Unboundby Shawn Speakman, Terry Brooks, Seanan McGuire, Mark Lawrence, Anthony Ryan, Tim Marquitz, Brian Staveley, Michael J. Sullivan Published 15 Oct 2015
|Publisher||Grim Oak Press|
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Not bound, as a book. Free.
Like Unfettered before it, the contributing writers of Unbound were allowed to submit the tales they wished fans of genre to read—without the constraints of a shackling theme.
The result is magical. Twenty-three all-original stories are sure to captivate you—some will move you to tears while others will keep you turning the pages long into the night. The power of Unbound lies in its variety of tales and the voices behind them. If you are a fan of discovering new writers or reading the works of beloved authors, Unbound is for you.
Return to Landover with Terry Brooks. Go to trial with Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher. Enter the Citadel and become remade with Rachel Caine. Survive a plague with John Marco and his robot companion Echo. Be painted among the stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. These tales and the others that comprise the anthology are only bound by how enchanting and enthralling they are.
Unbound is filled with spectacularly wonderful stories, each one as diverse as its creator.
You will be changed upon finishing it.
And that is the point.
Like Unfettered before it, the contributing writers of Unbound were allowed to submit the tales they wished fans of genre to read—without the constraints of a theme. It is an anthology filled some spectacularly wonderful stories, each one as diverse as its creator.
Here is the Unbound line-up: Terry Brooks (intro) | Kristen Britain | Jim Butcher | Rachel Caine | Harry Connolly | Delilah S. Dawson | David Anthony Durham | Jason M. Hough | Mary Robinette Kowal | Mark Lawrence | John Marco | Tim Marquitz | Seanan McGuire | Peter Orullian | Kat Richardson | Anthony Ryan | Shawn Speakman | Brian Staveley | Michael J. Sullivan | Sam Sykes | Mazarkis Williams
“Madwalls” by Rachel Caine
“Stories Are Gods” by Peter Orullian
“River and Echo” by John Marco
“A Dichotomy of Paradigms” by Mary Robinette Kowal
“Son of Crimea” by Jason M. Hough
“An Unfortunate Influx of Filipians” by Terry Brooks
“The Way into Oblivion” by Harry Connolly
“Uncharming” by Delilah S. Dawson
“A Good Name” by Mark Lawrence
“All in a Night’s Work” by David Anthony Durham
“Seven Tongues” by Tim Marquitz
“Fiber” by Seanan McGuire
“The Hall of the Diamond Queen” by Anthony Ryan
“The Farmboy Prince” by Brian Staveley
“Heart’s Desire” by Kat Richardson
“The Game” by Michael J. Sullivan
“The Ethical Heresy” by Sam Sykes.
“Small Kindnesses” by Joe Abercrombie
“The Rat” by Mazarkis Williams
“The Siege of Tilpur” by Brian McClellan
“Mr. Island” by Kristen Britain
“Jury Duty” by Jim Butcher
“The Dead’s Revenant” by Shawn Speakman
“You know who I am. You know what I can do. Let her go.”
She rolled her eyes, and spun a finger through fine, straight black hair. “Why should I?”
“Because you know what happened the last time some vampires abducted a little girl and I decided to take her back.”
Her smile faltered slightly. As it should have. When bloodsucking Red Court vampires had taken my daughter, I took her back—and murdered every single one of them in the process. The entire species.
I’m not a halfway kind of person.
Wow, that forgotten hair-raising thrills and excitements of reading The Dresden Files!!!
A very short story, just a little plot, but still the one and only Harry Dresden stands tall here in all his badass wiseass actionpacked glory. And even in such a little space Jim Butcher delivers like he always do with perfect execution. You can't help but feel a contented sigh and have a stupid little smile on your face after you finish it. After three looong years (since the last released novel of the series Skin Game). As there's yet no sign of even a release date for the next one Peace Talks in the horizon, this will have to do for now.
9 out of 10.
উফ, ড্রেসডেন ফাইলস পড়ার সেই ভুলে যাওয়া রোমহর্ষক শিহরণ ও উত্তেজনা!!!
ছো্ট্ট একটা গল্প, অল্প একটু কাহিনি, তার মাঝেও হ্যারি ড্রেসডেন তার দুর্ধর্ষ ব্যাডঅ্যাস অ্যাকশনপ্যাকড স্বমহিমায় উদ্ভাসিত। এইটুকু স্পেসেও জিম বুচারের নিখুঁত এক্সিকিউশন, গল্প শেষে আপনা থেকেই বিশুদ্ধ তৃপ্তির একটা শ্বাস বেরিয়ে যায়, মুখে হাসি লেগে থাকে অনেকক্ষণ। দীর্ঘ তিন বছর পর। পরবর্তি উপন্যাসের যখন খোঁজ নাই, যা পাই তাই সই। ১০ এ ৯।
Unbound is a collection of short stories from various authors in the fantasy genre. Overall this is a good collection. The only thing I would have liked to see is at minimum a paragraph talking about what world these stories appear in because it's not clear where a reader should go if he or she wanted to read more about the characters and their world.
I reviewed these stories not in the order they appear, but in the order I chose to read them. I didn't review all the short stories, these are just some that stood out to me.
The Siege of Tilpur by Brian McClellan
Many years before Promise of Blood, Tamas was a sergeant who desperately wanted a promotion. Tamas had two things against him though, he's a commoner and a powder mage. Commoner's aren't to have ambition and powder mage's were marked for death in some countries just for being powder mages. Being the man who takes the wall and breaks the siege of Tilpur was Tamas's best chance at a promotion. When he finds out the Adran army is withdrawing from the siege, Tamas takes desperate measures for his advancement and to save lives.
Tamas is a very different man in The Siege of Tilpur than he is in the Powder Mage trilogy. He's just as arrogant, but more subdued than he was in the novella Servant of the Crown when he shot the lower part of a nobles earlobe off in a duel. Tamas knows what he's capable of and realizes he has a nearly impossible task in front of him in order to be promoted in the Adran army.
I really enjoyed The Siege of Tilpur because first Brian McClellan is an awesome author and second Tamas is one intense devoted character. He loves Adro even though those who rule it don't acknowledge him and some outright despise him. It would have been far simpler for Tamas to join The Wings of Adom who seem more concerned with merit in their ranks instead of noble blood. Tamas took some crazy risks just for the hope that someone would overlook his common blood and promote him.
The Siege of Tilpur is the reason I chose to read Unbound in the first place and I have to say I am not disappointed by that choice at all.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Small Kindnesses by Joe Abercrombie
Shev owns a dump of a husk house. She's trying to do the right thing, she even helped an unconscious mountain of a woman into her bed just that morning. Unfortunately she has a past that won't leave her alone. Shev is the best thief in Westport which means people come to her when they want things stolen. She can often say no, but when the son of a powerful man comes she has no choice but do as he says.
Small Kindnesses wasn't bad, but an introduction to the short story would have been great. I wasn't sure what world this story took place in, which happens to be Abercrombie's First Law world. I also couldn't tell when it was taking place, the only identifier I noticed was a young Severard appears and he works for Shev. So I imagine this is at least a decade prior to the events in The Blade Itself.
Lord Grimdark himself is back and Small Kindnesses is just a sample of his dark creativity. I'll have to check out Abercrombie's website to figure out if this story ties into a new book. It certainly seems like it does as this story reads like the first chapter or two of a longer book.
3.5 out of 5 stars
The Ethical Heresy by Sam Sykes
The story begins with some heretics against the Venarium being tortured, witch burned on the stake style with magic thrown in there. The story is told from the perspective of the apprentice Dreadaeleon. Dread isn't the sharpest, but he has some ability. He and fellow apprentice Cesta are pressed into service while searching for the leader of the Heretics and things get crazy from there.
The Ethical Heresy was my first exposure to Sam Sykes and I have to say I liked it. This story was a mash up of Wizards, Jedi child snatchers, desertion, and consequences. It reads much better than that mini description, but those were all familiar territories I noticed. In the end I have to say I will be checking out more of Sam Sykes books because of The Ethical Heresy.
4 out of 5 stars
The Game by Michael J. Sullivan
The employees of DysanSoft are facing an impossible issue. A character in their game Realms of Rah isn't following his programing. Many games have glitches like characters walking through walls or falling into the sky, but that's not what they're facing here. It appears a giant dark green troll named Troth has gained sentience. DysanSoft's president wants answers, but the employees just don't have answers.
Michael J. Sullivan takes on a highly philosophical idea in a familiar technological format in The Game. Troth is eerily aware of the world he lives in and he's asking the big questions of where did he come from, what happens when he dies, and why is the world like this. Troth's creator Jeri Blainey recently asked the same questions herself when her father died and wonders how could Troth be this way.
I've seen many stories like The Game that attempts to answer the unknowable parts of life and I find them all interesting in their own way. They are thought provoking, but in the end they only leave me with more questions. The Game was certainly an unexpected short story in the Unbound collection.
3.5 out of 5 stars
A Good Name by Mark Lawrence
Firestone is a young tribal man who just passed his manhood trial. Unfortunately he has anger in him which he unleashes on a member of his tribe over something trivial and is sent to face the king. Nothing from that point on goes as he once expected.
A Good Name is likely a story I could appreciate more if I got into the Broken Empire series. I tried reading the first book before and wasn't a fan so perhaps it's time to give it another try. The writing in the short story is solid yet unspectacular.
3 out of 5 stars
The Farmboy Prince by Brian Staveley
The Farmboy Prince is one of those short stories that's easy to appreciate without being familiar with the main story or world the story exists in. Peasants are peasants and these peasants knew their place. A bit vulgar, but when the POV character is rough around the edges it only makes sense that his vocabulary matches.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Madwalls by Rachel Caine
I liked the writing style of Madwalls, but the story made absolutely no sense to me.
3 out of 5 stars
Jury Duty by Jim Butcher
Jury Duty is a Harry Dresden Law and Order episode. An ex-con gone straight is being set up to go to jail because of supernatural interests and Dresden can't just let that happen. This was a pretty good short story even with the fact that I've barely read any of the Dresden books. Short stories like this one make me feel like I should give the main series another try.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Almost everyone else seems to have adored this anthology. So I'm afraid that I'm going to be in the minority here.
Only one story ("Jury Duty" by Jim Butcher, which involved preventing an innocent man from going to prison and saving a child's life) really pleased me. That story I would give 4.5 stars.
Everything else, with the exception of one other story, involved the heroes trying to accomplish something and failing, losing (or, in some cases, failing to gain) power, freedom, sanity, their world, their lives, and/or hope in the process. The one exception to this pattern was by the editor of the anthology, and I wince to report that it featured a villain protagonist who corrupted people, gave an abused child the means to commit suicide or murder, tortured a priest and left him to bleed to death, destroyed the soul of a churchwarden by forcing a damned spirit into the churchwarden's body, and handed Excalibur over to the resulting revenant so that it could murder an innocent and then start destroying the world. The villain protagonist was all too successful. I kept reading in the hopes that someone would defeat him, but no one did.
I have never read such an infuriatingly nihilistic collection. I could not escape the feeling that the theme of the anthology was the futility of trying to accomplish anything good in this world, with a side message of "If you even try, you're going to get screwed." I have been battling depression lately, and this did not make matters any better. I am deeply, deeply sorry that I read it.
If I had known that that this anthology focused almost exclusively on the themes futility and failure, I would have avoided it altogether. This book obviously works for many people. It did not work for me.
An assemblage of short stories liberated from the imaginations of great story tellers
Perhaps it s a product of the busy age we live in that short story anthologies have become more appealing to my taste than before. Bite sized fiction for a world driven by sound-bites, and there are plenty of bites of different kinds in this riveting collection which Shawn Speakman has edited.
Some of the authors I already knew and had read, others are names glimpsed on social media. Some of the stories have roots in the authors' main works though still read well as stand alone stories, others are tales told in isolation, their backstory fashioned at the convergence of each reader's and author's maginations. The anthology is inevitably an eclectic mix, but still entertaining in its own right and a powerful taster of different authors' styles and approaches.
In some ways it is like those trios of deserts offered in the best restaurants these days, a mix of different but complementary taste sensations that leave you hugering for more. Just as a festive season taster can lead to bigger things and a damaging expansion in the waisline, so too this anthology might cause an explosion in my already daunting TBR pile.
But - to the stories themselves - and a story by story sequence of mini-reviews
Madwalls - by Rachel Caine.
Beautifully written, the transition from the normal world of a teenager into some dark secret, an accident of birth landing her in the midst of an ancient covenant handed down from generation to generation on which the fate of the world rests, the world and one captive. Surreal, hypnotic, like its central theme, the reader like the protagonist is drawn into a world that lingers in the mind, or is it the mind that lingers in the world?
Stories are Gods - by Peter Orullian.
A story that believes in the power of argument, or perhaps an argument that believes in the power of stories. A hero who is physically weak, but mentally strong fuelled by a powerful love and a tragic schism to take to a debating floor in a world where academic philosopy has suddenly become dangerous. Themes from a wider well-built world (The Vault of Heaven I infer) bleed into this story though, like its protagonist, the story stands well enough on its own two feet.
River and Echo - by John Marco.
If you have seen Will Smith's "I am Legend" or the film "Silent Running" you may see the same similes that I did. A lone survivor and his unusual companion, living ghosts in the detritus of a plague ridden city. There is a traditional fantasy feel to it - rather than sci-fi, a city with walls, lit and heated by fires, defended with arrows. Though with a slight steampunk feel. The story is sustained by the wonderfully well-drawn poignant relationship between River and Echo.
A dichotomy of Paradigms - by Mary Robinette Kowal
With this story the anthology lurches into a far future of interstellar piracy and technological innovation that enables artists to pursue their craft with the same vibrant immediacy of a war photographer. Patrick the brush wielding protagonist reminded me of a pen scribbling character W.W.Beauchamp in the Clint Eastwood film "Unforgiven" - the journalist hack turned biographer chasing after a gunslinger to document his life. Only Patrick finds that painting the pirate queen poses more of a challenge to his conscience and his craft than he expected.
Son of Crimea - by Jason M Hough
John Crimson is a policeman perched on the cusp of the age of science and reason - a time when method replaced madness, when passionate crime would yield to patient investigative technique. And into his world steps the disturbing Malena Penar, intoxicating and bewitching. In a journey that spans half the world she challenges his faith in the rational, his dismissal of superstition but in the end I found it hard to tell who won!
An Unfortunate Influx of Filipians by Terry Brooks
The story is a bridge into the magical world of Landover where lawyer turned King Ben Holiday finds himself presiding like a cross between Judge Judy and Solomon over a gnomish dispute. Problems beget problems in a progeny of biblical proportions and in the end it is management, rather than leadership which must resolve the crises that competing incompetencies have created.
The Way into Oblivion by Harry Connolly.
When the centre of an empire has suddenly fallen to an unknown power, that is not so much an opportunity as a threat to those previously subjugated peoples who might be tempted to flex the muscles of their newfound independence. Song, sister to the leader of the Holvos people, finds more dangers lurk beside a crocodile infested river than within it. When all choices are difficult and all options are unpalatable, she must decide what motherhood means to her.
Uncharming by Delilah S Dawson
The writing is delicious, a tasty heady morsel as the daimon Monsieur Charmant frequents the darkest corners of an alternate Paris and London in an obsession to utterly possess a poor desparate soul who had already sold him the best part of herself. The story draws on a well built world of Dawson's other works but gives what I assume to be a smalller character his moment to preen his awful nature in technicolour limelight. I liked this line especially Money had been important to him once. Now it was power and possession, the tang of owing that hit the air everytime a client gave more than they really had.
A Good Name by Mark Lawrence.
This is another work where a supporting player from Prince of Thorns (and the short story Select Mode) has an opportunity to be fleshed out in more detail. Jorg had his band of brothers and "the Nuban" - never given an identifier beyond that - was one of my favourites. In this short story we find what brought him from the village of his birth to a place at Jorg's side in Ancrath. It begins with pride, the pride in a name won through hardship, a name that should not bow when it was not merited. But sometimes it is not enough to be right, and the consequences of pride cast long shadows.
All in a Night's Work by David Anthony.
In an action packed adventure Ash - a prince's faithful bodyguard finds a night off is anything but quiet. Deadly demons stalk the palace of an alternative Egypt and our young hero sets off in a pursuit of the assassin as single minded as it is foolish. The only assistance to be had comes from a beetle with a broken antenna and as Ash realises partway through the chase "..you can't think of everything when you're dangling a hundred feet in the air, holding on to the scrawny legs of a faulty beetle." The action is as relentless as the opening sequence of a James Bond movie, and the hero scarcely less resourceful than 007 himself.
Seven Tongues by Tim Marquitz
A grim tale with a grim hero illuminated by some startling pose from the very first line onwards- The clouds gnawed at the moon, devouring it in slow steady bites. Gryl is an unusual killer - a Prodigy - who escaped enslavement and sells his formidable powers, though still constrained by some sense of a just cause, of a distinction between the guilty and the innocent. When such a man goes in pursuit of a slaver who has been trading in and abusing children the outcome is unlikely to be pretty. However, it is the jobs that seem easiest at first, that are likely to end most messily and by the end of this gripping piece Gryl has certainly painted the desert red.
Fiber by Seanan McGuire.
This was outrageously entertaining. My eldest daughter has resolutely resisted the lure of the fantasy genre but also enjoys cheerleading as a base with the Cambridge Cougars, so a story that throws a carload of squabbling cheerleaders into a dark fantasy/horrow blend should be the kind that would fire her interest. It's a bit like the way "Dawn of the Dead" combined zombie apocalypse with fantasy shopping to become one of my wife's favourite films. Speaking of which, this riveting short story also features a reformed zombie amongst its kick-ass, kick-head, kick everything leading females. "...thus proving the old adage that you should never forget to wear a cup to a cheerleader fight. No matter what kind of junk you're packing in your pants, a good boot to the groin is going to put you down if you don't have protection."
The Diamond Queen - by Anthony Ryan
This is story that reaches skywards with its epic scope. The opening battle of tens of thousands, is a bloody victory won that would make Nirnaeth Arnoediad look like a minor skirmish (allow me a little hyperbole here). The warrior general Sharrow-met flies into combat astride her blackwing like a Nazgul Lord and none dare come between her and her prey. But the spoils of victory prove elusive and Sharrow-met's past stubbornly intrudes on the present. The Voice that is is her master, commands, controls and rewards but Sharrow-met finds mysteries it cannot answer as she strives to complete her subjugation of the last city on the continent.
And when the dust has settled and silence has fallen, I am left feeling I have finished a novel, rather than a short story.
The Farmboy Prince - by Brian Staveley
There is a distinctive voice in this first person point of view tale, the unnamed narrrator coarsely dismissive of both noble and ignoble visitors to his home town which aspires - at its best - to be a shit-hole. The noble are reviled as they sit "holding one of Nick's filthy tankards as though he'd filled it up with some pox-victim's phlegm instead of ale, which, considering Nick's ale, was about right." while the ignoble are warned "if you go for your sword in Two Streams, you'd better be ready to drop some motherfuckers"
In short, in this short story, the lives of the people in Two Streams - like the people themselves are short and ugly. Throw into the mix a traditional tale of hidden parentage, dodgy fake names, and a looming national crisis, and it becomes clear that something needs to be done. What is less clear, is exactly what that something is, and who's going to do it but Staveley manages to raise a smile and surprise in the process.
Heart's Desire - by Kat Richardson
The style is hauntingly strange, like a letter to an absent lover. The narrator sits entwined in the twisted ghosts of fairy stories of old, atop a tower tall enough to have held Rapunzel. There is a wall of thorns such as entombed sleeping beauty. There are helpful talking animals though their purpose and manner is a long way from the timely home helps that assisted Snow White.
Something is awry in this fairy tale world, a story too full of desparation and shadow to lift the reader's sense of forebdoing, but the twist when it comes, still cuts to the heart.
The Game - by Michael J. Sullivan
Those of us brought up on the SIMS and World of Warcraft will love the inventiveness of this tale. My second daughter, not the most skilled SIIMS player, used to get genuinely upset when - by some accident in playing the first versiion of SIMS - she managed to set her SIMS on fire and watched them reduced to a pile of ash and then an urn. My eldest, slightly more clinically observant, used to experiment with different ways of killing them off - for example putting them in a pool and then removing the ladder so they could not get out and would eventuallly die of exhaustion.
In the Game Sullivan plays with the idea of games and the characters that populate them as well as the poeple that play them. It is cleverly done, so I cannot - in all spoiler-free safety - say much more than that Jeri Blainey, Project Lead for the Realms of Rah - MMPORG is about to have a very bad day.
The Ethical Heresy - by Sam Sykes
Dreadaeleon is an apprentice wizard with more to worry about than his mouthful of a name. Even as they hunt down heretic mages, wielding ice, fire and lightning, Dreadaeleon - in the grip of adolescence - is obssessed with his cooler, taller, more gifted fellow apprentice Cresta. In the midst of death and destruction and the disdain of their grim tutor Vemire, Dread vainly tries to draw some approval from his crush. The prose captures his failures well as Dread tells himself Well done, old man. She dressed you down like a six-copper prostitute, and you simply stood there and took it.
But even apprentices can find danger in this well crafted piece, the backstory of politics and magic system injected seamlessly into the writing - like the fine marbelling of fat within the lean of a high quality steak that gives the whole its flavour. Humour and pathos mix perfectly as Dread finds himself thinking
At that moment what he was going to do seemed to fall along the lines of "die horribly, possibly while crying"
Small Kindnesses - by Joe Abercromie
The story spins around three women and the men who underestimate them. There is Shev the young but retired thief turned smoke house hostess, Carcolf the alluring blond siren from Shev's past still flinging temptation in her way, and there is the unconscious redhead. Though - as facebook told me only this morning - "It takes a special kind of stupid to piss of a redhead and expect calm"
Shev is the central sympathetic character, given to small kindnesses, to protecting others from their own foolishness, from striving to escape the trap of being the best thief in Westport. Maybe there was some stubborn stone in her, like the stone in a date, that refused to let all the shit that had been done to her make her into shit.
Shev, has her share of earthy passions but tries not to let these cloud her thinking too much.
She tore her eyes away as her mind came knocking like an unwelcome visitor. When you live in life's gutter, a cerain caution has to be your watchword.
But in a grippingly related day that grows increasingly turbulent, our charming but diminutive heroine discovers that fate neither forgets, nor forgives a small kindness.
The Rat - by Mazarkis Williams
A boy, Emil, awaits his great-grandpa coming to stay, hoping for an insight into the past. In this well written tale a backstory of epic grandeur is distilled down to a child's eye view of a simple hut and four people sharing an evening warmed, inflamed even, by fires of history. The title at first seems misleading, the eponymous rodent and its feline huntress little more than shadows on the fringes of the lyrical prose. But by the end the story had put me in mind of the sad fate of the crew of USS Indianapolis, torpedoed in 1945 and left for days floating in shark infested waters, their numbers steadily and inevitably diminished until they were spotted and rescued by chance. A horror like that would etch deep into an old man's memory and so it is with great-grandpa curmudgeonly and distrustful when awake, restless and fearful asleep.
And for Emil the excitement of the new, not just great grandpa but his road companion the musician "young enough to hold his shoulders straight, but he carried snow in his hair." quickly gives way to questions he dare not ask, answers he does not want.
The Siege of Tilpur - by Brian McClellan
I had heard of the powdermage series, but this was my first excursion into the world of magic and musketry that McClellan has created. It is a tale of warfare, of a desert seige, of prejdice, class and incompetence. Sergeant Tamas and his squad, serving the artistocratic General Seske are in the classic mold of the infantry lions led by officer donkeys as they bid to take the fortress that has never fallen. It also has shades of the Sharpe novels of Bernard Cornwell, the period feel (if not the generalship) more suited to the Napoleonic era than the first world war.
It is visceral action, but with very human heroes. For a moment I saw a hint of Blackadder goes Forth as Tamas explains his cunning plan to a disbelieving general clad in a silk dressing gown (perhaps one of General Melchett's cast offs?). As with most cunning plans, things do not run exactly smoothly, but then that is what makes the story so entertaining.
Mr Island - by Kristen Britain
A charmingly atmospheric tale of what happens when a strange traveller is welcomed to a small east coast community, all told with a true 19th century period feel by a narrator known only as Mrs Grindle. If Jane Austen and Jules Verne had been inspired by the story of Grace Darling to collaborate this might be the tale they came up with. Of propriety and love, science and shipwreck, mystery and loss.
As the layers of the story are peeled back, and truths are raised - in some cases from the sea bed - several themes enjoy a brief flash of illumination, as though from the sweep of a lighthouse beam. Women's emancipation, commercial advantage, luddite impulses, all flare in this skilful depiction of small town life exposed to new influences. But Mr Island and the woman whose kindness captures his heart form the spine to the story and prove that - no matter how small the space in which you stand - there is no limit to the direction in which you can look.
Jury Duty - by Jim Butcher
There have been many great courtroom dramas since Henry Fonda first swung a jury in "Twelve Angry Men" but when Harrry Dresden - Chicago's wizardly private investigator gets involved in an open and shut case the debate will be won with spells and claws more than words and points of law.
This fresh fast paced story was my first introduction to Harry Dresden and the cynical wit that permeates the writing as Harry first questions "What does justice have to do with the legal system?" and then observes of the judge "This was a woman who had seen a great deal, had been amused by very little of it, and who would not easily be made a fool."
Strings pulled beyond the courtroom threaten to make a mockery of justice, but for a hardboiled kind of guy, Harry has an unusually soft centre; when the lives or happiness of children are at stake... well let's just say you wouldn't want to be at the sharp end of any stake Dresden might be holding.
The Dead's Revenant - by Shawn Speakman
A bit like Delilah Dawson's tale of Monsieur Charmant, Shawn Speakman gives us the point of view of a main story antagonist. For 9000 words we walk with Tathal Ennis as he prepares to bring death and disaster to a sleepy English village. He has a certain amoral charm, an indifference to right or wrong as he draws people in with the spell of his words, or the words of his spell.
There is young Tim Becket "tossing in his sleep, his nightmares darker than the purpling new bruises that mingled with old yellow and green, all delivered by a grandfather who abhorred weakness." Tathal offers him an escape of sorts, not caring whether he takes it or not. There are old sisters and a not so young barmaid who all must yield and give Tathal what he wants lest he takes it anyway.
But Tathal does not dispense death and cruelty for its own sake. There is a darker purpose a deeper quest that he pursues, a destiny sown on a bloody battlefield of long ago. The names Camlann and Myrddin Emrys evoke links to a legend - to the legend - of dark age Britain.
I struggle to see how a compendium can be given 5 stars, as there is always going to be variability in quality of short stories. I found this a long read, because it is hard to motivate to finish the crappier stories and sometimes hard to motivate beginning a new story in case it isn't very good. And then I'd find a good story and finish it in no time at all.
I'll review the 5-star stories; the whose authors I now want to read:
Stories are Gods, Peter Orullian - 5 stars - The main story focused on a debate between philosophers. The world was really interesting, with a mysterious magic affecting it. Very easy short story to get into, and a really interesting concept.
River and Echo - John Marco - 5 stars - A really sweet story about a child and his robot (yet based in a seeminly medieval world), who were sole survivors of a plague.
An unfortunate influx of Filipians - Terry Brooks - 5 stars - Hilarious characters, especially the gnomes, and a cute story. Reminded me a lot of Pratchett.
Uncharming - Delilah S. Dawson - 5 stars - A really interesting perspective from a dark, rapist, wizard. Interesting world, as well.
Fiber - Sean McGuire - 5 stars - Really enjoyable zombie cheerleader story. Like many of the stories I didn't like, much of the story consisted of a (very Buffy-esque) fight scene, but there was a lot more preamble and the fight wasn't overdrawn. Very good.
The ethical heresy - Sam Sykes - 5 stars - Finally, a good story emerges from the wilderness (the previous 4-5 stories were not good). Followed a small quest rather than a fight scene. Interesting world with politics that I want to delve further into. Main character was funny in his ineptitude. Enjoyed a lot.
Small kindness - Joe Abercrombie - 5 stars - A story of an ex-thief who had to steal once again. I enjoyed the characters, as expected from Abercrombie. The only story to have an LGBTQ character, which I appreciated.
The siege of Tilpur - Brian McClellan - 5 stars - Another battle scene, though somewhat different. The writing style was very easy though and the little I saw of the powder magic makes me want to read more from this world.
Jury duty - Jim Butcher - 5 stars - Whilst I'm not a fan of werewolf/vampire stuff, this kept my attention and the addition of wizards helped. A (presumably quite powerful) wizard is on a mortal jury for a murder, and he decides to investigate for himself. Kept me interested from early on.
Less interesting stories
Madwalls - Rachel Caine - 3 stars
A dichotomy of paradigms - Mary Robinette Kowal - 4 stars - Quirky (sci-fi space pirate painting), and I liked it, but too short for 5 stars.
Son of Crimea - Jason m. HOUGH - 3 stars
The way into oblivion - Harry Connolly - 2 stars
A good name - Mark Lawrence - 3 stars
All in a night's work - David Anthony Durham - 4 stars
Seven times - Tim Marquitz - 2 stars
The hall of the diamond queen - Anthony Ryan - 1 star
The farmboy Prince - Brian Staveley - 3 stars
Heart's desire - Kat Richardson - 0 stars
The game - Michael J. Sullivan - 1 star
The rat - Mazarkis Williams - 3 stars
Mr Island - Kristen Britain - 4 stars
The dead's revenant - Shawn Speakman - 3 stars
NOTE: Only read "Jury Duty" by Jim Butcher.
Another short story in the Dresden Files. This one shows that magic is so much a part of everyday life for Harry, that it even plays a role when summoned for Jury Duty. The story is simple: Harry gets called to serve, the trial has some inconsistency, he decides to investigate, finds that supernatural elements are involved (this case: White Court), and the case gets dismissed. Simple and straightforward. Very good read nonetheless.