Dangerous Women

by Brandon Sanderson, Caroline Spector, Carrie Vaughn, Cecelia Holland, Diana Gabaldon, Diana Rowland, Gardner Dozois, George R. R. Martin, Jim Butcher, Joe Abercrombie, Joe R. Lansdale, Lawrence Block, Lev Grossman, Megan Abbott, Megan Lindholm, Melinda Snodgrass, Nancy Kress, Pat Cadigan, S. M. Stirling, Sam Sykes, Sharon Kay Penman & Sherrilyn Kenyon

A collection of short stories about women, selected by two men, George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. I had my doubts going in.

Most of the stories in this book are fantasy or fantasy-adjacent. About half are good, with a few standouts. I thought Sharon Kay Penman’s “A Queen in Exile” and Lev Grossman’s “The Girl in the Mirror” were excellent. Brandon Sanderson’s “Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell,” Nancy Kress’s “Second Arabesque, Very Slowly,” and George R. R. Martin’s novella, “The Princess and the Queen,” were very good.

The other half save one were forgettable. That one, “I Know How to Pick ‘Em,” by Lawrence Block, was memorably awful. I will spare you the details but it is a gratuitously disturbing pornographic story I wish I hadn’t read. If you find yourself reading this collection I would advise you to skip it.

Block’s odious story was almost enough to get me to quit reading entirely, but I didn’t and good thing, because most of the good stories came right after that one.

Last Argument of Kings

by Joe Abercrombie

The decrepit king finally dies and his successor surprises everyone. The kingdom is threatened by a peasant revolt. And before the army can return from the North the massive Gurkish army attacks the city with one hundred Eaters on their side.

On the one hand, this is a fully satisfying conclusion to the series. On the other hand, by the end you’ll hate—or at least be very disappointed by—every single character.

Before They Are Hanged

by Joe Abercrombie

The stage was set in The Blade Itself. Now the story splits into three: all-out war in the North, a hopeless battle in the South, and a quest for a world-saving magic item in the West. A connector that substantially develops the main characters.

A worthy sequel. Just remember: the more you start to like someone, the more likely it is that they are about to do something terrible.

The Blade Itself

by Joe Abercrombie

The plot is a pretty familiar fantasy epic. A central kingdom threatened from abroad. A cast of main characters with important roles to play in the war to come. Supernatural forces pulling strings in the background. A quest to the edge of the known world.

What sets it apart is the cast of characters. There are no heroes in this story. Among the main characters in this book are a career murderer, a selfish dandy swordsman, a bitter torturer, a drunk sister and her brother, a ruthless manipulative wizard. And so on. They are all compromised, but you’ll end up starting to like each of them—right before they do something terrible again. Nobody is redeemed.

And it works. The storytelling is great, you’ll get into the characters, and you won’t want to put the book down. I didn’t.