Neveryóna - Samuel R. Delany In brief, the story we might have written had things been only a little different would have told of bravery, wonder, fun, laughter, love, anger, fear, tears, reconciliation, a certain wisdom, a turn of chance, and a certain resignation – the stuff of many fine tales over the ages.
But in those weeks Pryn did not once think of dragons.
Thus, we review them briefly.

Good girls can go to heaven, bad girls are riding dragons.
Neveryóna follows Pryn, neither especially good nor especially bad, a short, brown, chubby 15-year-old. What makes her extraordinary in her brutal and barbarian times is the fact that she can read and write. And she once rode a dragon. During her journey through the fantastic land of Nevèryon she meets different people: Gorgik the Liberator, eccentric merchant women, hard-working peasants, as well as rich and powerful earls, and with them she meets different expectations, helping her to form a full perception of herself. And although a world's an awfully big place, Pryn has to realise that you never travel really far from where you've come from.
Of course, Pryn's journey is not the average fantasy coming-of-age story. In Delany's „child's garden of semiotics“, everything is laden with meaning, everything is a sign which might be interpreted one way in one situation, and in a different way when things are different. It's a tale of signs and cities, at the subtitle suggests. It's a tale about the relation between the powerful and the powerless, cities and maps, signifiant and signifié; between tale-teller and listener, between writing, writer and reader. Very, very, very meta.

[b:Tales of Nevèrÿon|85866|Tales of Nevèrÿon (Return to Nevèrÿon, #1)|Samuel R. Delany||82862], part #1 of the Nevèryon stories, was everything I wished for at the time I read it. In a sense, Neveryona was, too, while also making me wish I wouldn't wish for the things I wish for. It's more straightforward than #1 – which doesn't mean more simplistic – but also more devastating. I'm still in denial about some things that happened here (but then again, rebellions aren't nice and cosy tea-parties, and revolutions aren't let by dashing heroes, but by ruthless jerks. I should know by now.).

Delany sure had fun playing with the concepts of signs and cities here, which makes the story equally fun to read. But don't look for subtlety; you won't find any. He's pretty blunt about his points, sometimes giving his tale an essayist form, with characters going on for long monologues that spell everything out and explain everything at least three times. I could've done with less explaining, less talking, and more vagueness, but that's just me. (I teach linguistics, after all, so it's not like those books are telling me something especially new. Readers without that particular baggage might gain more from the characters' ramblings.)

Lack of subtlety notwithstanding, I do like his storytelling – Delany can be a terrific storyteller, if he wants to. The prose is Delany at his finest, and he does quite a good job with character-development, too. Pryn is a realistic, believable, relatable character. In fact I like all the female characters he created for this series, the ones who're not only storytelling devices at least, from smart old Venn to her protégé Noreema to Raven, the warrior woman with the double-bladed sword, who, although not on page, seems to be always in Pryn's mind.
Having said that, I can't deny that the whole story's in danger of becoming one great, hot mess of wanting to be too clever and oh so very full of meaning from time to time. But those face-palmingly frustrating times make the good parts all the greater.

And the appendix with the (faux) academic correspondence was pure gold.

Two books in, two more books to go – and I already think the Nevèryon series might be one of the greatest things I've ever read.