Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Shattered Shields - Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt, eds.

A lot of heroic fantasy uses armies and wars as a backdrop, as the editors of this new anthology point out in their introduction, and since I like both fantasy and military fiction, SHATTERED SHIELDS has a built-in appeal for readers like me. That said, it's kind of a mixed bag, as anthologies often are. A number of the stories feel more like excerpts from novels rather than actual short stories, and some come across as introductions or prequels to larger works and seem a little incomplete. But there are some real stand-out stories, too, and my favorites include:

"Keeper of Names" by Larry Correia, which suffers a little from that "intro to a new series" feeling I mentioned above, but Correia's fast-paced writing and interesting characters 'way more than compensate for that. I'll definitely be interested in the novel that follows this story.

"Rising Above" by Sarah A. Hoyt is a great alternate World War I flying ace story that involves dragons. Some of the humor is groan-inducing in a good way, but there are also some poignant moments and some nice action. It works as a stand-alone, too, and I really enjoyed it. Probably my favorite story in the book because it's so much fun.

"A Cup of Wisdom" by Joseph Zieja is a much grittier story about the nature of war, very well written and effective. I don't know what else Zieja has written, but I'm going to have to look into that.

"Vengeance" by Robin Wayne Bailey is a straight-ahead sword and sorcery story about a warror and the demon-possessed dagger she carries. Plenty of action in this one, and a likable protagonist.

Nancy Fulda's "Deadfall" features an intriguing concept: airborne floating island kingdoms powered by wood with anti-gravity properties and filled with barbarians. This story does a good job of being self-contained, yet making me want to read more about the setting.

"Yael of the Strings" by John R. Fultz features an unusual protagonist, a minstrel whose job is to inspire the soldiers in a battle with his songs. It won't come as any surprise that before this one is over, he has to do more than sing.

Glen Cook's The Black Company is a series I've been meaning to read for years. I already own quite a few of the novels. But "Bone Candy", his Black Company story in this anthology, is actually the first one I've read. It's told in a very distinctive, hardboiled style, and I really enjoyed it despite the fact that it ended too abruptly for my taste, leaving me feeling like it was part of something intended to be bigger.

Elizabeth Moon is another author I've meant to read. "First Blood", her story that wraps up SHATTERED SHIELDS, makes me more convinced than ever that I should. Good characters, excellent action scenes, and an interesting enough setting that I want to read more.

All the other stories in SHATTERED SHIELDS are good except for a couple I didn't care for, but that's a pretty good percentage for an anthology. And it introduced me to several fine writers whose work is new to me, also a good thing. If you're a fan of heroic fantasy that's on the gritty side, this one is well worth reading.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm a huge fan of the Black company books, especially the first 3

Keith West said...

I really liked this anthology, but then I was expecting the Part of a Series" aspect of things.

You should read Cook and Moon. They're very different, but both top notch. I think you would really enjoy the Black Company.