ARC provided by my beautiful future wife, Mary, in exchange for an honest review!
This anthology holds 40 short stories by some really amazing high fantasy authors. And on top of this being a really impressive writing group, all proceeds for this book will go to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders! MSF is an international humanitarian non-governmental organization that is known for their help in war-torn regions and developing countries affected by endemic diseases. I couldn’t help but preorder, even though I was given an ARC, and I hope you do the same if you are able to! More information about this amazing charity here!
I’m giving this collection five stars overall. From Greek Gods to newly summoned demons. From healers on the backlines to the warriors on the frontlines. From Spider Gods to Magpie Kings. Not only do I love some of these authors and their stories, I think this collection will make many fantasy readers very happy. Plus, the cause and charity for this anthology are both so damn important and for those two things alone this anthology deserves five stars. Thank you so much for putting this together, Petros. From my entire heart and soul, thank you.
But, whenever I review anthologies I review every story. So, I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!
➽ The Breaking of the Sky by Ed McDonald – ★★
I really enjoyed Blackwing when I read it last year, so it was really nice being back in this world. Well, maybe “nice” isn’t the word I’d use, since the people in this world are having a pretty hard time to say the least. War is coming, and we follow a man and his companions who have been transporting a mysterious box. I just really disliked the constant commentary, within this very short story, about how one of main character’s companions did terrible things to dogs. Also, the main character kind of has a gross outlook on women in general. Not the strongest start for this anthology, but overall, I do enjoy this world and it made me excited to read Ravencry this year!
➽ The Last Arrow by Mitchell Hogan – ★★
This short is about a farmer that was drafted into a squad of archers, who are protecting a wall from sorcerers. They have been on duty for fifty-three days, living in terrible conditions, barely being fed, and basically being treated awful. This story is sad, and depressing, yet leaves you rather invested to see where it is going. I didn’t love this one, but it was intense to read.
➽ Dear Menelaus by Laura M. Hughes – ★★★★★
Holy moly, this one was so damn perfect! Absolutely glorious! This is a letter that a woman is writing to her husband, which you can probably guess from the title, deals heavily with Greek heroes. But this is such an amazing feministic approach, and I loved every single perfectly contrasted and powerful sentence. And if you know who Menelaus’ wife was, well, the story will only be even that much more enjoyable. I loved this with my whole heart.
➽ Warborn by C.T. Phipps – ★★
This one is about a demon who wakes up inside a summoning circle, in front of a nineteen-year-old girl who desperately needs to kill her parents. And apparently, in this world, the only way to give payment for help after summoning is your soul, blood, or sex. And, of course the demon picks sex. We also get to see that the demon wasn’t the best human when he was one. I don’t know, this had some decent twists and turns, but it mostly left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
➽ This War of Ours by Timandra Whitecastle – ★★★★★
Wow, I loved this more than words. Beautiful, heart wrenching, powerful, perfection. And…. KOBOLDS! And magic, and family, and war, and stealthy missions, and required silence. Like, is this a full-length series? A story set in this world? Give me it all. This was wonderful. I loved Sparrow and bug and I need so much more.
➽ The Greatest Battle by John Gwynne – N/A
It is a horrible strike against my Adult Fantasy reviewing status to say that I’ve never read John Gwynne’s work! I very much hope to rectify this in 2018, but as it stands I have not yet completed Malice, therefore Petrik will kill me if I spoiled myself with this one. But please go check out his review</a > of this collection, where he raves about this short story!
➽ Shadows in the Mist by Sue Tingey – ★★
This had a huge horror vibe to it, which isn’t really my cup of tea. It was a little gratuitous with the gore and descriptions, which is also something I’m not a huge fan of. Also, this has a very eerie vibe, but the overall story just felt kind of pointless, and it left a lot to be desired.
➽ The Art: Post War by RJ Barker – ★★★
The only ARC of 2017 that I requested and didn’t get to was Age of Assassins</i >, and now I feel even worse! This was so intriguing, and dark, and funny, and I loved it. It is also told in second person, and just felt so unique among the other stories in this collection. I really enjoyed reading this, and I can’t wait to finally read more by RJ Barker.
➽ The Fox and the Bowman by Sebastien de Castell – ★★★★★
Sebastien is not only the master of writing, he is also the master of plotting, and this short story is so expertly crafted. This is a story about revenge, and how all-consuming it can be. This is a story about how one’s life can change dramatically over the smallest of choices. This is about family, and what we are willing to do to keep our loved ones safe. And honestly? This is such a fun story about magic and perspective. I loved it. Masterpiece just like everything else Sebastien writes.
➽ Arrow’s Wrath by Charles F. Bond – ★★★
This is another story of revenge involving an archer, and this was actually able to evoke a lot of emotions from me. I will say that this got very graphic with the violence during the revenge mission, where the description felt so damn real. But this is about a group of five men on a couple different missions in the name of vengeance, but I just felt like too much was packed into this short story, even though I did enjoy reading it.
➽ Hard Lessons by Michael R. Miller – ★★★★
I read and loved The Reborn King in 2017, so I was so excited to see that his short story was set in the same world! And good lord, my entire body got goosebumps when I read Darnuir’s name. I loved this so much, and it was nothing short of amazing to be back in this world.
➽ A Battle for Elucame: Leah by R.B. Watkinson – ★
This is a story of a young girl, who is currently a slave, and has made it her mission to kill one of the priests where she is being held, because he did something terrible to her once before. The priests are terrible people, and there are a lot of hints of them being rapists, on top of them being general abusers, and this just felt bad to read. It didn’t feel dark or emotional, it felt forced and for shock value, and it wasn’t fun to read.
➽ The Revolution Changed Everyone by D. Thourson Palmer – ★
This is about a healer that is hiding their past, when a person is being treated for very bad wounds that must have come from a large animal in this jungle or something else. This just felt too obvious for me, so the twist wasn’t impactful in the slightest. But I can totally see others enjoying this one more than I did.
➽ Misplaced Heroism by Andrew Rowe – ★★★★★
Oh my gosh, I was so happy when this story started out in our present-day time, and the main protagonist is just browsing Reddit. This was such a much-needed change up in setting, and I loved it. Even though he does get whisked away to another world rather quickly, so that he can defeat a demon king and his army! This felt like I fell into a MMORPG, or a well-along D&D campaign, with all the amazing strategizing. This was so funny, and surprising, and just freakin’ wonderful in every aspect! I loved this story, completely and whole heartedly.
➽ Violet by Mazarkis Williams – ★★
This is a story about a young girl whose parents shelter a traveler, but once the traveler leaves the young girl, she feels like he has taken a part of her with him. Therefore, she sells things she shouldn’t, and goes places she shouldn’t, and probably ruins her life looking for him, while losing things that meant a lot to her. This was well written, I just never enjoyed the actual story.
➽ The Two Faces of War by Rob J. Hayes – ★★★
This story for sure shows us the terrible side of war, and seeing a healer treat the wounds of the soldiers. Missing arrowheads, spider infestation, it is all here, even if it’s not the most pleasant thing to read. Yet, we also get to see the warrior’s side of war. But both sides make us question: is it really worth it? This wasn’t my favorite story in the collection, but it did merge and move very smoothly and was an enjoyable read.
➽ Grannit by JP Ashman – ★★★
This is exactly the type of enjoyable story I was looking for within this collection. Short and sweet and about a wealthy knight and young boy going to war and the writing made for a really easy but enjoyable story. I for sure want to check out more from this author now.
➽ Asalantir Forever by Steven Poore – ★★★
This story centers around a crazy and bloody little battle that’s going down. I feel like this might even deserve more than three stars, because this is the first story in the collection that has left me feeling satisfied with a battle. Also, I became very attached to Jin and her Pride. This story also makes me really want to look into the rest of the author’s backlist.
➽ Tower of the Last by Steven Kelliher – ★★★
I read Valley of Embers by this author last year, and I really enjoyed it and his writing style! And this mini tale was no different. This is a short story that surrounds a boy, fighting his way up a tower. And when he finally ascends, he is in for quite the surprise. This is tale filled with fables, mystery, and magic, and I need more.
➽ The Waving of the Flag by Thomas R. Gaskin – ★★★★★
This story has a beautiful juxtaposition of war. We get to see present day, upon a great defeat, and constant flashbacks from four years ago, when our main character is enlisting. Wars are won, and wars are lost, even though it is hard to see when you are on the winning side, but regardless of winning or losing, there is always a price to pay. War costs something every single time, on every single side. I was actually very emotional while reading this one, and had tears streaming down my face most the time. I feel like I almost had a cathartic experience upon finishing. War takes so much, and it will always take so much. In fantasy, or in our world in 2018. This one is truly beautifully crafted and I will carry this story in my heart for a long time.
➽ The Art of War by Brian Staveley – ★★★★★
This was moving, intense, equal parts heart wrenching and heartwarming, this was outstanding. And as someone who loves Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, this was also a damn joy to read. In this story we get to see a man struggle, or have success, with the god of war living inside him. But if you’re a fan of the series, seeing General Dakesh and his life was a treat above any others. Again, I know I’m biased because I love this world and series so much, but that ending was so perfect and meant so much to me. Perfection. A masterpiece. My eyes, heart, and soul, feel so blessed. This was my personal favorite in this entire collection.
➽ Hero of the Day by Nathan T. Boyce – ★★
This story stars a young man determined to prove his bloodline, after the death of his mother. This tale for sure centers around a theme of who gets to be the heroes in the story, regardless of the actions that we don’t normally get to see. And I really appreciated that this was a different and very grey tale, but I just didn’t love this one, despite its uniqueness.
➽ Sacred Semantics by Nicholas Eames – ★★★★★
Like, I do not want to be picturing different kinds of spiders, people warring with one another, shooting mandible guns, being in spider tanks. Seriously, this was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever read in my entire life. But this was also so smart, so unique, and bloody brilliant. Nicholas Eames humor seeps through onto every page, and only he could make me laugh, while also being terrified at these spider worshipers. Also, this story is super powerful, and holds a very important discussion about war and the things all creatures are willing to do in the name of it. And the ending was beyond words perfect.
➽ The War God’s Axe by Anne Nicholls – ★★
This one was a pretty good story about a misfit rising up, but this story uses the world cr*pple to describe the main character, who is the only one with the information to save the city from war. I know many people will say “its because of the time and because it’s fantasy, and someone not so great said it!” but no, its ableist and hurtful to a lot of people. It sadly really hurt the story for me, regardless of the ending.
➽ The Feather and the Paw by Benedict Patrick – ★★★★
This was such a good story about a world where the animals of the forest had the ability to speak, and they just found out about humans and a ruling king that has appeared. And besides all of this, a Magpie King has also appeared to cause the Lionfolk some trouble. This felt like a dark fairytale, and it was so different than anything else in this collection. I really, really enjoyed this one and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author in the future.
➽ Until the Light has Faded by Graham Austin-King – ★★★
You all know I’m going to be a little biased, because this story involved a fae army. Even if our main characters are fleeing said fae army! I just feel like this needed to be a part of a longer story, or a bigger world, and maybe it is, but it just felt not enough for a short story collection. Yet, I still enjoyed it!
➽ Under the Queen’s Throne by Ed Greenwood – ★★
Oh my gosh, I feel so bad, because I wish this one was more separated from Benedict Patrick’s story, since they both have the animal kingdom fairytale feel, but I just didn’t like this one as much. Especially because of the shift in story. Again, I really wish these two stories weren’t so close together in this anthology.
➽ Good Steel by Zachary Barnes – ★★★
This was so unique, and I really enjoyed it. We get to see a piece of steel “being born” and made into a weapon fit for war. Again, I’ve never read anything like this before, and it really shined and stood out from the rest of the short stories in this anthology. Very well done.
➽ The Cost of Power by Ulff Lehmann – ★★★
This is a story about a man desperately wanting to save his people. This is a story about how we expect people to lay down their lives to protect their rulers, but the rules could care less about them being fed and cared for. There is a big discussion on the value of a human life, and overall this was just a really heartwarming story that I really enjoyed reading. But… I want more.
➽ The Undying Lands by Michael R. Fletcher’s Doppels – ★★★★★
I loved this one. This stars a girl, that killed a man in a tavern for touching her inappropriately, but the man turned out to be someone important. So, now she’s waiting to decide her fate in a coliseum. If you kill ten people, you are free to go, but sadly the opponent she is up against has just killed nine. If he kills her, he is a free man. Also, the dead walk among the living in this world, and it just adds an additional cool layer. I loved this, I was instantly captivated and immersed in this, and I want more.
➽ The Fall of Tereen by Anna Smith-Spark – ★
I very much didn’t get along with this author’s writing style, therefore I very much feel like it hindered my experience. It reminds me of modern day poetry, which I also find myself not able to get into. So, take this mini review with a grain of salt, but I really didn’t enjoy this one.
➽ Valkyrie Rain by Dyrk Ashton – ★★★★★
Okay, this one was awesome! Give me all the Norse mythology! This stars Pruor, Valkyrie of Asgard, daughter of goddess Sif and god Thor, descendant of Odin. And this takes place during Ragnarok. Ahhhh, this was glorious! This is about war, and forgiveness, and paths set for us beyond our control. I loved this.
➽ Chattels by Stan Nicholls – ★★
This was just too much information packed into such a short tale. I know the beginning was meant to fill in some of the blanks, but my mind just couldn’t process everything, especially among so many other short stories. I think I would have enjoyed this much more if I was familiar with the author’s previous work(s) and world(s).
➽ The Storm by Miles Cameron – ★★★★
This was one of the longer stories in this collection, but it was very well executed. We get to see an army’s leader try to decide how to save the lives of his men when they are at an impasse because they need to get close enough to breach the wall. This was wonderfully written, and I loved this world so much. I honestly wish I could get a full-length novel.
➽ Shortblade by Brandon Draga – ★★★★
I loved this one, because it was such a bright, shining light in this anthology. It’s light, and funny, and warm, and happy, and the ending was so very nice to read. I’m sure not everyone will enjoy such a sweet tale, but I freakin’ loved it. Pure joy and happiness and has such an important message!
➽ Rendered Chaos by D. M. Murray – ★
This just… started badly for me. When a dude wakes up during a sex dream, to him humping his cot, Lord, please no. This is just crudely written, and really not for me. I found the humor immature and the conversations awful to read. I totally understand the main character was supposed to be unlikable, but I just couldn’t stand to read about him, and I didn’t care about the twist.
➽ The Best and Bravest by M.L. Spencer – ★★★
This story is about a squire who works for his father, and a war between two ancient houses is about to begin. We get to see the dead watching over the events, but I found myself confused through most of this. But the ending was very enjoyable and fulfilling.
➽ Exhibition by Ben Galley – ★★★★
I really enjoyed this one, because it was so unique. It showcased an artist trying to create while an ugly war is unfolding all around them. Ben has such a wonderful prose, and I loved being on this unique journey that did a wonderful job incorporating the title of this anthology, with an entirely different meaning.
➽ Flesh and Coin by Anna Stephens – ★★★★★
Full disclosure: I love Anna, I love her characters, I love her worlds, and I love her perfect writing. I knew from the first paragraph that this story would be no different. Our main character, Stoneheart, is a cutthroat mercenary that has a problem trusting people. She and her crew are lying in wait, and it is all fun and games until her arch nemesis shows up, proving why she has trust issues. Anna Stephens was meant to write, and I loved this story so very much, even though (like always) she rips out my heart.
➽ The Hero of Aral Pass by Mark Lawrence – ★★★★★
What a way to close an anthology. Perfection. Mark Lawrence is such a smart and witty writer, and this story made me giggle quite often. This was my first time being introduced to Prince Jalan Kendeth, but I can safely say I am nothing but excited to read more. Also, this ending was truly perfect. I wish nothing more than to be able to see what tomorrow brings.