As is the case with most short story anthologies, not all of the stories will blow you away. But from reading other reviews I’ve found it’s really a matter of personal preference. Here, Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan present a collection of tales of “small stakes and high action” with a morally ambiguous protagonist. It’s been the trend in Fantasy to blur the lines between good and evil, and I relished the opportunity to read about good guys who do questionable things, and villans who can have a soft spot.
Below, I go over the stories I like. Quick caveat: my ultimate pet peeve in short stories are info dumps. They can be done cleverly, and stories that start off with a few pages of exposition are ones I usually don’t finish.
Show, don’t tell.
Anyway, overall this was a broad, fascinating look into an awesome sub-genre.
Steven Erikson – Goats of Glory
Erikson’s known for writing door-stopping tomes, so I wasn’t sure if he could pull off an engaging story in so few pages. Looking back, I should never have doubted him. There are no explicit info-dumps; Erikson trusts the reader to pick things up along the way. The fight scenes were exhilarating, and it feels as if we just got a little snapshot of these soldiers’ lives. They had just come from a huge battle, and the story closes with them running away from a foe that they are familiar with, but the reader isn’t. Erikson easily invokes the feeling that they have had an exciting past, and have more adventures ahead.
Glen Cook – Tides Elba
I haven’t read The Black Company, but now am eager to pick it up. The banter between the soldiers was vividly realistic, and reminded me of the Malazan marines.
James Enge – The Singing Spear
In few pages, James Enge tells a neat story of a hero with tremendous powers who is a drunk. Reminded me of Hancock (the WIll Smith movie) and I’ve always wanted to read more about heroes who don’t always do the right thing. I mean, if you had all that power, what’s to say that you have to use it for a higher goal instead of just making your life easier and more fun?
C.J. Cherryh – A Wizard in Wiscezan
The illusion magic in this story was something I haven’t seen done often (I think it’s woefully under-utilized), and the protagonist moving about a fight using it to confuse his enemies and change the environment was fun to read.
K.J. Parker – A Rich Full Week
Yes! This man knows how to write short stories. Exposition was handled well, with the focus only on the character and what he was seeing. The scenes came to life, and interesting topics about death were explored
Michael Moorcock – Red Pearls
*puts flamesuit on* I haven’t read any Elric stories. However, you can tell that Moorcock is a prolific author. His voice is clear and the writing was fabulous, even if the story itself wasn’t that strong. A solid short story opening however.
Tim Lebbon – The Deification of Dal Bamore
This one kept me interested the whole way through. It start in media res, and used flashbacks to keep the suspense going and gain interest in the story. Throw some mystery in there, and the result is a well-written piece.
Scott Lynch – In the Stacks
Easily my favourite of the anthology. It’s about books, how could I not like it! We follow our heroes in a giant mystical library as they are attacked by various book-related monsters. The world-building resonated with my inner book geek. The continuity of the story is great too – the premise is the 5th year final exam for a group of students in a magic school and it’s easy to believe that even though we know nothing about it, they had a whole past of Harry Potterish escapades.
Tanith Lee – Two Lions, a Witch, and the War-Robe
What made this story stand out was the quality of the writing. The vocabulary used didn’t feel out of place, instead it was a pleasure to read. A true showcase of the beauty of language. It also had some thought-provoking concepts of how humans perceive things different from animals.
Joe Abercrombie – The Fool Jobs
Again, I haven’t read any of Abercrombie’s work, but he sure knows how to write about soldiers. Especially ones that are at each other’s throats in a familiar way gained through hard times. This all evaporates when the fight is upon them however, and I rank this author close to Erikson in telling fight scenes so well you’d think you were watching a movie instead of reading.