Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Book of Swords

The Book of SwordsThe Book of Swords by Gardner Dozois
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Book of Swords is a compilation of short stories. I list my reviews in the order I read them, not the order they appear in the book. These aren't reviews for all the short stories, but rather the ones I found interesting.

The Sons of the Dragon by George R.R. Martin

Aegon the Conqueror had two sisters who were also his wives. With each of his wives he had one son. His oldest son and heir Aenys was born to Rhaenys. His youngest son Maegor was born to Visenya. The Sons of the Dragon tell the history of the sons of Aegon the Conqueror.

George R.R. Martin is back with another fake history story. I have to admit I do find them interesting even though I'd rather he'd write another Dunk and Egg over the fake history if he's not ready to release another book in the main series. Aenys becomes King when his father dies, but he's no warrior or great decision maker. He fails to understand why everyone doesn't love him. Maegor on the other hand is a character whose name and reputation stand out to me from the main series. There are more than a few mentions of Maegor the Cruel and his well deserved nickname. For instance Maegor slaughtered the men who constructed the Red Keep in order that no one could reveal the keep's secrets. Maegor also hanged knights naked after they turned over their leader and opened the gates to him.

The Sons of the Dragon is another piece of Westerosi history for those interested in such things. It's quite comparable in quality to the stories in The World of Ice and Fire.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Best Man Wins by K.J. Parker

A young man comes looking for a sword-smith and asks for the best sword ever made.

The Best Man Wins is my first time reading anything by K.J. Parker and all I can say is I don't want to judge an author on a short story. The story was entertaining enough, but it largely felt like a prologue to a larger tale. No names are shared until nearly the end of the story so the characters are simply the smith and the young man. The young man wants the best sword ever and stays to watch it being forged. The smith despite learning the young man was ignorant when it comes to swords, still does his best to create such a masterpiece. He does so largely for money, but also so his name can spread for creating such a sword. A mild twist caps the tale which ends in an average at best manner.

3 out of 5 stars

The Smoke of Gold is Glory by Scott Lynch

One night a year a former thief and current storyteller vows to tell the truth about his last quest. Climbing the mountain in the Dragon's Anvil in order to steal the dragon's treasure.

The Smoke of Gold is Glory is overall a straightforward treasure quest. Famous thief Tarkaster Crale has run out of luck. His reputation and unwillingness to work with the proper guilds has left him an outsider with an empty stomach along with empty pockets. He heads to Helfalkyn in desperate hope to do what's never been done, steal the dragon's treasure. He runs into some old friends and heads to the mountain.

I can't say I found any part of this tale particularly interesting. I have little appreciation for the classic quest tropes like this one. None of the characters particularly stood out either which didn't help anything. The ending was unexpected, but not particularly satisfying.

The Smoke of Gold is Glory isn't what I expected from Scott Lynch. I would have preferred a short story on Locke Lamora. It's been so long since Lynch has had a new story featuring him and Jean that reading a pale imitation in Crale was simply unsatisfying.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Her Father's Sword by Robin Hobb

Her Father's Sword is a familiar tale of a village that has just been Forged. It was raided during the Red Ship Wars. The story follows Taura, a young woman who saw her father taken by the raiders. The tale centers around her anger that her mother gave away her father's sword for shelter. The whole tale should be obvious for anyone who has read any of Fitz story. No one believes their loved ones would come back as selfish zombie like beings, until they see it.

3 out of 5 stars

The Hidden Girl by Ken Liu

A general's daughter helps a nun with a challenging problem. After completing the task, the nun steals the young woman and trains her to steal lives as an assassin.

The Hidden Girl was really enjoyable. This is only the second writing of Ken Liu's I've read and I feel like I should see what else he has published. I can't say I totally understand what I just read, but it's Buddhist origins provide some compelling storytelling and abilities that are quite different than what I'm used to reading.

4 out of 5 stars

Final thoughts

I have to admit I don't really enjoy anthologies that much and The Book of Swords is no exception. Each time I read an anthology it's for the exact same reason. The book has a story from an author I really like set in their popular world. In this book it was George R.R. Martin's The Sons of the Dragon. I read that first and then head back to the glossary to see if there are any other stories from authors I like. I read those stories next especially when they are set in a world I enjoy. After that I go to the beginning and read through the other stories. I've rarely ran into an anthology that I've known more than 7 authors of which I probably only like 3 of them.

Short stories are not, in my opinion, the best way to get interested in an author's work as their novels can vary considerably from their short stories. Short stories seem to be a good way for authors to dabble with genres that they usually don't write in, which is fine. My preferred short stories are in world novellas that tie into the world providing greater back story or history. That type of short story is generally what gets me to crack an anthology in the first place.

The Book of Swords, like every anthology I've ever read, was a mixed bag that had some interesting stories and many forgettable ones.

View all my reviews