did you just happen to remember it or are you very skilled at Googling?
    – Ed C.
    Jul 29, 2018 at 14:34
  • 1
    The book made a strong impression on me when I first read it back in the 90s; the scene you described seemed familiar and I thought it might be from TIDD. The Kaveney review was one of the first related pages I found, and that confirmed it.
    – Ross Smith
    Jul 29, 2018 at 22:14

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