Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Book of Swords, edited by Gardner Dozois

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(Fantasy Adventure) Sixteen original tales of “Swords and Sorcery” by authors spanning several generations of writers. (181,092 words; Time: 10h:03m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Lots of Fun

"The Book of Swords," edited by Gardner Dozois, published on by .

Swords and Sorcery and a Bit More

The Book of Swords contains 16 stories, of which we recommend 6 (average would be 3) and recommend against 1 (average would be 3), which is outstanding.

Of the sixteen stories, the protagonists break down as follows:
  • 7 are thieves, assassins, or other "sneaky types"
  • 8 are fighters
  • 1 is a magic user
Even though the protagonists tend not to be magicians, their companions and opponents use magic freely, and the various thieves and assassins avail themselves of swords (or at least knives) so the stories are a pretty good fit to the concept of a "pure" Swords-and-Sorcery anthology.

Even the three-star stories are fun reads, for the most part. They simply lack the plot sophistication and/or character development of the recommended ones. This is an awfully good anthology, and we recommend it highly.

Specially recommended

In The Smoke of Gold Is Glory, by Scott Lynch, an old man tells about the greatest adventure of his youth, when he and three companions invaded the fortress of the last and greatest of dragons, who guarded the greatest treasure in the world and challenged anyone to try to take it.


The Hidden Girl, by Ken Liu, tells how a young girl raised as an assassin performed her very first mission and what she learned about herself and the world.

The Sword of Destiny, by Matthew Hughes, relates how Baldemar the thief failed to steal the Sword of Destiny and how that led to one damn thing after another for him and for everyone unfortunate enough to be involved.

The Mocking Tower, by Daniel Abraham, recounts a quest to take a sword from the magical, ever-changing Mocking Tower--a sword reputed to hold the soul of the last emperor, and which might allow a claimant to finally take the contested throne.

Hrunting, by C. J. Cherryh, picks up the Beowulf story two generations later when a young man returns the the lair of the monsters to try to recover a legendary sword that had belonged to his grandfather, and which might restore honor to his household.

In The Colgrid Conundrum, by Rich Larson, we visit the smoggy, industrial city of Colgrid in the company of two gentleman thieves who need a skilled locksmith to open a box they've stolen from another city. But the locksmith requires a service, not a fee, and this tangles them deep in the affairs of the city.

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5 & 4 Stories: 6;  Estimated Time: 3h:49m (69K words)
Recommended By Stories: 9;  Estimated Time: 5h:40m (102K words)
Total Stories: 16;  Estimated Time: 10h:03m (181K words)
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Rating: 5 -> Hugo-worthy

The Smoke of Gold is Glory by Scott Lynch  Time: 56m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Adventure) Tarkaster Crale, a young thief down on his luck, meets up with friends who want to assault the Anvil, the mountain where the last dragon hid its hoard—and from which it dares people to try to take it.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [5]  Recommended By: RSR:5 JStrahan

Rating: 4 -> Recommended

Hrunting by C.J. Cherryh  Time: 34m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Adventure) Two generations after “Beowulf,” a young man returns to Grendel’s mother’s lair seeking his grandfather’s famous lost sword.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4
The Colgrid Conundrum by Rich Larson  Time: 39m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Adventure) Crane and Gilchrist arrive in filthy industrial Colgrid with a box that needs an expert to open. An expert who may demand payment in some other form than cash.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4
The Hidden Girl by Ken Liu  Time: 31m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Chinese Fantasy Adventure) She was only ten when they kidnapped her to train as an assassin, but now she’s sixteen and she needs to prove herself.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4
The Mocking Tower by Daniel Abraham  Time: 33m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Adventure) Somewhere near the every-changing Mocking Tower the Imagi Vert has hidden a sword that holds the soul of the late emperor, and a thief has come to try to steal it.
The Sword of Destiny by Matthew Hughes  Time: 34m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Adventure; Baldemar) Baldemar’s attempt to retrieve the Sword of Destiny for Thelerion goes awry, and rather than face his master empty-handed he flees—into even bigger trouble.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4

Rating: 3 -> Average

A Long, Cold Trail by Garth Nix  Time: 37m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Adventure) A godling possessed the witch who tried to destroy it, and now Sir Hereward pursues it, aided only by a puppet, a charlatan, and another witch who’s taking way too long to show up.
Her Father's Sword by Robin Hobb  Time: 35m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Horror) The second-worst thing about raiders is that they kidnap villagers and take them away. The worst thing is when those kidnapped villagers come back.
I am a Handsome Man, Said Apollo Crow by Kate Elliott  Time: 36m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Historical Fantasy Adventure) Apollo Crow takes an assignment from the Emperor to steal the sketchbook of a woman whose speeches are fomenting rebellion.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: RHorton:5
The Best Man Wins by K.J. Parker  Time: 36m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Adventure) A young man comes to the best swordsmith to make a weapon suitable to kill the man who murdered his father.
The King's Evil by Elizabeth Bear  Time: 39m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Adventure) In service to her king, Lzi and her two companions come to an island that holds a treasure and a curse, but it seems some other people have got there before them.
The Sword Tyraste by Cecelia Holland  Time: 28m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Historical Fantasy Horror) Vagn escapes when his friends and brothers are slain by pirates, so he joins the pirates and bides his time ‘til he can get his revenge.
The Triumph of Virtue by Walter Jon Williams  Time: 38m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Mystery; Quillifer) Quillifer intends to discover who tried to assassinate the wife of the queen’s lover, even though suspects are plentiful and clues are few.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: RHorton:4
Waterfalling by Lavie Tidhar  Time: 36m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Adventure; Gorel of Gloris) Searching for his lost homeland, addicted to a drug excreted by gods, and suffering withdrawal, Gorel gets an invitation to an adventure—to kill a god.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: RHorton:5
When I Was a Highwayman by Ellen Kushner  Time: 27m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Fantasy Adventure; Riverside) In which we hear of the early days of young Richard St. Vier in Riverside and how he learned he wasn’t cut out to be a highwayman.

Rating: 2 -> Not Recommended

The Sons of the Dragon by George R.R. Martin  Time: 57m (Novelette)  IssueThe Book of Swords 2017
(Epic Fantasy) In which we learn what transpired during the reigns of the sons of Aegon the Conqueror, Aenys I and Maegor I (the Cruel).

Rating: 1 -> Needs Improvement

Rating: Not Rated

5 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I liked the anthology quite a bit as well, though it's interesting that the only story in my very top list that is in yours as well is "The Mocking Tower". The others in my top four were the Elliott, Williams and Tidhar stories, with the Larson and Lynch in another list of namechecks.

    I guess that's a sign of a pretty darn strong book!

    1. Two of those (Williams and Tidhar) were stories I seriously considered for four stars, owing to their very strong worldbuilding. But the first feels like a novel excerpt with no real ending, while the second had a protagonist who came across to me as weak.

      For that matter, that's my complaint about the Elliot story as well. It reads like an excerpt from a very interesting novel, and it was fine as a novella--just not outstanding.

      Yeah, it's a very strong book. Depending on what you value (e.g. plot, setting, characters), there's an argument in favor of almost every story.

    2. The Williams of course is, if not a novel excerpt, a sort of introduction to his new novel.

    3. I liked it enough to buy his novel, "Quillifer," so I guess it's ironic that I didn't recommend the short story. That's because I liked the character and the setting, but I felt the plot was unsatisfying, and, for me, plot is king when it comes to ratings.