Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Swords & Dark Magic

Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery. A fantasy anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders. Originally published June 2010. Approx. 517 pages.

It's very rare that I actually finish an anthology cover to cover. Usually there are only one or two authors with contributions that interest me, and maybe one or two that I never read before will spark my interest. Often, though, there is too much that fails to compel me. It takes a certain flair to write a good short story. Still, seeing this anthology at the library, I was more than a bit intrigued by the list of authors represented. So, hopefully I will be able to finish reviewing them by their due date. Let's see how these stories stack up....

Goats of Glory by Steven Erikson (37pgs):
Not many better ways to start an anthology than with an entry by Erikson, author of the popular Malazan series (which may well be next year's reading challenge). Let me start by saying that I do not know if this story ties into the Malazan world in any form. In Goats, we have a quintet of weary soldiers returning from the Demon Wars. Their badges identify them as Rams, but in their decimated state, they are no more than Goats. They come upon a piss-poor town known as Glory (hence the title), which has the means to quench their thirst and whet their sexual appetites, but little in the way of food, lodging, or stables. Their are guided, however, by the oh so helpful townsfolk towards that oh so ominous keep a little over yonder. Of course there is evil in the keep. Evil in the form of demons. Then again, these Goats have just returned from a campaign spent killing demons, so the odds are not so sharply skewed.
This story is a lot of fun. And it's meant to be so. The banter is a little too playful at times, the fighting a smidge overdone, but still wonderfully choreographed. An exercise in delightful excess. Erikson's writing is engaging from page one on, and you can see some of the inspirations he's taken form Glen Cook (who he has mentioned as an inspiration) in his sentence structure, and in how he names the actors in this bloody play. Some reviews say this story gets off to a slow start; it doesn't. The time in Glory in enjoyable, and is reminiscent of the scene in so many horror movies where the last place the group finds before heading into "The Woods" is an antiquated gas station manned by inbred hillbillies. Kudos also to Erikson for making an engaging group that is mixed male/female. Would like to see more of these Goats one day.
Score: 89/100

Tides Elba by Glen Cook (35pgs):
Not only does this anthology boast a Glen Cook story, it is a Black Company short as well. While stationed in a city called Aloe, recently brought under the Lady's wing, Croaker and Company spend the days drinking, playing tonk, and satisfying baser needs. However, everyone whiffs trouble brewing, and, sure enough, the Company is graced by a visit and mission by their least favorite of the Taken, the Limper (who is still stewing with vengeful rage at the Company). The mission, as it is, is to find a woman by the name of Tides Elba (pronounced Tea-dace), who is of some unspecified importance to the Rebel movement.
The rest of the narrative is comprised of Croaker and his friends doing some detective work to try and find out who Tides Elba is, and thereby guess her importance to the Lady. Also, they are seeking to screw the Limper over before he has a chance to screw them. Because it's a certainty that that is his plan.
Cook's writing for the Company is on point as always. Croaker, Elmo, One Eye, and Goblin bitch, complain, taunt each other and crack wise. There is conniving, more conniving, and some sharp-eyed guesswork. Black Company tales work well in the short story format as well; it bears remembering that Chapter 3 of the first book had appeared as a standalone story before the novel was published. Always a good time with Croaker & Co. (the timeline of the events in Tides Elba probably occur between Book 1 and Shadows Linger).
Score: 91/100

Blood Sport by Gene Wolfe (16pgs):
Gene Wolfe is one of those authors that I just need to get around to reading more of. Fiercely intelligent, he writes with a mystical, lyrical fluidity. However, he also often teeters into the obscure, and things start to seem muddled. That is what forced me to put down his "The Knight" a few years ago, but his "Sun" series remains on my to read list. Wolfe's contribution here is a very short tale, and a very imaginative scenario. A weary, melancholy narrator tells a wandering traveler his tragic tale, of when he was a younger knight playing in the "games". These games are actually a live version of a chess variant, where oftentimes bested players were slain. He tells of the promising start of his career, and of a pawn that bested him several times (how Wolfe realizes the physicality of the pawn piece is amazing; I wish he had time to do this for every game "piece"). However, their kingdom soon falls to the hands of marauders, and this same duo finds themselves allies in first retaliating against the raiders, and then journeying to a mystical palace where a prophesy is to be realized.
Wolfe's switches up his style (again) as the narrative goes from linear to uncharted waters (the palace/prophesy finale). And while we can not exactly pinpoint why the ending transpired as it did, it is nice to watch the developing relationship of this incongruous pair, even if you can tell from the outset that things will not end well. I will say this, there is a very touching paragraph at the end, where Valorius tells the travel where each direction will take him. It might not seem poignant on its own, but spoken from a narrator as tinged with regrets as he, it tears the heart up.
Score: 88/100

The Singing Spear by James Enge (11pgs):
Here we have a very short entry from an author that I have never read before. A little research shows that Enge's Morlock Ambrosius books are held in high regard though. Turns out this Morlock Ambrosius (aka Morlock the Maker) is a great fighter (of course) and sorcerer, with a gift for making tools and items with wonderful properties. In this tale, the titular spear, which itself imprisons a vicious demon, has fallen into the hands of a marauding pirate, sending him on a spree of bad actions (but mostly killing). At first, Morlock is hesitant to help, being preoccupied with drinking himself in and out of stupors. However, when the stakes get raised by way of his bartender getting involved, the gloves come off. There is a great premise here, and excellent writing throughout, but Enge fills this tale (and I'm guessing his other writing) with too much of what I assume he thinks is smart, cheeky humor. It doesn't work for me, maybe for my younger me, but not middled-aged Hach. Morlock is presented as one of those stock anime tropes, like Ryo from City Hunter, who seems silly and all throughout the episode, and then is picking off people with pinpoint precision at the end. You get tired of things when you see them coming twenty miles away. A good cup of tea, but not my cup of tea. Score is my take, add 20 points if you are a previous fan of Enge.
Score: 73/100

A Wizard in Wiscezan by C.J. Cherryh (33pgs):
Cherryh is one of those authors whose works I would always see chunks of stuff by during lunchtime visits to the bookstore. One of those authors I would swear to start reading one day, I just had to figure out where to begin. Well, I am glad this anthology gave me something to introduce me to her work. Wizard is one of the longer entries in this work, and it is a solid read. A duke has acquired lordship of a wharf town through some rather sneaky means, and it turns out that the real danger behind him is a nasty, dark wizard. Making the business with the wizard even nastier is the fact that he is in cahoots with a demon. But there is also a resident master wizard, with some charges under his wing. One of his charges, a journeyman illusionist named Willem, is tasked by a lord from a neighboring town with aiding the local king in taking Wiscezan back from the corrupt duke. Wizard is many things in one well-written tale; a coming of age tale, a well-thought out commentary on the politics and machinations of sorcery, and some rousing sword action to boot. Cherryh's style is commendable; she is not too sparse, nor overindulgent. The effect is one where you can see the events transpiring around you; therefore, when there is spectacle, you see it, and when there is confusion, you feel it too. Very well done. Would gladly read more tales with Willem and Tewk in the future.
Score: 90/100

A Rich, Full Week by K.J. Parker (29pgs):
Maybe I don't need to keep pointing out the authors that I am reading for the first time in this anthology, since honestly, this is my first time out with most of them. Parker, like Enge, is an author whom I was just not familiar with before this anthology. However, many reviews of this compilation highly laud this tale, and the author's other works seem rated very high as well.
I'm pretty torn on this story. A Full, Rich Week is about a wizard dispatched to a farming town to address a situation involving the living dead. What does Parker do right? World-creating. The world of "Week" is very ordered; where "wizard" and "magic" are just colloquialisms for philosophy and undefined sciences. There is a patriarchal order, akin to a Catholic construct, replete with schools, commissions, and all sorts of officiating governing these sciences. The way that Parker describes applications of magic are excellent as well; there is extensive use of imagination, theory, and geometry. Also, the "creature" being hunted presents an interesting take on the traditional zombie mythos.
Now before I go on to what doesn't work in the story, I will say this: prepare for a thoroughly unlikable protagonist. The main character, a Father (wizard) in this Order, provides the first-person narration. And he is admittedly not a very nice person. Nor is he the best at what he does, also self-admittedly. There is nothing wrong with having a main character who is, for lack of a better term, an asshole. There are jerks in every calling; an no one said heroes all have to be brave, kind, noble, etc. My problem isn't with the personality type; it is with the eventual (mostly inner) dialogue. I get that this wizard has hang-ups over his upbringing in a coffin-like turf house on a farm, and over his poor scorings at the equivalent of wizard school. But there is a level of nastiness and condescension within the narrative which seems to transcend the established parameters of the character. I have no problem with sarcasm, but what starts out as disdain goes towards trope-bashing and some nasty commentary on social class. But maybe that is the point; maybe the point of the story is that the Father is the bad guy that becomes good by the end. All I'm saying is that there are certain points where it seems less an inner monologue and more an author making fun.
Where Rich Full Week falls apart is at the end. The two main parts of the story; which deal with the narrator's two dispatches, are linked plot-wise. Going from there, the ending is fairly well telegraphed, which results in a rushed, half-page ending, with a truly groan-inducing last line.
Overall, very rich world, very intelligent writing, but also a very unlikable lead, nasty dialogue, and a cornball ending.
Score: 65/100

A Suitable Present For a Sorcerous Puppet by Garth Nix (16pgs):
My readings of YA material are few and far between (I just never get the time, although I know there are so many good YA offerings available), but I have Nix's work set on the horizon for my next venture. That being said, with his specialty being in the YA department, I didn't really know what to expect in this entry. Here we have a short tale, featuring established characters Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz (a knight and a "sorcerous puppet" which is an enchanted, very powerful magical entity; a papier-mache doll brought to life, and capable of sorcery and strong physical feats). In Suitable Present, Sir Hereward is convalescing a broken foot, when he comes upon an archaic tome suggesting that a "birthday present" is due for his dear Mister Fitz. However, the present selected has a nasty surprise inside. I really can't give away any more particulars, as it is really a short story.
As I started reading Suitable Present, my first thought was that I really wasn't in the mood for any light-hearted, cheeky writing. But Nix has such an enthusiastic style that it is infectious and irresistible. The worlds he creates in his head are obviously his playground, and he seems to gleefully romp around them. He is very playful with naming things, but also employs some fairly "big" words. It's all about contrasts; writing with a light touch on heavy subjects, comedic notes during dangerous moments. So many authors can't pull it off, Nix does. It still does get a little typical at times though.
The story resolves quickly, then leaves an open-ended segue to the next adventure. Maybe I need to follow up on this pair, but I think these tales are best told in small doses.
Score: 83/100

Red Pearls by Michael Moorcock (53pgs):
Smack-dab in the middle of this anthology is a new Elric novella. I can see this being a source of much rejoicing for diehards. I was a little hesitant, however. I mean, I love classics by the masters (I've read a good deal, but I won't lie and say that I've read all of Appendix N), but for some reason, on previous attempts, I just couldn't get into the Elric tales. So it was a little daunting for me, this 50+ page novella a hump I had to overcome. Now, I can say that I am glad for it. Whether it was the writing of this particular tale, or if this is just the right time for me to start with Elric, I tore through this story, completely immersed as the pages melted away.
In Red Pearls, Elric is traveling with companions Moonglum and the beautiful Princess Nauha in a ship, destined to travel off the edge of the world and embark on a trading expedition in the World Above (or is it the World Below). There, they meet with the myseterious Lady Fernrath, an albino of pure Phoorn blood whom Elric has met in either the past or the future. Fernrath possesses a mystical sword which Elric covets, a sword of light, a stark counterpart to his own dark sword Stormbringer. the price of this majestic blade? The treasures which are the titular Red Pearls, tucked away in the fortress of fellow Phoorn Addric Heed, a brutal slave trader who scourges the seas in a mysterious living ship.
Moorcock pens this tale with a style that is lyrical, fluid, and ethereal. You get caught up in poetic descriptions that make for excellent world-building. And then there are the characters. I can see Elric being a polarizing character. he is the epitome of "quiet-cool", tall, lean, dressed all in black, and totally bad-ass. He has a living sword that consumes souls, for chrissakes. Then I see people reviewing Elric books recently, ridiculing him as "emo" or "goth". Why, because he is taciturn or because of his style of dress? Is it because he is distant and of haughty demeanor? What I am thinking is that Elric might be a tough sell for some fantasy fans these days, since it is true fantasy: lofty notions, larger than human characters, spectacular magic. Today's fantasy seems more geared towards historical fiction with fantastic elements. But these trends are cyclical, and some things never go out of style. But I digress. This novella is a fine way to pad out the center of this anthology.
Score: 89/100

The Deification of Dal Bamore by Tim Lebbon (24pgs):
Whenever I hear Tim Lebbon's name, I usually associate it with tie-in fiction (Aliens, Star Wars), and movie novelizations, two genres which I do not often dabble in (save Warhammer stuff). I really did not know about his standalone or horror works, and knew nothing of his Echo City tales. Deification occurs in the Echo City mythos, but prior reading is not necessary. I will say that I really enjoyed the majority of this short. Read on....
Jan Ray Marcellan is a priestess of the deity Hanharan, and on this day she is overseeing the transportation of a very dangerous person to a special gaol. Said person is the titular Dal Bamore, en route to stand trial for, and presumably be crucified for, acts of heresy. Of what heresy is he guilty? Bamore is something both hated and feared, scarce and dangerous. His very being can instigate waves of dissent and revolution. He is a sorcerer. A sorcerer in a place where magic is sort of a dark urban legend.
The story alternates between two events; focusing on the ill-fated prisoner transport and in the recent past, following Bamore's interrogation/torture, which is when Jan Ray realized the enormity of what she was dealing with.
Lebbon excels in action scenes, and brutal, colorful descriptions of blood, gore, and violence. It is deliciously gruesome. There are also some genuine moments of real tension (and that is praise that I do not hand out lightly). Jan Ray makes a likable hero, but Bamore makes for quite a hammy villain, all full of snide, condescending contempt. Baddies who continuously sigh and say things like "so typical" are kind of corny in my opinion. But the deification angle is well done, as is the whole concept of religion vs. magic. You can't beat this for the amount of bloody action you get in less than thirty pages. Not for the squeamish.
Score: 85/100

Dark Times at the Midnight Market by Robert Silverberg (25pgs):
I'm more than a little embarrassed to admit that I was not familiar with Silverberg's name; I had heard of Majipoor, but I had no idea of the scope of the tales of it. I was very impressed by the list of accolades on Silverberg's author intro, so it was exciting to see what kind of tale was in store.
In Dark Times, we meet Ghambivole Zwoll, a tentacled sorcerer of the Vroon race. He runs a struggling shop in a marketplace that showcases many arcane wares and services.  is commissioned by an arrogant aristocrat (rich, but still rather low ranking on the highbrow totem pole) to concoct a potion to help him seduce a beautiful young lady of quite high social standing. A bad idea to be sure, and things pan out in interesting ways....
That's all I can really say without ruining everything. To be honest, it is all fairly predictable, and the ending is downright silly. But Silverberg writes with such skill and enthusiasm that you can't help enjoy it. The story is more about him romping in the playground that is his created world than anything else. He has fun creating odd races with weird appearances and extra appendages. He gleefully names mystic ingredients for magical potions. And the whole tale is written with genuine good humor.
So in the end, immensely readable, good-natured, well-written, but predictable and a little silly.
Score: 76/100

The Undefiled by Greg Keyes (14pgs):
I am mostly familiar with Keyes from his Thorn and Bone books, as well as some tie-in fiction. Undefiled features another of his established characters, Fool Wolf. From what I can gather, Wolf is a shaman/warrior of sorts, who is possessed by a powerful, malicious female spirit. They maintain a perpetual inner dialogue, as she champs at the bit, looking to be unleashed and cause horrifying acts of violence and mayhem. With glee. He is also apparently traveling with a female (love interest?) named Inah.
In Undefiled, Fool Wolf and Inah find themselves captive in the land of QashQul, so named for the opposing gods that rule over it. Wolf is offered freedom by the Qash people in exchange for a service; to retrieve a sword used in the sacrificial rites which preserve their vitality. Wolf accepts and sets off....
This is a short story packed with a lot of grand ideas. Keyes weaves a poetic, spectral tale of gods interwoven into all physical things, and the symbiotic relationship that results. There are also a lot of dark themes, and somewhat of a dark tone tempered by dry sarcasm.
I really couldn't bring myself to sympathize with Fool Wolf; yes it is humorous that on appearance he isn't much more than a laid back horndog. And his literal inner demon makes things very interesting, even if her dialogue is overblown and hammy. But I needed a few more sentences of backstory to actually give a hoot about him. This should be a given if you are throwing a tale of an established figure into an anthology; give a little something to help new readers get acquainted. As it is, when I think of shaman + wolf + lazy lecher + demonic possession, I immediately think of Rose Estes' Mika-Oba books.
I appreciated this tale a lot more on the second reading. Being as though it is so short, you can afford a quick re-read. This helps Keyes style to set in and gel a little better.
Score: 77/100

Hew the Tintmaster by Michael Shea (38pgs):
Veteran author Shea gives us a decent length story here set in Jack Vance's Dying Earth universe. It is even billed on the back cover as being a "fully authorized" Cugel the Clever story. First things first; I have not read anything by Shea, and I was never able to get into Vance in my younger days (I know, pure sacrilege, maybe a revisit is in order), so I wasn't excited for this story. To be honest, I started this tale and then walked away from it for about two weeks, delaying the review even more. I'll just say it now; this is not my type of story. It is well-written (but I am in no position to confirm it being Vancian), but.....
Esteemed sorcerer Kadaster enlists the services of warrior Bront and master house painter Hew (hailing from the land of Helix, where colors are very important in social class) to travel to another realm. They will recruit help in a town called Minion, and from there journey to the mysterious Crystal Combs, where Hew will undertake a very special painting task.
This is a fairly light-hearted tale. Shea obviously loves writing in this world, and he is a sound wordsmith. Color is a motif that permeates the entire tale, peppering descriptions throughout. He also accomplishes a difficult task; successfully writing physical comedy. He creates a sound villain in a spooky "future wraith" as well. But a lot of the storytelling is forced as well; especially with the overly earnest, or corny, dialogue.
As for the Vance aspect, I'd love some reader feedback. This should be billed as a Dying Earth adventure, not a Cugel one. Cugel appears in a supporting role so minute it is damn near a cameo. Other than that, does Shea tap Vance's vein? All I know is that I personally do not feel compelled to run out and get anything further by either. Plus, even if I was an established fan, I imagine I'd feel ripped off by how little Cugel is in the Cugel tale. Not my cup of tea, feel free to add more points if you are a Dying Earth fan.
Score: 72/100

In the Stacks by Scott Lynch (48pgs):
Wow, what a pleasant surprise this story was. This tales centers around four wizard aspirants at the High University of Hazar, and focuses on them passing their fifth year final exam. The task at hand for a passing score? Simply returning a library book to the Living Library.
Sentient libraries in magic schools are not a new concept, and I had honestly thought that no one would top Pratchett at depicting them, but I was wrong. Lynch writes with a furious delight here, and satisfies all the criteria for a story in this anthology; magic, swordplay, some humor, some gruesome violence. His concepts and theories are solid, and well realized. Pacing is stellar; I cannot stress this enough. This being one of the longer entries in the book, I barely noticed as page after page flew by. Maybe the words were infused with the same thaumaturgical sentience as the grimoires in Stacks.
There are some weaknesses to this tale, however. The quality of the characters never rises to the lofty standards of the settings. There are trope and/or uninteresting; sufficiently resourceful or useless as each situation necessitates. Our protagonist, Laszlo, who possesses more quality of character than magical ability, is a slice of amicable milquetoast. And finally, the ending sequence feels very much tacked-on and unnecessary, as if the concept itself was insufficient on its own merits.
Still, I highly recommend this tale. I do not know if any of the people or places tie into Lynch's Locke Lamora stories.
Score: 86/100

Two Lions, a Witch, and the War-Robe by Tanith Lee (34pgs):
Two wandering adventurers, so close in appearance that they might be brothers, converge upon the mystical city of Cashloria by way of opposing banks of its roaring Ca river. After enduring similar encounters with brutish soldiers of the local ruler, the "False Prince" (both scenarios ending with thoroughly dead guards), they are charged by said Prince with a geas. The pair is charged with retrieving a lost garment of legendary power; a robe with magic properties. The theft of this robe has caused the prince to age at an exponential rate, and led his mind down its bitter path. Of course, there are obstacles to bar retrieval of the garment; challenges which have claimed the lives of the last fifty brave adventurers that have tried. And there is also the matter of that odd mansion in the labyrinthine woods....
From the opening lines of this story, veteran scribe Lee hooks you with lush descriptions and world-building. This is pure fantasy; evocative, fantastical, and immersing. To be honest, when I first met the two leads, I thought that their dialogue was a little overwrought, like a forced attempt at cleverness. But once they get together, they make a great pair with a great rapport. The magic is, well, magical, and the swordplay (and other action) is brisk and engaging. There is very little to complain about here, other than the last line being a forced proverb. Still, one of the better tales in the book. And it gets my vote for having the best story title with the playful dedication to C.S. Lewis.

The Sea-Troll's Daughter by Caitlin R. Kiernan (30pgs):
This is a very interesting tale that Kiernan brings. Like Cook's Tides Elba, there is no real swordplay or grand displays of magic here (save communicating in dream states), but the world she has crafted is one where these things, as well as monsters, are integral facets of society.
A stranger has arrived in the small fishing village of Invergo. A fighting woman from the southern lands, who claims to have succeeded in an unbelievable task: that she has slain the sea-troll who has for so long plagued the village on the bay. She is met with doubt and disbelief until the corpse of said creature washes up on the shore. Then it is turned into a public spectacle. Meanwhile Malmury, the heroine, spends her days at the local tavern, drinking and embellishing her tale further and further each day as she awaits her promised reward.
Eventually, a very much feared crone comes to warn the villagers that their actions have inevitable consequences. There are other trolls which may take umbrage with the murder of one of their own; and, more immediately, said sea-troll has a daughter (sired upon a human woman), that may have her own ideas about payback and settling accounts.
The basic life lesson in The Sea-Troll's Daughter is simple; that the "monsters" are quite capable of fairness and humanity, while the more "civilized" people are often petty and, well, monstrous. But while not thematically groundbreaking, this is a well-written tale that sticks with you. Kiernan's scientific pedigree coupled with evocative, haunting storytelling really brings this world to life. The characters are well fleshed out as well; especially Saehldr, the titular daughter of the troll, Dota, a kind-hearted, responsible barmaid, and Malmury, our boastful, whoring, hard-drinking "hero".
Solid concept, solid execution, detailed, gruesome descriptions. Good job.
Score: 88/100

Thieves of Daring by Bill Willingham (7pgs):
You know, I really don't know what to say about this story. Not at all. It's a decently written tale, but there is no real point to it. If it was all some set up to a great knockout of an ending, I could get it, but nothing. Thieves focuses on a character named Septavian (I have no idea if he appears in any of Willingham's graphic novels or printed fiction), who is a master thief and swordsman of a specific order. Apparently he is so well known that this story begins with an excerpt from his compiled history. In Thieves, Septavian and his cohorts have decided to rob the estate of a local wizard. The story begins as his partners in crime are dead and dying. Septavian then speaks to the master of the house. There's some action, then it's over. Seriously, that's it.
Like I said, the story is written in an engaging enough manner, and does feature swords and sorcery. Willingham writes with a real flair, even though the story it ultimately unnecessary. I don't dabble much in comics, so I haven't read his Fables works, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was he who drew so many of my favorite classic D&D pics:

So, yes, not a bad story but there is also no reason for it.

Score: 63/100

The Fool Jobs by Joe Abercrombie (25pgs):
Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy is stacked on a certain shelf in my mind labelled both "To Read" and "What the Hell is taking you so long to get to this????". It was a real challenge not to skip to the end of this anthology just to read this story first. So, that being said, what a great way to close this book! This little gem combines all the ingredients that make good fantasy; swordplay, magic, memorable characters, and even some well-placed comedic touches.
I am assuming that Abercrombie was trolling a bit when he made the story structure of Fool Jobs. It is about a band of hired ne'er-do-wells sent on a mission to a village to grab a 'thing'. Literally. This lethal septet is led by Craw, who's been doing this longer than he can remember and who is getting weary of catching the missions left pooling around the lower portion of the totem pole.
As mentioned before, all the components work here. There is enough description to satisfy feasible world building. We get an abundance of swordplay, depicted in such a manner that the results become vivid red splatters dashed across our imaginations.
Best of all is how Abercrombie writes for the characters. Let me say now, this band has its share of stock personalities. There is the quick, sneaky one, the quiet, lethal one, the knife pro, the tough as nails girl, and some big, burly, irritable lugs. And yet, it is Abercrombie's attention to the details of the workings of the inner mind, all those nuances, that grant his characters immediate authenticity. Craw is an efficient thug (for lack of a better term), but he has worries, dreams (red socks!), and fixations. Certain situations, such as the nervous anticipation that precedes a potentially deadly fight, are rendered so realistically that you can feel your stomach knot.
So there you have it; simplest plot structure, stock character types, and a predictable ending. But all made great with realistic, sympathetic characters, and good action scenes. Nice closing piece.
Score: 88/100

Final Thoughts:
This one took me quite a while to finish, but I am more than happy that I did. I recommend this anthology highly for event he most casual fantasy fan, and here's some reasons why:

  • It features some real A-list authors.
  • It features all new works, not rehashes of previous ones.
  • While some things aren't my taste per se, there are no poorly written stories here.
Highly recommended. And now I have a decent sized list of authors I need to read more stuff by.

Cover Score:

To be frank, the worst thing about this book is the cover. The background color is a nauseating green mess. Our heroic pair looks like an intrepid duo of LARP-ing, photogenic, Marketing Department workers. This is the kind of cover you'd expect on a self-published title, not an anthology of this caliber.

Cover Final Score:


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