For anthologies, I’ll be adding my thoughts about each story or essay here on the site. You can find the full review on GoodReads.
Update 2: Finally gave up and DNF at the last story. What a disappointment this one was.
Update: it’s now seven months later, and I still haven’t finished this thing. That should probably give you an inkling about how much I’m enjoying it.
Some Desperado, Joe Abercrombie
I’d never read Joe Abercrombie before this short story, and I’m determined to rectify that once I buy my reward books when I’ve finished this year’s project. The plot concerns a young woman named Shy who finds herself in some trouble in an Old West setting. The plot is of secondary interest, though. Of primary interest – and the reason I’ll be picking up Abercrombie’s longer works – are his writing and his humor. Listen:
“Town” was perhaps an overstatement. It was six buildings, and calling them buildings was being generous to two or three. All rough lumber and an entire stranger to straight angles, sun-baked, rain-peeled, and dust-blasted, huddled about a dirt square and a crumbling well.”
My Heart is Either Broken, Megan Abbott
I did not care for this story. If you like unsettling crime fiction and an author described as “the finest prose stylist in crime fiction since Raymond Chandler,” you might. Crime fiction, in any medium, is a particular dislike of mine, but I wanted to give the story – and the author – a shot. While I didn’t care for it, I’m completely unable to determine if it’s a good story or not.
This ties in with something I’ve thought of before: you need to have the language to enjoy a piece of art. I “speak” country music. I might not like all of it, and some of it might be deeply problematic, but I understand what the artists are trying to say, and the common tropes country music employs. I don’t speak classical, however, which is why going to the orchestra with Becca frequently leaves me confused; it’s like there’s a story there, but I don’t know enough to know what it is*. Similarly, I “speak” science fiction/fantasy. Even if I don’t care for a particular work, I can understand it and interact with it. I do not speak crime fiction. I don’t know its conventions, its tropes, or what has come before.
Nora’s Song, Cecilia Holland
This was another story where I didn’t have the language I needed to fully engage with it, but this time it was due to my unfamiliarity with Eleanor of Acquitaine and the politics of Henry II’s court. Wikipedia provided me with enough information to know that I’d probably like to learn more about the fiery queen. It was a cute little story, but Holland’s writing doesn’t really capture me. In general, I also prefer historical non-fiction to fiction, so my preferences run more to authors like Alison Weir.
The Hands That Are Not There, Melinda Snodgrass
I’ve been meaning to read Snodgrass for awhile, as her name pops up in conjunction with other authors I really like. I ended up quite enjoying this story, but that enjoyment was tempered by the slightly flat ending. The story itself is tense, and reads at a good clip. It seems interesting to me that I didn’t care for the Abbott story at all but enjoyed this one. Apparently I like my “crime fiction” with a good dash of spaceships and noir. Like much short fiction, it sort of trails off at the end, ultimately presenting a puzzle piece, but without a larger picture to sustain it. The writing and concept were good enough that I’m planning on seeking out her work in the future.
Bombshells, Jim Butcher
Unlike many (most?) who bought this anthology, I did not expect to like the Butcher story, nor did I buy the anthology to read it. (This will come up again when I get to Martin’s story.) I had tried reading Storm Front at my dad’s recommendation, and couldn’t get through it. Urban fantasy is not a preferred genre of mine, and adding crime and procedure elements (there it is again!) to it doesn’t help. For all that, I found myself really enjoying this story, one of my favorites so far. The voice reminds me a bit of Abby Normal from Christopher Moore’s vampire books, only significantly less annoying. While Molly engages in a bit more introspection than I would expect from a short story of this length, it’s still reasonably engaging to wander around in her head. The ending reveal does take some of the shine off for me, though, as it ties the book into Butcher’s larger series, which I still have no interest in reading.
Raisa Stepanova, Carrie Vaughn
I’m starting to think I really don’t care for short fiction. For every story in this book I’ve enjoyed, I’ve wanted more: more the world, more of the characters. That’s true for this story as well. In this case, I loved Raisa’s story, but I would have enjoyed more. I know Vaughn’s name as primarily a SFF writer, so I wonder: would the full story have taken that “quarter turn” to the fantastic that I adore in Judith Tarr and Guy Gavriel Kay’s works? Would it have hewed closely to Stalin’s Russia? For that matter, does it? These are my typical reactions to alternative histories and historical fiction, and the reaction I was missing while I read “Nora’s Song.” I don’t think I’d enjoy Carrie’s “Kitty” series, as urban fantasy is no longer one of the subgenres that really make me happy, but I’m likely to pick up one of her other works.
Wrestling Jesus, Joe R. Lansdale
I nearly didn’t read this, since Lansdale’s bio emphasizes his skill as a mystery, crime, and horror author – some of the very few sections of a bookstore I’d have trouble finding something to enjoy. I can see why he’s lauded: his language and pacing are very, very good, particularly his dialog. What confuses me is what this story is doing in an anthology about “dangerous women.” Oh sure, there’s a woman in the story. One. Her entire purpose, though, is to be the trophy the two wrestlers fight over. There’s some little thought that perhaps she has some sort of magic, but that’s literally the only intriguing thing about her. In the end, this is a story about an old wrestler and his protege, not about Felina. I’m not sorry I read it, but I’m disappointed that it was included in this collection.
Neighbors, Megan Lindholm
I read this not knowing that Megan Lindholm and Robin Hobb are the same author. I’ve read Assassin’s Apprentice and enjoyed it, but for some reason never moved on from there (if I recall, I found Fritz entirely too morose for my tastes at the time). As for this story, I adored it. It was suspenseful, moving, humorous, and victorious. This is the type of story I’d been hoping for when I picked up this anthology.
I Know How to Pick ‘Em, Lawrence Block
I deeply regret the trait of being a completionist, which is the only reason I read this story. Perhaps its only redeeming quality is Block’s writing, which lured me in before I knew that what I would receive is a terrible cliched story that focuses entirely on one man’s trauma and viciousness. If there’s a dangerous woman in this story, she’s off doing something else. Wikipedia blurbs it as a “femme fatale crime story with a twist,” but it’s not a twist, it’s not clever, and it’s horrifyingly misogynistic. To write more would be to spoil the “twist,” but gods, was this awful.
Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, Brandon Sanderson
There was never any question that I would enjoy this story, as I’m already fond of Sanderson’s work. What was particularly interesting to me in this one was to see Brandon write something a little darker and more baroque than his usual fare. Par for the course, his setting and magic system almost upstage the actors. Unlike nearly every other tale in this anthology so far, however, this story has actual dangerous women in it – even more than one!
A Queen in Exile, Sharon Kay Penman
This is another historical fiction entry, and I enjoyed it so much more than “Nora’s Song.” I’m not sure why that is; perhaps because “Nora’s Song” is told from the point of view of a child, while “A Queen in Exile” is focused on Constance. It may be that I prefer Penman’s writing voice, or that there’s something else I can’t quite suss out. In any case, this was interesting enough to me that I wanted to know more about Constance and Frederick. I’m sensing that I really want to do some reading on the Crusades at some point.
The Girl in the Mirror, Lev Grossman
I really enjoyed this one, which is good since I’ve had The Magicians on my TBR list for quite some time. The voice of Plum is vivid and well detailed (though in my head, she looks exactly like Nancy in The Craft). The – for lack of a better term – “chase scene” is evocative and engaging.
Second Arabesque, Very Slowly, Nancy Kress
I’m really on the fence about this one. Perhaps part of the reason why is that I have zero attachment to New York City (never having been there, nor having read much set there), so the loving descriptions of post-apocalyptic NYC were no more than a fantastic setting to me. Unfortunately, because it’s based on a real location, it’s not built up as much as an original setting would be, so I never became comfortable in it. The world Kress sets up seems intriguing, but none of the characters really draw me. I also apparently lack empathy, because I more-or-less rolled my eyes at the ending. It’s a pity, because I adore The Handmaid’s Tale, which this reminded me of. sadly, I didn’t feel like Kress had the same lyricism as Atwood does.
City Lazarus, Diana Rowland
I didn’t like this one at all, but I guess at least it had a dangerous woman in it? I’ve already established that I don’t like crime fiction, but there were a few other issues as well. It stars a creepy, corrupt cop who makes light of police brutality. By the end, I think we’re supposed to feel some empathy for him. I felt none. The city of the title is New Orleans, which plays a significant and dramatic part in the story. Place names are dropped on a regular basis. Having never been to New Orleans, this means all I got were names that I was already supposed to have a visual to go with. Note to self: if I ever write something set in a place I know well, add descriptions like it’s a secondary world. Not everyone has lived or traveled where I have. (The Nancy Kress story had the same problem.)
Virgins, Diana Gabaldon
So, this is the first Diana Gabaldon I’ve ever read, and I think it was … okay. There’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on that was just not as engaging as I would hope. The characters of Jaime and Ion are well drawn and it’s interesting to see Scottish slang used in the narrative, not just the dialog. And there’s nothing here that I really absolutely hated. I did find the subplot of “the brown-haired girl” ancillary and unecessary, but that’s it. I’m forced to conclude that it’s a perfectly respectable story, but not for me.
Hell Hath No Fury, Sherrilyn Kenyon
I’m really not sure about this one. The Native American trappings are worrisome, as that’s a group of people that are really easily misrepresented, but I don’t have the background to tell if that’s the case here. Additionally, it’s essentially a prose morality play, which I found a bit tiring. I do like a bit more dimension in my stories, and this one really never gets above REVENGE BAD and GREED BAD. Just not enough meat here to keep me entertained.
Pronouncing Doom, S.M. Stirling
This story has the exact opposite problem of the previous story by Kenyon. As a Celtic pagan, I just about gave myself a headache with all the eye-rolling. Why are they pretending to be Scottish? Why go back to a feudal system after “the Change?” Why would the pagans suddenly be proven “right” when all the machines stopped? How do you end up with this huge of a difference after just one year? Unfortunately, between the lacking worldbuilding and my own knowledge of Celtic paganism/pantheism, I just couldn’t engage the Suspension of Disbelief Switch.
Name the Beast, Sam Sykes
I … maybe liked this one? It’s a morality tale, to be sure, about as heavy handed as Aesop. You’ll know who the “beast” is pretty early on. I think I enjoyed the symbolic, high prose style it was written in, but those sorts of things always make me feel like I’m missing something Deep and Important.
Caretakers, Pat Cadigan
More crime. Not invested. I read it, and now I can say that I have read it, but it did nothing much at all for me. I am getting really tired of how “dangerous women” is continually being interpreted as villainous, criminal women.
Lies my Mother Told Me, Caroline Spector
Unlike the Butcher story, I felt like I was at a distinct disadvantage by not knowing the Wild Card series before reading this story. The worldbuilding looks fun, maybe fun enough for me to pick up others. I liked the main character here, and I appreciate that she was 1) actually dangerous, and 2) not the villain. But the other characters just … it’s a congo line of trauma. While flipping through the story again to write the review, I actually just realized I hadn’t actually finished it. Accompanying that realization was a mental shrug and the decision to go on to the next story.
The Princess and the Queen, George R.R. Martin
You know what? I am so done with this book. The only thing I feel when I think about having only one story left is relief. DNF this one, and Do Not Care.
*Except the Russians. For some reason, I get the Russian composers.