The story starts with Jane, a young human changeling who is a slave in a dragon factory. Dragons are essentially an analogue to jet fighters in our world - except that these dragons are nasty and intelligent. The world is dominated by elves, but there are trolls, pixies, half-animals, morphs, you name it. And Swanwick doesn't bother explaining anything, just mentions that this kid has the head of a deer, or that the intelligent mechanical horse has an incredibly foul mouth. That's just the way it is, keep reading.
We watch Jane grow, and while she's not a horrible person, neither was she someone I particularly liked. Swanwick seems to see the novel as a subversion of the fantasy genre, and there's certainly a degree of that. But it's also about the power of sex and/or sex magic. And it runs in fairly tight circles, with Jane meeting a couple of people several times - they have different names, different bodies, but the same soul, and their stories play out similarly in relation to her. The partial repetition got a little old. And the ending ... I can see how he got there, but it still felt kind of abrupt and not quite right.
I read this in 2015, well after I read The Dragons of Babel, another novel set in the same universe. It's made me reassess my view of The Dragons of Babel: while that was a pretty gritty world, this seemed much darker and they're supposed to be the same place. Strange.
Well written, as usual, but I just didn't find the book enjoyable. I would recommend the utterly brilliant Stations of the Tide or The Dragons of Babel.