Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dangerous Women Book Review

by The Wanderer

Editors: Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Most Fantasy/SciFi/Paranormal
Series: Dozois/Martin Short Story and Novella Compilation
Pages: 874

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21 Short Stories and Novellas

Dangerous Women is a compilation of short stories and novellas put together by editor Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin.  Each author selected is renowned for their work in genre fiction, and each of these authors were tasked with writing a short story that tackles the theme of dangerous women.

In our review each short story is given a brief synopsis, analysis, and score.  The final score you see at the top of the review is an aggregate of all 21 short stories.

Total Average Score: 8.1

Some Desparado – By Joe Abercrombie

Synopsis: Shy is a fugitive bank robber and she’s just been betrayed by her three friends who are looking to ransom her and take her share of their most recent robbery.  As Shy’s horse finally dies, she takes refuge in an abandoned town, and must face these three men in order to survive.

Some Desparado is set in Abercrombie’s First Law world, although readers won’t need to know anything about it in order to comprehend this story.  Surprisingly this is not as cynical as Abercrombie’s other work, but it is still a dark story.  It has a heavy western flavor to it, but it doesn’t have the classic pistol wielding outlaws meeting at sunset to settle their score.  The prose is of literary quality, and the lead character provides some social commentary.  In short, and typical to Abercrombie, it is a trope breaking story.

Score: 9.1


My Heart Is Either Broken – By Megan Abbot

Synopsis: Tom discovers that Lori has lost their baby, Shelby, one day while she’s out buying coffee.  Eventually he and the police begin to suspect that Lori isn’t telling the whole truth about the disappearance of their baby.

Written like a creepy noir, Abbot’s short story focuses on the mystery in a missing person’s case. It took a couple of pages to sort out who was who and what was what, but everything seems to fall into place once the narrator and characters are clearly established. Lori is unpredictable and Tom seems to be in denial about his wife’s actions.  My Heart Is Either Broken didn’t end the way I expected it to, and that was refreshing. A creepy undertone pervades the entire story, is Lori really a monster?

Score: 9.0


Nora’s Song – By Cecelia Holland

Synopsis: Set in England during the reign of Henry II, it is narrated by his young daughter Eleanor, future Queen of Castille.  Nora witnesses a fight between her father and Thomas Becket along with a proposed future marriage ceremony for her older brother Richard and the French King’s daughter Alais.

I would recommend brushing up on your English and French history before reading this – Holland assumes readers will understand what she is talking about.  This is a catalyst story.  The events that are being depicted set in motion a number of major real historical events, and it’s what makes this interesting.  The childhood narration can feel mechanical at times, causing the story to be told in a way that doesn’t feel natural.  Nevertheless, the greater historical implications kept me hooked. The ending is utterly dark, made more so by its haunting real life implications.

Score: 8.9


The Hands That Are Not There – By Melinda Snodgrass

Synopsis: Set in the future, Tracy listens to an aristocratic sounding drunk named Rohan tell his story about a romantic relationship he developed with a half Cara half human woman.

The inter-species relationship is used as a device to explore prejudices amongst different groups of intelligent life. While these are important issues, they feel like they’re being forced into the story, rather than being naturally occurring events that support it.  The story also makes use of the “was it real, or was it all dream” plot, and it’s done in a less than subtle way that just didn’t seem to work. One final side note, I kept mistaking the main character Rohan for Tolkien’s horse lords, I was hoping he would get to fight some Uruk-hai.

Score: 7.3


Bombshells – By Jim Butcher

(Contains spoilers for the Dresden Files, this story takes place after Ghost Story).

Synopsis: Molly was the apprentice of the recently deceased detective wizard Harry Dresden.  When Justine mentions Thomas has gone missing it’s up to her and a few close friends to rescue him.

I’m not caught up with all of the Dresden Files books, but getting a new viewpoint besides Harry’s is always refreshing.  Set up like a sneaky heist, Molly has to learn to rely on herself in order to solve the problem at hand.  It’s a great coming into your own type of short story.  Additionally the action scenes will have you flying through them, and Butcher’s deadpan style of humor gives the story an eccentric edge. There’s not much thematic depth here, but it’s a lot of fun and should certainly excite longtime fans of this series.

Score: 8.8


Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn

Synopsis: Raisa is one of a handful of female fighter pilots for the U.S.S.R. during World War II.  While she wishes more than anything to become an Ace, she begins to worry for her family’s safety once her brother, who’s in the infantry, goes missing.

Raisa undergoes an interesting character arc in this short story.  She cares deeply about her family which is conveyed in a series of letters she writes to her brother Davidya, but she also willingly believes in Soviet propaganda.  The Soviets were not kind to people whom they believed were traitors – traitors include soldiers that go missing.  The conflict between state and family adds depth to a series of intense air combat scenes where Raisa wishes to prove her worth as a member of her family, as a Soviet, and as a woman.

Score: 8.8


Wrestling Jesus – By Joe R. Lansdale

Synopsis: Marvin, a bullied teenager, is taught to defend himself by an 80 year career wrestler who went by the ring name, X-Man.  While learning to defend himself, he helps X-Man train to fight his arch-rival Jesus, whom he wrestles every five years and loses to.  At stake is a woman X-Man has been obsessed with his whole life, Felina.

Wrestling Jesus vaguely fits the Dangerous Woman criteria that this compilation is all about as Felina is really just a catalyst, and never developed fully as a character.  She acts more as warning to the dangers of lust.  Nevertheless, Lansdale tells an excellent story, and the WWE inspired match that ends it is brutal, and its ending will not be easily forgotten.  Marvin’s coming of age is really the focus, and as a coming of age story Lansdale really hits the mark.

Score: 8.7


Neighbors – By Megan Lindholm aka Robin Hobb

Synopsis: Sarah, a widowed elderly grandmother, begins to start showing signs of memory loss.  Told from her perspective, she can’t determine what she’s seeing is real.

There is a touching sentiment to this story as it tackles the failings of the physical human body, while it reminds you nostalgically of your youth.  Sarah’s story is filled with melancholy.  It’s what every person would fear happening to them one day, and it’s what makes Sarah such an easy character sympathize with.  Being one of the most unique stories in this anthology, I really respected what the author was trying to tackle. I found myself being disturbed by its harsh reality, but honestly, on an emotional level I was expecting something more.

Score: 8.2


I Know How To Pick Em’ – By Lawrence Block

Synopsis: A man meets a married women at a bar and they hook up.  During their one night stand he thinks about his past sexual relationship with his mother, and what the women he’s hooking up with wants from him.

There’s not much I like about this story.  Hooking up with a married woman – it felt bland and uninspired – farfetched with need of some more supporting explanation in order to really run with this idea.  The ending was twisted, and I like twisted endings, but with my dislike for the way the characters were written – it really didn’t leave an impact.

Score: 6.5


Shadows For Silence In The Forests Of Hell – By Brandon Sanderson

Synopsis: Silence Fontane runs a bar but secretly doubles as a bounty hunter.  When one of the most dangerous criminals in the area shows up in her bar, it’s up to her and her daughter to kill him and collect the desperately needed reward.

This feels like an action film.  A little back story, and then its unrelenting fights and battles in a dark hellish forest.  The characters are likeable, but I never fully fell in love with them.  Sanderson’s inclusion of shades, which are spirits that kill humans at night adds to the dilemmas faced by all the characters – and provides a number of gruesome deaths.  I probably turned through pages of this story faster than any other, Brandon Sanderson knows how to keep a story tense.

Score: 8.4


A Queen In Exile – By Sharon Kay Penman

Synopsis: This historical short story is told from the point of view of Constance of Sicily, Queen to that region, and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire.  This story follows her life after she marries Heinrich (Henry VI) heir to the Holy Roman Empire.

I greatly admired the historical event chosen for A Queen In Exile.  It’s a powerful story about a woman who has a tremendous amount of courage.  It has a fantastic ending that has been historically well documented, but probably isn’t widely known.  Hopefully Penman’s story changes the public’s knowledge.  The downside is Penman often dictates history to the readers, making this story feel like a text book at times.  I felt a deal more subtlety could have elevated the writing.

Score: 8.0


The Girl In The Mirror – By Lev Grossman

Synopsis: Plum is a student at an elite wizard school in the U.S. She is the leader of the League, a school clique with influence.  One day they discover that Wharton, a student who is in charge of pouring wine for the students at dinner has been short changing everybody.  Plum and The League carry out a plan to steal Wharton’s precious pencils for revenge, only it doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Initially starting like another Harry Potter – wizards at wizard school and such (Grossman even includes a Hermione joke) – the story quickly turns into something else.  As Plum narrates the story, it goes from typical school setting to a tense wizard acid trip.  At times it can be difficult to follow, but this is one of the most creative stories in here.  Plum is a great character, arrogant, but still likeable – and the prank going wrong went in a direction that was completely unexpected.  Fantastic story.

Score: 9.5


Second Arabesque, Very Slowly – By Nancy Kress

Synopsis: Set in New York City in a post apocalyptic future, Susan is an aging nurse for her pack.  She has the task of preparing the young women for breeding and healing the young men who get injured.  While the pack decides to rest for a time, two members of the group, Guy and Kara, discover a semi functioning TV and some instructional videos on ballet which they decide to learn – putting their lives and everyone that knows about it at risk.

Wow. The future is bleak in Nancy Kress’s story which the first half sets up just how brutal of a world it is.  The second half starts to focus on classical music and ballet, creating a jarring juxtaposition – past and future, civilization and anarchy, and beauty and the grotesque.  Kress makes empathizing with Susan, Guy, and Kara easy, but it’s these juxtapositions that recall the best and worst of humanity that makes this short story so brilliant.

Score: 9.6


City Lazarus – By Diana Rowland

Synopsis: Danny is a corrupt police officer in New Orleans, and Peter is a wealthy and powerful friend of Danny’s that occasionally pays him to do his dirty work. There relationship deteriorates as they both start to fall for a stripper named Delia.

There really isn’t anything new or interesting that happens in this story.  It’s a standard femme fatale love triangle.  City Lazarus is decently written, and femme fatale triangles can have their moments, but at the end of the day this story had me feeling largely apathetic about the characters and their outcomes.  Delia’s motivations are vaguely implied, but even those implications don’t seem to truly justify her actions.

Score: 6.8


Virgins – By Diana Gabaldon

Synopsis: Set in 18th Century France, Ian and Jamie are two Scotsmen that are hired to protect carriages of merchant goods.  These mercenaries for hire get caught in a mystery as one of their carriages gets robbed, and the duo have to recover the stolen goods.  This novella is a part of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

I’ve never read the Outlander series, nor have I read anything by Diana Gabaldon.  Virgins really didn’t do anything for me as a story.  I was distracted by the dialogue and prose.  The dialogue is often written with a thick Scottish dialect, while the narration is told in a straight English prose … all while set in France.  While individually these are alright, the back and forth switching between the Scottish and English was distracting – it had me wishing that the dialogue and prose were consistent with one another.

Additionally I didn’t care for either Ian or Jamie as characters.  I couldn’t tell the difference between each of them – their back stories were different – but their personalities were the same.  The plot was predictable, with the name of the anthology, Dangerous Women, not doing it any favors.

Score: 6.9


Hell Hath No Fury – By Sherrilyn Kenyon

Synopsis: Cait and a group of her friends go camping/treasure hunting for a cursed treasure.  The curse was placed by a girl named Louisa, and she begins to talk to Cait, putting the entire group in danger.

Set up as a moralistic scary story, Hell Hath No Fury dictates its morals to the reader and doesn’t offer anything that could remotely be considered scary.  The cursed treasure concept has potential, but it is never utilized.  I found myself hoping this wouldn’t go in the lame direction of – the treasure is a metaphor for what’s really important in life – but it did.  After this terrible reveal, morals about gender that had little to do with the story are dictated to the reader in an epilogue that had me cringing.

Score: 3.5


Pronouncing Doom – By S.M. Stirling

Synopsis: Set in an alternate future of Earth in 1999, Juniper MacKenzie is elected chief of the Mackenzie clan.  On this particular day she is summoned to pass and carry out a sentence for a criminal in her tribe.

The moral of the story is it’s important to have a judicial system.  It’s not exactly exciting material, nor is it a really thought provoking idea. What I find more interesting is the morals involved in making judicial decisions … something that’s briefly touched upon in the story, but not the focus. The crime is predictable, the punishment is even more predictable. The setting and the way the judicial system is set up is what drives the story, and that can be interesting – it is different from judicial systems today – but it is not unique.  A decent story, but by no means was it exciting or mind expanding, which is what it seemed Stirling was going for.

Score: 7.0


Name The Beast – By Samuel Sykes

Synopsis: A mother and her child head into the forest to complete a tribal blood rite.  The father of the child, encourages the mother to make sure the child accomplishes the task at hand at all costs.

There is a vagueness to this story that makes it initially difficult to follow, but it does become manageable. That vagueness is used to deliver one of the best endings in this compilation.  Name the Beast is ultimately about what it means to be human.  The emphasis on mother, daughter, and family relationships help support this theme and make this the emotional and horrifying story that it is.
Sykes also has a great grasp on prose and the way this story is written really makes it memorable.

Score: 9.4


Caretakers – By Pat Cadigan

Synopsis: Middle age sisters Valerie and Gloria are living together.  Gloria starts to volunteer at their mother’s nursing home when she suspects something is amiss.

The 21st century pop culture references that dominate this story were a bit strange at first, but by the end I had gotten used to them – Valerie referring to her period as Shark Week was pretty funny.  The ending didn’t make any sense from a logical standpoint – why would someone at a nursing home do that? – was a question that I just couldn’t find any reasonable answer to.  I was hot and cold reading this, until that ending, which is what ended up losing me.

Score: 6.7


Lies My Mother Told Me – By Caroline Spector

Synopsis: After an alien virus called wildcard infects the population of Earth, people that were infected became aces – people with superpowers, and jokers – disfigured people that might potentially have powers.  During a Mardi Gras parade, ace Bubbles – real name Michelle – and her joker daughter Adesina are on a float that is attacked by zombies.  The attack has bigger implications as Michelle looks to investigate who wishes to harm her.

This is a pretty absurd and quirky story.  How is it quirky? Michelle’s superheroesque power allows her to absorb energy and turn them into dangerous bubbles.  She usually gets energy by regularly jumping out of four story windows. One of the prime antagonists motivations is to acquire money to pay his internet bill so he can keep his status as a top ranked gamer intact.  It’s situations like these that make Lies My Mother Told Me the funniest story out of this collection.

It’s not all laughs either.  As this novella progresses, it starts to take readers down a dark and twisted path.  The shift from humorous to bleak is done ever so subtly – it feels natural despite the supernatural occurrences and offbeat humor  – which is something I greatly admired.  The three protagonists – Michelle, Joey, and Adesina – are all developed with unique personalities and back stories, the story got surprisingly emotional at the end.

Score: 9.2


The Princess and the Queen – By George R.R. Martin

Synopsis: Set over a hundred years before the main timeline of events in A Song of Ice and FIre, The Princess and the Queen recounts a Targaryen Civil War known as the Dance of the Dragons.  Martin translates this story from a historical book in Westeros which describes the war between Rhaenrya and Aegon II for the Iron Throne after the death of Viserys I.

Martin’s novella is a bloodbath.  Violence upon suffering upon despair – lives are ruined and no one comes out unscathed.  For fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, this story packs more dragon fighting action than the five currently released Song of Ice and Fire novels.  This short story will largely answer one of the lingering questions from A Song of Ice and Fire: what happened to all of the dragons?

Readers will enjoy man fighting dragon, woman fighting dragon, and dragon fighting dragon. When the dragons aren’t fighting, the major characters are busy ruining each others lives, and forcing their enemies to make moralistically impossible decisions. There is more violence in this novella than the 20 short stories that preceded it.

Ultimately Martin’s Civil War characterizes what a Civil War is: the wealthy people in charge squabble over power, and ruin the lives of the poor and working class.  With The Princess and the Queen, Martin sets out to prove nobody wins in war, and that’s what readers can expect from reading this. Bleak and depressing, this novella may be the reason why most people buy this compilation.  I’ve got to say if I bought the book for this one story, I would be more than satisfied.

Score: 9.7

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