Dangerous Women edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (book review)

December 22, 2016 | By | Reply More

This bumper collection has the theme of dangerous women but is not genre specific so there are all sorts of stories from westerns to fantasies. Most of them are long, thirty to forty pages so would be classed as novelettes or novellas depending on your taste. Most of them are by productive if not famous writers and each introduction tells you something about the authors, what awards they have won and their published works. Usually, these are serials with several titles. The market is such now that putting out quantity seems to be the only way to get noticed. The idea and it’s not a bad one is that you will love their tales herein and rush out to buy the collected works.

First up is ‘Some Desperado’ by Joe Abercrombie. Shy is a nice name for a woman but this outlaw on the run from her criminal confederates isn’t the sort of girl you’d take home to mummy, unless mummy was Ma Baker. She has stolen the money they all stole and the gang want it back. Dramatic conflict in a western story with true grit.

Lorie has lost her daughter Shelby in ‘My Heart Is Either Broken’ by Megan Abbott. She left Shelby in the care of another lady at a coffee shop while she went to the toilet and, when she came back, both the woman and her daughter were gone. Oddly, this tale of a very female tragedy is told by a woman writer from a man’s point of view, Tom, the father. It’s a grim and disturbing but realistic tale.

Historical fiction is featured, too. ‘Nora’s Song’ by Cecilia Holland starts in Montmirail, France in January 1169. It’s about the strained relations between King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and their eight children. The history seems sound enough from my vague knowledge though the language is not highbrow with Henry’s ‘eyes blazing’ and face ‘flaming’ on one page before being ‘flattened with temper’ a while later. The vocabulary of pulp fiction is perfectly acceptable as long as the story is sound and this was okay.

‘Bombshells’ by Jim Butcher is the first fantasy. Molly is trying to fill the big shoes of her late lamented mentor the wizard Henry Dresden. Justine, a thrall of the vampires at the White Court, comes to her because her partner, Thomas, is missing. Trying to get him back involves Justine with the Svartelves, very dangerous magical craftsmen from northern Europe who made weapons for the Norse gods. Also mixed up in the mayhem are the Fomor, an all-star team of bad guys from different mythological pantheons. The tale is set in contemporary Chicago, so it’s one of those where all the magical folk are in our midst and we don’t even know it. First person narration carries it along nicely and gives the reader a good insight into Molly’s character, including the dark bits. What’s more, it actually seems to progress, if only slightly, the story arc for ‘The Dresden Files’ series of which it is a part. This was one of my favourites.

Back to reality next with ‘Raisa Stepanova’ by Carrie Vaughn. The eponymous hero is a female fighter pilot on the eastern front in World War II, shooting down German Junkers to stop them bombing Mother Russia. She’s doing okay until news comes that her brother, an army soldier, has gone missing. I was previously unaware that Joe Stalin was a feminist and let women fly planes. I also didn’t know that any member of the armed forces who was taken prisoner or went missing in action was treated as a deserter and shot if they found him. Lovely man, Joe. There are many stories about dying heroically; this one is about something harder: living heroically. Very good and another favourite.

Joe R. Lansdale seldom disappoints. Here he give us ‘Wrestling Jesus’, which starts with a bullied young fellow being rescued by a former wrestler then taught some moves but develops into a great story about the X-Man and his rival, Jesus, who have been fighting for decades for the heart of a dangerous, sensual woman. I hasten to add that these blokes were proper wrestlers who fought in carnivals, not the showmen currently on television. Lansdale is pretty brutal and the language is that of the streets but he somehow makes it into a kind of poetry. Some writers put in a lot of swearing that just irritates but more on that later.

Sarah is getting old and forgetful in ‘Neighbours’ by Megan Lindholm and her well-meaning family want to put her away somewhere ‘nice’ with the old folk slumped in chairs whose ‘wheels are a mockery to people who had no place to go’. Sarah starts to see things that make her wonder if she is losing her mind. That’s the fantasy element but this story is mostly about the reality of getting old. It’s a fine piece of work on a contemporary issue. I think ‘Out Of Time’ a phrase used near the end would have made a better title but who am I to advise Megan Lindholm/Robin Hobb.

‘Shadows For Silence In The Forests Of Hell’ did what this book is meant to do, introduce one to new authors. It made me want to look for more works by author Brandon Sanderson. (I already knew that Joe Lansdale and Megan Lindholm were good.) The forests in this fantasy are haunted by Shades, who will kill anyone who kindles flame or draws blood. The White Fox is a mysterious bounty hunter. Silence Montane runs an inn, a safe house in the forest. Her husband is dead and she has two daughters, one adopted. It’s a great story with many twists and Silence Montane is a character fit for many more. Brandon Sanderson was chosen to finish Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel Of Time’ series which I may read if I get a spare decade or two.

This review is getting too long so I’ll have to skip lightly over some others but they were all pretty good. ‘A Queen In Exile’ by Sharon Kay Penman is a historical yarn based on true facts about a Sicilian Princess trying to claim her rights. Interesting history and a solid story. Lev Grossman’s ‘The Girl In The Mirror’ is set in a school where the pupils do magic. A chap called Wharton has been short changing the fifth year on their wine allowance and the League – a kind of gang – set out to get him. This was very jolly and completely dissimilar in style and tone to anything involving a Potter. I guess any magic school story now can be accused of copying the most successful but that’s like saying every tale based in a rocket ship is copying E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith.

‘Second Arabesque, Very Slowly’ by Nancy Kress is a touching tale about trying to preserve some artistic sensibility in a terrible post-apocalyptic world. ‘City Lazarus’ by Diana Rowland is a gritty cop story set in the mean streets of New Orleans after the Mississippi river has changed direction. ‘Virgins’ by Diana Gabaldon is mostly about the adventures of two wandering Scottish mercenaries in 18th century France. Realistic about desire but not explicit at all. The heroes are both men but they do get involved with a sly and dangerous woman. ’Hell Hath No Fury’ by Sherrilyn Kenyon is a Native American haunting story. It was okay.

‘Pronouncing Doom’ by S.M. Stirling was interesting. The world has been through a change and cities burned. Afterwards, there is a society without electricity or complex machines and life is tough. Amongst the various groups trying to survive is a band of pagans led by Juniper Mackenzie. She has to pass sentence on a rapist. The story was enjoyable and raised interesting issues about how a society functions but I found depressing the notion that the world would go backwards enough so that Wiccans could take charge, though there’s nothing wrong with their morals.

‘Name The Beast’ by Sam Sykes is a fantasy set in a forest that didn’t really do much for me. ‘Caretakers’ by Pat Cadigan has a pair of sisters who spend too much time watching documentaries about serial killers on television. One becomes convinced that there is a killer operating in the nursing home where mother is spending her last days. Pretty good but I thought it went on a bit too long.

I couldn’t finish ‘Lies My Mother Told Me’ by Caroline Spector. I got fourteen pages into it, counted thirty-eight to go and decided I couldn’t take any more. The bad guys swearing endlessly I could stand but the heroine’s thoughts and dialogue were those of a particularly annoying character from ‘Friends’ or some chick flick. Hello? Is this how yanks really talk now? Like, seriously?

The book concludes with a ‘Game Of Thrones’ novelette from George R.R. Martin entitled ‘The Princess And The Queen’ which is introduced as ‘being a History of the Causes, Origins, Battles and betrayals of that Most Tragic Bloodletting Known as the Dance of the Dragons, as set down by Archmaster Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown’. I’ve seen the first three series of the television version of ‘Game Of Thrones’ and it’s great story but too gory for my tastes. This novelette is perfectly readable as a standalone and perfectly enjoyable, too. It’s presented as a real history with that omniscient narration of which I am a fan.

Mr. Martin being so busy lately I suspect that Mr. Dozois would have done a lot of the selection for this but you can’t be sure. One might conclude that George R.R. Martin has herein allowed lesser lights to hitch their wagons to his star and boost sales. Certainly the introductions to all the stories let you know the principal works of the authors so you can look them up but the simile in not apt. Wagons and stars are very different but the stories here are not. Any ‘Game Of Thrones’ fan who picks it up just to get that novelette will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the other stuff. It will also broaden their tastes to areas outside of fantasy. This is an excellent collection.

Eamonn Murphy

December 2016

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2013. 784 page hardback. Price: $32.50 (US), $37.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3206-6)

check out website: www.tor-forge.com

Category: Books, Fantasy, Scifi

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Eamonn Murphy is a science fiction and fantasy writer and reviewer who lives in the south west of England. If you want to know more visit his website: https://eamonnmurphyblog.com/

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