Monday, May 24, 2021

"When Valor Must Hold," Book One, Rob Howell, editor

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Sigh. Another anthology. These are almost always my favorite things to read, but my least favorite things to review.
I love to read them, because they were the first form I was able to enjoy, once I discovered my passion for reading. Being a bookworm with ADD meant that grabbing a big thick chapter book just wasn’t in the cards; but short stories? Yes, those kept my attention quite nicely. And today, sometimes my need for escape is far better met a small bite at a time.
Reviewing them, on the other hand, is a massive undertaking. Each author has compacted an experience into a very small package, and my job is to share that with the reading public. If it’s a novel I’m reviewing, that’s one job; in this anthology, it’s fourteen jobs. To that, add the fact that SOME short stories turn on a small plot twist, or a pun, even, and that I must NOT give that away because SPOILER….and, it’s tough.
Yet, my valor must hold; I must do the job I am called to do. So, let us gird up our loins, and dive into the stories. The monsters await!

Darkness Before the Dawn by Christopher Woods. Things haven’t worked out for Zaro. He has an affinity for each of the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, but none of them selected him for training. So, he was left without a career, and separated from his true love, who was bound to Water. Rather than give up, though, he sets his hand to do what he can; and he does his duty, with each new day.

The Game’s Afoot by Christopher G. Nuttall. The people at the top do this and that, and believe that their whims rule reality. It’s always left up to the grunts to get the job done, though. 

The Ogre’s Brownies by RJ Ladon. Dogumrik is a brownie warrior, fierce and brave; but: tiny. The measure of the heart is far more than stature, though.

Dust in the Mouth by William Joseph Roberts. Draven is independent, before he is anything else. Even so, he willingly pledges his service to travelers he meets in the forest. But there are more dangers than sword and beasts to overcome.

Hanging by a Thread by Benjamin Tyler Smith. What a strange place to set a story! Some folks are dead, though still moving around; others are maybe not. But regardless of their status, it seems that without good policing, the mighty will ever persecute the weak.

Shard’s Fortress by Dexter Herron. This anthology contains 82 f-bombs, by Kindle count. 79 of those are contained in this selection. Is there a story, in addition? Possibly, and that’s a shame, because anything worthwhile is lost in noise.  I gave up, in disgust, after the third or fourth page. I don’t think it’s funny, and I really don’t know why someone with the authority to do so didn’t point out that 79 f-bombs gets tiresome.

Horse’s Heart by Sarah A. Hoyt. When it looks like all is lost, a myth turns out to be true. The tale of multiple heroes, but mostly of one who conquered his own death.

Island of Bones by William Alan Webb. The magicians hitch a ride with the smugglers, and snark at each other; the dialogue is worth the price of admission. Finding faithfulness in the treacherous is also quite pleasant, but I don’t think I understand what happened at the end.

Goddess’s Tears by Cedar Sanderson. Strip away the magnificent language, and the adventure, and you have the story of an abused and neglected woman who has had enough. Because she faces supernatural opposition, she has supernatural support; it’s her determination that makes liberation possible, though, and there is nothing supernatural about that. Magnificent, but not supernatural.

Hold the Line by Kevin Steverson and Tyler Ackerman. This is the story of the scouts. Circumstances deprive them of their role, but they report for duty anyway, and do what is needed.

What’s in a Name by Rob Howell. The protagonist begins the story disoriented, and I joined him in that; I didn’t have any idea WHAT was really going on for quite some time, which isn’t something I enjoy. It turns out to be a tale of conflicting loyalties.

The Errand by Jon R. Osborne. Vikings are jerks, and Vikings with magic are REALLY hard to kill. Even a ferocious Irish archer can use some magical help, from time to time, in order to fight back.

No Trade for Nice Guys by D.J. Butler. I’m not familiar with Indrajit and Fix, but they seem like a lovely pair of sell-swords. They have a way of making things work out, even if they aren’t playing with a full deck.

Fistful of Silver by Quincy J. Allen. Rellen is a sort of bounty hunter, or roving problem-solver. Magic is nicely limited in application in this story, by factors we can understand: if we haven’t LEARNED a language, we can’t read it. Getting to the root of the problem requires some serious detective work.

I found some of the stories to be excellent, and this despite the fact that fantasy really is NOT my cup of tea. Of the rest, all, with the notable exception of Shard's Fortress, were quite palatable, and worth the read. 

Peace be on your household.

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