Infernal Parade by Clive Barker is a novella containing a series of short stories which, including the illustrations (by Bob Eggleton), comes in at under 100 pages and probably took me less than an hour to read. For such a slim volume though, it held a surprising amount of fascination for me. Thing is, out of context, the half dozen or so tales in here might seem a little random until you know a bit more about their history. Back in the early 2000s McFarlane Toys put out a couple lines of horror action figures which came distributed with portions of fictional pieces about them written by Barker as an added incentive. “The Infernal Parade” was one of these toy lines, inspired by a nightmarish circus filled with monstrous attractions and other gruesome curiosities. It included six figures.
Things kick off with the tale of our ringmaster, the convicted killer Tom Requiem. Hanged for his crimes, he nonetheless returns from the brink of death to head up a literal freak show spotlighting the terrifying and the tortured. From all across globe and even into the mythical realms, Tom scours through time and space for creatures to join his macabre parade, starting with the woman he murdered, Mary Slaughter the blade swallower. The two of them are next joined by Elijah, a bloodthirsty golem that killed the master who created it; the tormented members of Dr. Fetter’s family of freaks; the Sabbaticus, a monster out of the wilds of Karantica; and last but not least, Bethany Bled, the prisoner in the Iron Maiden.
These are their stories, brought together in this one handy collection. They don’t form a single overarching narrative per se, since each tale can be read as a standalone, in any order, as they were meant to accompany their individual action figures. If you think about it, it’s actually rather ingenious, because having glimpsed the actual Infernal Parade toys on comic book and game store shelves over the years, it’s not hard to see why some might be repelled by their disturbing and grotesque nature (as striking and gorgeously detailed as they are)—but if you happen to be a Clive Barker fan, a horror buff, or perhaps you are simply curious about a particular figure’s backstory, I can understand the appeal behind these shorts. The stories in here are each around 6-10 pages long, but there’s a world of imagination packed in every single one. They feel very much like creepy little fables or grisly tales you would tell around a campfire.
That said, even knowing the origins behind Infernal Parade might not not take away the clipped and disjointed feeling of this collection, though in all fairness I don’t typically do well with the super-short fiction format, so this might actually work better for others than it did for me. To their credit too, each story left me wanting more—in the good way. As intended, they feel like snippets in a character’s life story, specifically the circumstances around how they joined up with Tom Requiem and became a part of his parade. As much as I enjoyed these individual tales though, they often left me with the sense that the best is yet to come. For example, I probably had just as much fun imagining in my head everything that would happen in “the after” once this hideous crew got on the road. Where would they tour? Who or what would come out to see them? Think of the sheer potential behind all these crazy scenarios.
Bottom line: those looking for a more substantial read or something that feels more “complete” might not find it here, though if you’re a Clive Barker fan or a collector of rare fiction, it doesn’t get much cooler than this. Infernal Parade is a very special opportunity to get your hands on a unique collection of his short stories that might be tougher to find these days. Even if you’re reading Barker for the first time (like I was) I feel this book would be a wonderful introduction to his dark and distinct style....more
Huge Brandon Sanderson fan that I am, I try to read everything he writes, but especially the works that take place in his fictional universe of the Cosmere. But while I have read all the novels, somehow many of the novellas seem to have slipped through the cracks. When a lot of the stories have only appeared online or in other anthologies, it can make tracking down every single one a challenge.
Enter Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection. It feels like I have been waiting my whole life for this. Collecting eight previously published short stories and novellas plus one new never-before-seen tale that takes place in the world of The Stormlight Archive, this anthology is a must-have for every Cosmere geek.
The Emperor’s Soul
The Emperor’s Soul is the only story I’ve read previously before coming into Arcanum Unbounded. It remains one of my favorites of all time, the only novella I’ve ever rated a full five stars and I was ecstatic to see that it was the first story in this collection. Taking place in the world of Elantris, it follows a thief and forger named Shai who is captured by agents in a foreign land and made to craft a new soul for their emperor. Re-reading this story reminded me all over again why I loved it the first time; clocking in at just over one hundred pages, it manages to encompass everything I would expect from a full-length novel—intricate world-building and incredible character development, with a unique magic system to boot. Few authors can manage a feat like this, but Sanderson captures my imagination whether he’s penning short fiction or thousand-page epic fantasy tomes. Certainly The Emperor’s Soul shows he is not only a writer but an artist, or at least someone who understands how making art feels, based on his excellent characterization of Shai. This is a brilliant novella with a touching and powerful message.
The Hope of Elantris
This short and sweet tale was meant to fill a gap in the plot of Elantris, giving readers some backstory into the book as well as a brief look at what happened after its climax. It would have very little impact and meaning if you have not read Elantris yet, and the author’s note even recommends not reading this until you have finished the novel in case of spoilers. As it was not meant to be any more than just a quick filler story, I was not surprised to find it somewhat lacking in substance. For the purpose it was meant to serve, however, it succeeded marvelously, and I also liked it more once I read the nice postscript that explained how the idea for The Hope of Elantris came about.
The Eleventh Metal
This was a story written specifically for the Mistborn tabletop RPG, so it was no surprise that it read very much like an introductory primer to the world, magic, and characters of the series. It also takes us back to a much younger Kelsier, so those who are interested in his past will likely enjoy this look at his training days with his mentor Gemmel. Fans of the original Mistborn books will probably like this more than readers unfamiliar with the trilogy, despite it being very short and containing more exposition than your typical short story.
Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania, Episodes 28 through 30
If you’ve ever read his Alcatraz series, then you know that Brandon Sanderson has an interesting sense of humor. It definitely comes out again here in this second short story written for the Mistborn RPG, except this one takes a much different tack. Chronicling the adventures of Allomancer Jak with helpful (and hilarious) footnotes provided by his faithful Terris steward Handerwym, this story is Sanderson’s tribute to the classic pulp tradition. Jak reads like an over-the-top, satirical version of Wax from the later Mistborn novels, which was apparently the author’s intent. A delightful and entertaining read complete with a dash of unique humor, giving this one considerably more “personality” than The Eleventh Metal.
Mistborn: Secret History
This was perhaps my most highly anticipated story of this collection, and it did not disappoint. Intended to be a companion novella to the original Mistborn trilogy, this shouldn’t be read until you complete those first three books or else you will be utterly confused, not to mention the presence of major spoilers. Also, you won’t be able to fully appreciate what a touching, emotional tale this is. Secret History tells the story of what happened to Kelsier after his death at the hands of the Lord Ruler, and as such, it features strong mystical themes dealing with fate and the afterlife. I’ve never made it a secret how I feel about The Hero of Ages and how it ended (it was a punch in the gut) which has always soured me somewhat on the entire trilogy. I have to admit though, this novella changes things. The void I have felt inside of me for so long has been filled in a bit, and my appreciation and understanding of the series has increased. No question about it, Secret History is a must-read for Mistborn fans.
An eighteen-page excerpt of the White Sand graphic novel is included with this collection, followed by the written draft which formed the basis of the comic adaptation. It follows Kenton, the youngest son of a Sand Master but shows weak affinity for the magic himself. This is an older story, and as such you can some of the roughness around the edges, and the magic system is a lot more straightforward relative to Sanderson’s later work. However, I did like that we got to read about a character who had little magic power; much fun was had watching Kenton come up with creative ways to overcome challenges and defy the masters. This was also a highly action-oriented tale.
Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell
Originally published in the Dangerous Women anthology, this story features an innkeeper named Silence who shelters travelers passing through the gloomy, haunted forest. Revenge is the name of the game as we follow our protagonist and her daughter into the wild to track down and kill bad folk. There’s also a strong sense of frontier lawlessness to the setting, which is crawling with bounty hunters, corrupt enforcers, and vengeful ghosts. This was admittedly not my favorite of Sanderson’s novellas, but it does show a darker side to his storytelling that we don’t get to see often.
Sixth of the Dusk
Again, I did not find this novella to be among Sanderson’s best, but many of the ideas in here are very interesting. It follows a Tracker whose main trade are magical birds found only on the sacred islands of the Archipelago, with his life being increasingly disrupted by the gradual encroachment of society and technology. I love the setting established in this story as well as the mysteries surrounding the Aviar, though I wish there had been more time spent on the birds’ special link with their owners. I didn’t feel like I had enough time to get to know the characters either; all told, this story could have afforded to be a little longer but I enjoyed it for what it is.
Of the entire collection, Edgedancer is the story Cosmere fans will be mostly likely talking about. For starters, it’s completely new, and it’s also from the world of the Stormlight Archive. Sanderson shines the spotlight on Lift, the scrappy young urchin with a special gift who first appeared in Words of Radiance. We plunge headfirst into adventure with Lift and her spren Wyndle in this sort-of origin story, though she’s also not the only familiar face to turn up within these pages. We’re given a closer look into her life and personality, and you can tell she’s definitely being built up for a larger role in the main series. I also really enjoyed getting a more detailed picture of Tashikk and its culture. This final story will make you smile, and if Lift hadn’t made an impression on you before, well then she sure will win your heart here.
Closing Thoughts: Arcanum Unbounded is a must-read for every Brandon Sanderon fan, though for best results it is recommended that you have already completed Elantris, the Mistborn series, and the Stormlight Archive series in order to enjoy the full impact of this anthology. But even if you are a reader who simply enjoys spending time in Sanderson’s worlds without being all that concerned with how they fit together, you will be amazed by the all-encompassing and in-depth quality of this collection. The stories themselves are fantastic of course, but you are also guaranteed to walk away from this with a better understanding of the immense and epic macrocosm that is the Cosmere. Arcanum Unbounded is now one of the most treasured books on my bookshelf....more
3-3.5 of 5 stars. Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon is a tale about Bazine Netal, a character who made an appearance in a quick scene in Maz's Castle from3-3.5 of 5 stars. Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon is a tale about Bazine Netal, a character who made an appearance in a quick scene in Maz's Castle from The Force Awakens. She was the creepy black-lipsticked female informant who we first saw sharing a couch with that huge Dowutin alien. This short story provides a bit of background for her, with a focus around one of her past missions. On the whole a fun and fast read, but in the end, probably one that you can take or leave. It's not vital to the overall scheme of things in any way, and if you replace the names and places it could probably even work just fine as a non-Star Wars-y story. Unless you like to speculate...in which case you can have a bit of fun with the last few lines of the book. ...more
Sword of Destiny is a collection of short stories featuring Geralt of Rivia, and it is actually the second book in The Witcher sequence. But because the English editions of the series’ first three full-length novels were released before this one (not to mention I was also pretty adamant about waiting for the audiobook, which wasn’t released until December 2015), I had to read it out of order.
Now that I’ve completed the book though, so much is finally falling into place! Sword of Destiny bridges the events between the end of The Last Wish (the first short story collection) and Blood of Elves (the first novel of the series), making it a must-read for fans of The Witcher. Even if you’re not a “short story person”, picking it up is absolutely essential if you want to get the full picture.
The book opens with “The Bounds of Reason”, a story about a good old-fashioned dragon hunt. Well, things begin innocently enough, anyway. Geralt and his friend Dandelion get together with a group of adventurers to investigate rumors of a rare gold dragon. They eventually come across the creature, only to be met with some pretty big surprises! Geralt is true to form, stepping up and proving himself to be someone you want to root for. Yennefer, one of the series’ major characters, also makes an appearance. This was a great story to start the collection, with lots of action and a healthy dose of humor. I also enjoyed the classic quest narrative…with a twist.
The second story is “A Shard of Ice”, which I admit I didn’t enjoy quite as much. It’s not a typical short story, with not much of a plot, instead centering its focus on the romantic relationship between Geralt and Yennefer. Still, I liked how it revealed more about both characters, how they are both flawed people with plenty of cracks and vulnerabilities in their defenses. How can two people be so right and yet so wrong for each other at the same time?
The collection continues with “Eternal Flame”. In my opinion, this is another rather ho-hum tale, though it certainly had its moments. Geralt and Dendelion are up to their shenanigans again, heading back into the city to visit a friend, only to discover that he has been replaced by a mischievous doppelganger. It was a fun story, but ultimately I didn’t find it very memorable, and overall it didn’t add to the narrative in any meaningful way.
Next up is “A Little Sacrifice”, and I have to say, this story is where the audiobook excels. There’s a good reason why I choose audio format for this series, and that’s because narrator Peter Kenny is awesome—but more on that later. In this story, we get a twisted little take on The Little Mermaid. A duke and a mermaid fall in love and Geralt is hired as a translator to negotiate the terms of their relationship. The results are as hilarious as you would expect, and funnier still, the mermaid “language” involves singing the words. Peter Kenny rises to the occasion, delivering the lines the way they were meant to be spoken—in sing-song. Major points to him for that, because I have a feeling very few other narrators would have made the effort. This story made me laugh a lot, but it isn’t all humor either; Geralt reacts unexpectedly to another woman’s affections, realizing how his relationship with Yennefer has changed and affected him.
Finally, we come to the most crucial story, “The Sword of Destiny.” Geralt is tasked to meet with the Dryads, and while traveling through their forest, major events come to pass which will forever change his life. This is perhaps the most important story to read in this collection, as it is the one that introduces Ciri, the lost princess of Cintra. She plays a huge role in the rest of the series, and Geralt’s first meeting with her is not to be missed. As watershed moments go, it was a pretty good one.
There’s one more story left, and that’s “Something More”, aptly named because it is like an addendum to the previous story, reaching back to link Geralt’s past with his present and future. It also references more of the fairy tales and myths that make this world so fascinating. Geralt sustains a grievous injury after one of his harrowing battles, and he drifts in and out of consciousness during his long recovery, flashing back to memories and regrets from the past. This last story is a very powerful and touching one, a perfect end this collection. It ties things up neatly, and the final scene is enough to bring any Witcher fan to tears.
All in all, Sword of Destiny is a fine collection of tales, though as most collections go, it is not without its ups and downs. Nevertheless, it is an essential part of The Witcher series, especially the last few stories. Now that it is out, I highly recommend reading the books in order. This one in particular covers a lot of the events before Blood of Elves. The audiobook release schedule has also now caught up to the print release schedule, which is great news because I can’t imagine experiencing these books any other way. For me, Peter Kenny has become the voice of this series, and I look forward to hearing him narrate the next novel The Swallow’s Tower....more
The full title of this anthology is actually Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law, so fans of Joe Abercrombie’s novels set in this universe should be in for a treat. All thirteen tales in here are set in the Circle of the World, spanning a period that starts about a decade before the beginning of The Blade Itself and ends a few years after Red Country, and some feature locations and characters that have appeared before in his novels. Most of the stories in here have also been previously published in other places, but here they all are for the first time, collected together in this neat and convenient little package, along with some new content besides.
I must confess here though, that these types of anthologies aren’t typically in my scope but of course I had to make an exception for Sharp Ends because Abercrombie is one of my favorite authors! When I pick up a collection of short stories, I usually go for those that are made up of standalones and original tales rather than the ones containing shorts/novellas which tie into an existing series’ “universe”. In general, if I’m going to spend time with characters I already know and in worlds I love, I want my stories with a bit more meat. This, I believe, was my main issue with Sharp Ends. Even though I’ve read all of Abercrombie’s novels, which should have put me in a pretty good position to appreciate this anthology (whose stories are all new to me), I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had expected. The truth was many of the stories in here left me feeling like there should have been more to them.
To its credit, I really enjoyed how the book was structured, with the stories more or less organized chronologically, so that all together they created something very close to a narrative. If it’s possible for this anthology to have “main protagonists”, they would most definitely be Shevedieh and Javre, the thief-and-warrior duo who star in many of the stories and when they do they’re always the highlights. Their escapades, chronicled in tales such as “Small Kindnesses”, “Skipping Town”, “Two’s Company”, “Three’s a Crowd” and “Tough Times All Over”, create a kind of thread to hold on to as other stories are interspersed throughout the anthology. The two of them are a lot of fun to read about. My favorite is “Two’s Company”, a free short that was originally published at Tor.com featuring our two heroines trekking through the barren north and encountering the Northman Cracknut Whirrun in the middle of a narrow rope bridge. This one’s got everything—action, violence, humor, sex, you name it—and I was not surprised to find out afterwards that Abercrombie had meant for this story to form the spine around which all the other stories are arranged.
With the exception of “Two’s Company” though, none of the other tales really resonated with me on their own. Individually, I don’t think the rest of Shev and Javre’s stories would have jumped out at me either, and only when the five were taken together did they make an impression because I was able to form a connection with the two characters as soon as I determined them to be the heart of this anthology. From their first meeting to their final story together more than a dozen years later, their relationship has weathered through countless adventures, challenges and hardships. In the end, it was a very beautiful and heartfelt moment to see how the two friends have come to be where they are and how they’ve been good for each other.
Alas, other tales were not so memorable, and there were more of these than I would have liked. Just days after finishing this book, I could barely remember much of what happened in “The Fool Jobs” and “Hell”, for example, and there were stories like “Freedom” or “Wrong Place, Wrong Time” which were interesting but ended in a way that I felt were neither here nor there. Most disappointing were the stories that featured some of my favorite characters in the First Law world, like Sand dan Glokta (in “A Beautiful Bastard”), and of course Shy, who was the protagonist of my favorite Joe Abercrombie book ever, Red Country. I was probably most let down by her story “Some Desperado” especially since it was the one I was most looking forward to, but unfortunately it lacked substance and I just didn’t find it all that compelling.
Still, I have to stress that the majority of the stories in here were decent to good. Among my other favorites were “Yesterday, Near a Village Called Barden” and the unsettling closer “Made a Monster”. Like I said, I’m not an experienced anthology reader so my mixed feelings on this book ultimately came down to personal taste and my too-high expectations because it was Joe A. In fact, reading this book only managed to further sharpen my desire to read another full-length Abercrombie novel (perhaps, even one about the dynamic duo of Shev and Javre? One can dream, I guess…)
Because it would also help immensely to have a bit of knowledge about this world before diving into Sharp Ends, newcomers to Abercrombie’s work will probably want to start with the novels as well, and a great place for that would be the First Law trilogy which I highly recommend. But for those who are already familiar with all those books, if you’re also the type of reader who enjoys checking out all the novellas and/or short stories that are companion to a favorite series, then you’ll definitely love this collection and want it to complete your bookshelf....more
One of my favorite books last year was The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, but before he published his debut novel he was already an accomplished writer of many award-winning short stories. While in general I am not a big reader of short fiction, I’d happily make the exception for some authors’ anthologies and you can definitely bet Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is one of them.
Like many collections, there are stories in here that I liked more than others, but overall I feel confident saying this is one of the best anthologies I have ever read. The book contains fifteen tales, showcasing a stunningly wide spread of themes and subjects. Readers of speculative fiction will enjoy stories featuring everything from artificial intelligence and virtual reality to space exploration and time travel. Many of the stories also combine these elements with influences from with cultural and historical sources, with a strong focus on Asian philosophy, mythology, and identity. Together, they come to create this profoundly heartfelt collection filled with beauty and emotion. For a more in-depth look at my thoughts on each story, please see below.
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” is the first story, kicking off the anthology with a series of imaginative and somewhat quirky reference-style descriptions of several alien approaches to reading, writing, and communication. It is a quick, experimental “tale” that teases Liu’s unique brand of creativity and promises more to come in the rest of this collection, while also providing a lighthearted opener for readers before delving into the more emotional and sorrowful stories.
“State Change” is a story about a young woman named Rina who lives in a world where everyone’s soul manifests in a physical object from the moment you are born, from Cicero’s stone to T.S. Eliot’s coffee can. Rina’s soul is an ice cube, required to be kept close to her and frozen everywhere she goes, which understandably puts a damper on her social life. Liu uses this concept as a clever allegory to speculate how one might live with such a limitation, treating Rina’s personal journey with empathy but also some light humor.
“The Perfect Match” was one of the better stories in this collection, imagining what a world would look like if, say, Apple and Amazon and Google all got together and decided to take over all our lives. The scary thing is that if this ever happened, we’d probably not even realize it. The story’s main character Sai shares every detail of his life with his phone so that the AI named Tilly can plan his day using his personal data to cater to his every needs, making suggestions that range from what he should have for dinner (she has a coupon!) to whom he should date. But what is a life without predictability and its surprises? As Sai grows closer to his paranoid and conspiracy theorist neighbor Jenny, he begins to question this himself.
“Good Hunting” is a story about a father-son demon hunting team. Liang and his father are on tail of a hulijing, a kind of mischievous fox spirit in Chinese legend said take the form of beautiful women to lure unsuspecting young men. However, Liang ends up befriending a hulijing girl named Yan and discovers that magic is seeping from the world as history ushers in the age of steam and steel. As Yan loses her shapeshifting powers and Liang runs out of demons to hunt, the two reflect upon bygone times and what their futures may hold. This story hit me especially hard because I can’t help seeing it a metaphor for my own gradual abandonment of cultural traditions. My mother still observes the ritual of burning “spirit money” for the Ghost Festival like the characters do in this story, but it’s unlikely that I will continue it; I still remember the slight hint of resignation in her eyes when I told her, which strikes the same kind of melancholic tone set by this tale about cultural change.
“The Literomancer” was probably even harder to read emotionally, because it is a sad story that ends with a punch in the gut. Lilly Dyer is a young American girl living with her expatriate parents in Taiwan in the early 1960s during the height of communist rule in China. Having not made many friends at school, Lilly immediately grows closer to a local boy named Teddy and his grandfather Mr. Kan who is literomancer, someone who reads fortunes based on written words. Mr. Kan tells Lilly stories, which she innocently repeats to her parents not understanding the unfortunate consequences that could lead to.
“Simulacrum” explores the effects of virtual technology in this tale about Paul Larimore, the inventor of a machine capable of capturing a person’s essence and projecting it into 3D, and his relationship with his daughter, Anna Larimore. Anna is estranged from her father, and this story explains why. Interesting concept, but the ending was a little too abrupt.
“The Regular” was my favorite story in this book, an easy 5 stars if I am rating it on its own. A perfect blend of sci-fi tech and crime noir, this is a compact tale starring Ruth, a private investigator on the trail of “The Watcher”, a serial killer who targets prostitutes—except what he’s after is not sex but something far stranger. It’s your standard murder mystery, but with its cybernetic sci-fi twist and fantastic protagonist, this one had me riveted from beginning to end, which isn’t something all mystery/thriller writers can achieve, even with full length novels.
“The Paper Menagerie” is the titular story, and for good reason; it was the one that won Ken Liu the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy awards. Jack is the son of an American father and a Chinese mother who immigrated to be with her husband after he purchased her from a bride catalogue. Growing up, Jack’s mom folded elaborate origami animals that would come to life around him, but eventually he grew ashamed of these paper toys and of his Chinese heritage, preferring to play American action figures, eat American food, and speak American English in order to fit in. Again, I find it difficult sometimes to view stories like this because many of its themes hit too close to home. Suffice to say, it’s a very emotional story about cultural identity, acceptance, and growing up. Embrace those close to you and tell them how you feel; you never know when it’ll be too late.
“An Advance Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition” follows in much the same vein as “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, this time describing the different approaches to thought and communication. However, even though it contains a narrative about a woman and her child, this story didn’t quite speak to me the same way the first one did, probably because most of the descriptions of physics and technology went over my head.
“The Waves” features Captain Maggie Chao of the generation ship Sea Foam leading her passengers on a long journey to colonize a new planet many lightyears away. To pass the time, Maggie tells stories of creation to her children. When a new discovery comes to light, the crew will have to make a decision that might affect the course of their mission and alter the future of their people. Sad to say, this is another story that didn’t make much of an impression, and was probably one of the least memorable for me in this collection.
“Mono No Aware” is another generation ship story, featuring a group of survivors aboard the Hopeful after a massive asteroid makes impact with earth. It’s also powerful story about sacrifice and survival, but probably not as hard-hitting for me as some of the other offerings in this anthology.
“All the Flavors (A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America)” is a cool little historical tale (though it is probably one of the longer stories in this collection) about Lily Seaver, a girl living on the frontier settlements of Idaho during the gold rush of the 1860s. Her town is happy to welcome a group of Chinese miners after a great fire wipes out most of its business and homes, for their money if not for their actual presence. Lily befriends Lao Guan, who tells her stories about Guan Yu, a deified military general worshipped by the Chinese. “All the Flavors” is different from the rest of the collection in that it veers away from sci-fi territory, focusing more on mythology and history so that this story reads more like a historical fantasy.
“A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel” is an alternate historical about a joint venture between Asia and the Americas to build a giant tunnel connecting the two regions. Charlie was a former foreman on the project, reliving gut-wrenching memories of his time in the construction site overseeing the work of Chinese prisoners. The completed tunnel is a work of technological wonder, but at what cost? This story proposes that great accomplishments often belie the amount of suffering and blood spilled in their achievement. It’s an interesting one, but not one of my favorites.
“The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” was probably one of the more disappointing stories, given my high hopes for it. Few Chinese children grow up without hearing about the legend of Sun Wukong the Monkey King, and when I saw the title I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this. Tian is a litigator who communes with the Monkey King. He’s also a clever and soft soul who likes to represent people from the poorer villages, and one day a woman comes to him begging for help. Instead of a cheerful take on the popular myth, this one actually takes a turn for the brutally depressing. I liked its noble themes, but it was still pretty gloomy, as it is with most of the stories in this collection.
“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” closes out this anthology with a devastating look back at the atrocities committed in World War II by Unit 731, a Japanese facility that tortured and conducted human experiments on Chinese prisoners. Following the end of the war, the scientists received immunity in exchange for handling over their research. Evan Wei is a historian who is determined to use a new technology to expose these crimes against humanity to the world, calling for history to condemn the actions of Unit 731 and recognize its victims. However, this new technology has a major flaw, namely that only one person can return to the past to view a certain event, but he or she will then prevent anyone else from doing so. For a short story, this one actually contains a lot of very complex themes and philosophical dilemmas. First of foremost, the description of the kind of “time traveling” technology described here poses the question: To whom, if anyone, does history belong? A thoughtful but rather dispiriting story told in the form of a documentary transcript, “The Man Who Ended History” is a powerful conclusion that reiterates and brings together many of the themes presented in the previous fourteen tales in this collection.
In sum, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is an amazing anthology, even if it is somewhat front-loaded with the more memorable stories at the beginning. Some stories worked better for me than others, that is true—but most of the tales in here are captivating in very profound ways and at times carried a personal meaning for this reviewer. I don’t often recommend short story collections, but I will for this one, and with much enthusiasm. Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a beautiful work of art, guaranteed to touch hearts and engage minds....more
At first, I was hesitant about listening to an anthology in audio format, but it actually turned out working really well! I really enjoyed how multiplAt first, I was hesitant about listening to an anthology in audio format, but it actually turned out working really well! I really enjoyed how multiple narrators were involved in this project, and for the most part the actors and actresses were all well-matched to the stories they read. All the narrators delivered impressive performances, considering how not every story here was written in a conventional style, or at least in one that would easily translate to audio.
The stories themselves, though, were another matter. Press Start to Play was a good anthology, but I admit I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. I’ve always been picky with short stories, but I really thought my interest in the topic of video games would help me with this one, but in the end this was just a very average collection, with most stories falling in the mediocre to good range. More disappointing is the presence of a few stories that only had a tenuous link to the subject, and even a couple that I felt had no place in an anthology that should be a celebration of video games. That said, there were a handful of exceptional ones that I felt really stood out. For a more in-depth analysis and my feelings for each story, see below:
“God Mode” by Daniel H. Wilson – 2.5 of 5 stars The protagonist of this story is an American studying abroad in Australia. He starts dating a fellow American student named Sarah, who one day suddenly fall and hits her head, and all of a sudden the stars in the sky start disappearing. I think the ending was meant to be more heartfelt and profound, but the delivery really fell flat. Quite frankly, I was disappointed by such a mediocre opener for this anthology, and even now I can barely remember that many details from this first story.
“NPC” by Charles Yu – 2 of 5 stars The title of this story gives us all the clues we need as to what it’s about. What happens when an NPC experiences an epiphany and isn’t sure if he wants to be something more? This was an interesting premise, but sadly neither the story nor the character was fleshed out nearly enough to be interesting.
“Respawn” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka – 3 of 5 stars A regular guy discovers when he is killed that his consciousness has “jumped” into the body of his killer. This story reminded me a little bit of Claire North’s Touch. It was a cool concept, and I would have liked to see it carried further, but whether it really belongs in a video game themed anthology is debatable.
“Desert Walk” by S. R. Mastrantone – 4 of 5 stars This was a nifty little ghost story, which started out one way and ended in a way I totally did not see coming. When I started this anthology, I expected to get a lot of different kinds of stories, but I admit I didn’t expect anything with a horror element. This one was pretty awesome and creepy.
“Rat Catcher’s Yellows” by Charlie Jane Anders – 3 of 5 stars One of the best things about this anthology was getting a chance to read work from authors I’ve been curious about for a long time. I enjoyed this story, at least in the beginning. It’s a quirky and interesting take on a social game and a subset of its players with a unique disease that causes dementia. I was a little disappointed by the ending, though. I’d thought there would be more and was surprised when the next story started up.
“1UP” by Holly Black – 3.5 of 5 stars This was another story by an author I’ve wanted to check out for a while! Three teens go to the funeral one of their online gaming friends, and find a text-based game that he wrote on his computer. It turns out to be a clue to solve his apparent murder. Again, I loved the premise but this definitely would have worked better as a full-length novel. What a great YA mystery it would have made!
“Survival Horror” by Seanan McGuire – 2 of 5 stars I suspected and later confirmed that this story is based on the world of McGuire’s InCryptid series, which I confess I know absolutely nothing about. No wonder I felt so confused. To be honest, I hate finding these types of stories in anthologies like this, because as hard as the author tries to catch you up with the world and who’s who in it, it just doesn’t feel the same. If you are familiar with InCryptic you might find yourself enjoying this one, but personally I felt no connection to any of these characters and couldn’t make myself care what happened to them.
“Real” by Django Wexler – 3.5 of 5 stars I’m a big fan of the author, so I was pretty excited to read this. Our mysterious protagonist tries to track down the creator of a game that lets its players feel involved by using social media to discover demons and hidden runes. The idea gave me ARG vibes. A very cool story with an interesting twist ending.
“Outliers” by Nicole Feldringer – 2.5 of 5 stars I think I would have liked this one more if I had understood it. Unfortunately, I found it a bit too technical. The main character is a woman who is obsessed with a game that tracks weather patterns for the government, and was even willing to skip her brother’s wedding to play it, which really didn’t help me sympathize with her.
“End Game” by Chris Avellone – 3.5 of 5 stars I thought this was fun! A very interesting execution using the idea behind text-based games, but unfortunately, all the suspense eventually built up to…a fizzle. This is one of the biggest issues I find with the stories in this anthology; so few of them have real or satisfying endings.
“Save Me PLZ” by David Barr Kirtley – 4 of 5 stars A sweet little story that starts with a young woman named Meg getting in to her car to find her ex-boyfriend, Devon. The real world and the virtual world collide as she is tasked to embark on a quest to rescue him. This was one of my favorite stories in the anthology.
“The Relive Box” by T.C.Boyle – 3.5 of 5 stars A bittersweet story about a character obsessed with using a device called a Relive Box to keep experiencing the joys and heartbreaks of his past, meanwhile ignoring his daughter and his work in his very real present and future. I like its sad message about why we might want to relive old memories instead of going out to seize the day, creating new ones. It ended rather abruptly, which was my only criticism.
“Roguelike” by Marc Laidlaw – 4 of 5 stars Repetitive and simple, but oh so hilarious! Again, it makes use of the text-based game format to tell a little tale about a very persistent resistance and the fates of all their doomed agents. The story reads like an elaborate joke, but I loved the punchline. I found it very enjoyable in spite of myself.
“All of the People in Your Party Have Died” by Robin Wasserman – 3.5 of 5 stars A darkly comedic tale about The Oregon Trail as a game of life lessons to prepare you for the death of all the people you know and love to tragic accidents, and just bad shit in general. The character in this story discovers the game and becomes obsessed with it after the game starts doing strange things. I really liked where it was going, but then everything started unraveled towards the end. Definitely didn’t like the second half as much as I did the first.
“Recoil” By Micky Neilson – 4 of 5 stars This was one of the more complete and coherent stories in this collection, and the author created a very suspenseful atmosphere to boot. Jimmy is our protagonist, staying late at the office to test a new game, and suddenly finds himself in a hostage situation. This story also had a twist ending, but this one I actually liked. Another of my favorites in this anthology.
“Anda’s Game” by Cory Doctorow – 3 of 5 stars Anda joins a band of elite girl gamers and kicks ass in the virtual world, but in real life she is an average and unassuming schoolgirl. Her online teammates are everything to her, but then something happens that might jeopardize all her newfound happiness. An interesting story about taking a stand for what you believe in, but not one that really stood out for me.
“Coma Kings” by Jessica Barber – 3 of 5 stars A touching but depressing story about two sisters who bond in game, but one is in a coma so she has to play via an implant in her brain. For the protagonist, this is the only way she can have any interaction with her sister. I enjoyed the premise and thought this story showed great promise, but I wish the ending had been stronger and more meaningful.
“Stats” by Marguerite K. Bennett – 3 of 5 stars Don’t you just hate it when your stats get nerfed? The character Joey in this story is not a very nice person, so I didn’t feel too bad for him when his body started changing. I love the attitude behind this story, and it was okay in its execution.
“Please Continue” by Chris Kluwe – 1 of 5 stars My least favorite story yet, and frankly it annoyed the hell out of me. Essentially it was a warning not to let gaming take over your life, but it came across really preachy and pretentious. The message is good, but why go about it in such a clichéd and uninteresting way? And oh, yet another unfunny application of the old “arrow to the knee” joke. How awkward. By the end, this didn’t even read like a story, more like a lecture from some nagging parent. It didn’t feel like a good fit for this anthology.
“Creation Screen” by Rhianna Pratchett – 3 of 5 stars Speaking of stories that have messages about becoming too obsessed with gaming, here’s another one. However, it was much more creative and elegant than “Please Continue”, and the beginning actually amused me a great deal. I happen to be one of those finicky MMO players who take an inordinate amount of time trying to get my character “just right.”
“The Fresh Prince of Gamma World” by Austin Grossman – 3 of 5 stars A gamer gets transported to an alternate world which has experienced a nuclear apocalypse. It’s a pretty interesting story, though once again, it didn’t fully engage me or stand out. I enjoyed the premise and setting, and perhaps I felt a greater affinity for it since Gamma World takes place in a post-apocalyptic Boston and I happen to be neck-deep in Fallout 4 right now.
“Gamer’s End” by Yoon Ha Lee – 3 of 5 stars The title of this story should tell you something about what it is about, i.e. the use of war games for training. Nothing much I can say about this one, other than it was okay but didn’t blow me away either, and nothing about it really stood out.
“The Clockwork Solider” by Ken Liu – 4 of 5 stars Alex is a female bounty hunter who captures a runaway named Ryder to bring back to his family. This is the first time in this anthology where I actually felt something more than ambivalence for the characters in a story. It’s another one that uses text-based gaming for its premise, but I found it philosophically deeper and a lot more thought-provoking than all the other stories in here.
“Killswitch” by Catherynne M. Valente – 3 of 5 stars In this story, Killswitch is a game that starts off like any other first-person adventure game. But it doesn’t end that way. I liked what this story had to say about games versus real life, about having one shot, one chance to experience a moment before it becomes a memory. I appreciated its poignant message, but for some reason I had a very hard time staying focused throughout. Maybe it’s just the style in which this story was written, but I found it really hard to connect to the prose.
“Twarrior” by Andy Weir – 3 of 5 stars This is a real short one, and feels more like snippet or an introduction to a bigger story, but hey, it got a few laughs out of me and that counts for a lot in my books. Andy Weir is one funny guy.
“Select Character” by Hugh Howey – 4 of 5 stars Play as thou wilt—a message I strongly support. Maybe that’s why I liked this one so much. It’s a very enjoyable story showing how different people approach games, and reminds me a lot of the conversations I’ve had with others about different gameplay styles. Only one thing matters: that you play the way you want and have fun doing it. Also, be open to other gaming styles. Sometimes when you play only one way, you might even miss things that you’d never have known until you talk to someone else who has a whole other perspective. What a great story to end the anthology....more
Every fan of Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series should check out this collection. I promise you won’t regret it! Not only does The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold contain two excellent short stories, it also features fun little extras like “outtakes” from earlier versions of The Warded Man and a ward grimoire complete with illustrations of the wards themselves. While longtime readers of the series will likely be the ones to get the most out of this volume, I believe it can also serve as a great introduction and the perfect jumping-on point for newcomers to the Demon Cycle.
Not usually being one to pick up short stories outside of main novels, I was really surprised how much I enjoyed this book. It probably helped that both The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold take place during my favorite period of Arlen Bales’ life; that is, back when he was still a humble messenger traveling the world and going on his adventures, and before he was corrupted by demon’s flesh (and Renna Tanner – hey, I’m only being honest here) to become the Warded Man and the Deliverer.
While this one certainly isn’t required reading, the story Brayan’s Gold alone probably makes this book worth picking up. Read on for a more in-depth analysis of this book’s contents.
Brayan’s Gold – 5 of 5 stars
Arlen Bales, now 17, is an apprentice Messenger preparing for his first big assignment. But instead of a simple overnight trip, he and his companion are tasked to carry a dangerous cargo of thundersticks to Count Brayan’s gold mine, situated high up in the frozen mountains. The journey through the ice and snow will be treacherous, not to mention the threat of bandits on the road. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the giant rock demon known as One Arm still stalks Arlen every night, hungry for its revenge.
What can I say, but this version of Arlen is the character I first fell in love with: inexperienced, but determined; idealistic, but full of spirit; brave, but just a little touch insane. Best of all, it is Arlen’s story all his own, and it is amazing how much substance Brett was able to pack here in about 70 pages. For a short story, the plot is surprisingly rich with plenty of action and suspense, drama of human relationships, and of course, a heart-stopping showdown with a never-before-seen type of demon.
Its short length notwithstanding, Brayan’s Gold has become one of my favorite pieces of Demon Cycle-related fiction to date, and I can’t believe it took me this long to check it out. Loved it.
The Great Bazaar – 3.5 stars
In the main series, Arlen finds the ruins of Anoch Sun, the ancient Krasian city in which he unearths the tomb of Kaji and retrieves the legendary warded spear. This great discovery, however, was actually preceded by a complex chain of events. The Great Bazaar tells how Arlen first managed to acquire the map to the ruins, a story that involves Abban, our favorite khaffit.
From the sound of things, Brett first wrote this story around 2009 or 2010, right around the time before The Desert Spear came out (and the story itself takes place somewhere between Chapters 16 and 17 in The Warded Man), so this was still relatively early in his writing career. It showed in the writing, which was laden in places with awkward exposition. This is also around the time when Arlen’s character started to become aggravating, when his obsession for wards began to take over his life, resulting in unnecessary risks.
The story was pretty decent though, with a very satisfying ending. It’s mostly filler, but I can’t deny that it was entertaining.
Deleted Scene: Arlen
Peter V. Brett made the right decision when he cut this following his editor’s advice. It would have felt out of place in the novel, though I appreciated Brett sharing the story about how his entire Demon Cycle series was born from the seed of this introductory scene. I can certainly understand the personal and emotional attachment to a piece like this, so even though it has no place in The Warded Man, it was still a fascinating little bonus.
Deleted Scene: Brianne Beaten
Brett explains that this was one of his favorite scenes, but since it added nothing to the narrative (it was supposed to show how badass Leesha had become, but it was already clear that Leesha was badass enough) he decided to cut it. It’s probably the right decision, though I wonder why he didn’t do the same for the latest installment of the series The Skull Throne, which I thought had its fair share of superfluous village scenes like this one too.
Brianne Beaten could have been a mini-story on its own, and it read like a classic deleted scene. A village woman who feels animosity towards Leesha finally swallows her pride and lets the young herb gatherer help her. Leesha ends up saving the day and shows just how hardcore she has become. Yeah, leaving this scene in probably would have been overkill. But again, this was a fascinating look behind-the-scenes at Brett’s writing process.
Krasian Dictionary and Ward Grimoire
The final sections of this book are mostly for reference. Readers already familiar with the series will know a lot of this information already, but the real treat are the illustrations of some the most common wards mentioned in the novels. The grimoire also kind of doubles up as a bestiary, useful if you need to brush up on your demons.
Final Thoughts: This edition of The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold is a wonderful contribution to the world of the Demon Cycle, packed with bonus content-like material that enhanced my experience with the setting and characters. Filled with goodies for fans of the series and yet still accessible enough for new readers, this volume both thrilled and fascinated me. Highly recommended....more
The Gabble and Other Stories is a collection of short fiction set in the universe of the Polity series by Neal Asher. I’ve been curious about his books for a long time now, especially since his work has been described as being close to Splatterpunk, a sub-genre often characterized by its depiction of gory graphic violence, fast-paced action, and a tendency to push the boundaries especially in horror-themed sci-fi.
I was not disappointed! Indeed, The Gabble ended up being a lot of fun and I enjoyed a lot of the stories in here. Being an anthology, I also went with the assumption that this book would work well as a stand-alone read, and thus a good place to jump on board. I think for the most part my instinct was correct, though I do have more to add to this. I will go into the details below in my in-depth analysis of each story, but I did notice a couple trends in my overall experience:
1) My favorite stories tended to be shorter ones, while the longer novelettes are perhaps too steeped in the Polity lore for me to get into as easily.
2) If the main focus of a story is aliens or alien culture, there’s a good chance I loved it!
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Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck – 4 of 5 stars A pair of incestuous siblings hires a guide for a killer safari on the planet Myral in this adventure tale that ends in terror as a Gabbleduck appears through the mist and hunts them in return. Honestly, you couldn’t have found a better opener for this book of short stories. The Gabbleduck is of course the creature featured on the cover, a cool and scary looking thing with too many limbs and a duck-bill like mouth full of sharp teeth. Its comical appearance belies its deadly predatory tendencies, and should at once tell you the kind of weirdness you’re in for. Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck is a fantastic introduction to this anthology, to Neal Asher’s writing style, to his world of Polity, to the eponymous alien, and heck, just to everything! I wish more of the stories were like this one.
Putrefactors – 5 of 5 stars A bounty arrives on a planet to kill his target and instead uncovers a corrupt plot that spells dire consequences for the colonists there. By the time he realizes he himself is caught up in the conspiracy’s net, it is too late. Hands down, this was my favorite story in this collection. It was totally awesome, featuring concepts that will leave you feeling disgusted and truly horrified. Not to mention, I will never look at the phrase “a good friend” the same way again.
Garp and Geronamid – 3 of 5 stars Garp is a former policeman and a reification, a corpse kept alive through advanced tech because he simply could not stop doing his job even after his death. Geronamid is an AI, who in this particular story is implanted into a body of an allosaur. Yes, you read that right. An allosaur. Fascinating ideas in this very cool story, but the heavy involvement of things like politics and the underworld drug trade made this one harder for me to follow. It’s got some great twists and turns though, and a sensational finish.
The Sea of Death – 3 of 5 stars Two characters discuss the millions of frozen sarcophagi found below the surface of Orbus, each filled with the remains of aliens that bear some resemblance to humans. This is one of the shorter stories in this collection and can truly be read as a standalone, albeit it is not very exciting and ends quite abruptly. Not bad, but with such an interesting premise, I’d hoped for a bit more.
Alien Archaeology – 2.5 of 5 stars Another tale featuring the Gabbleduck, Alien Archaeology is a novella – and therefore the longest story in this collection – that greatly expands our understanding into the history of alien life on the many worlds of Polity. But what should have been an exciting plot and engaging experience instead left me feeling cold. I could barely keep myself focused while reading, and felt no connection to the characters. The title and some of the mildly cyberpunkish themes of the story intrigued me, as well as the idea that Gabbleducks are actually the “devolved” descendants of the Atheter race. But I just couldn’t get into it. I can definitely see someone who is more familiar with the Polity universe or Neal Asher’s work liking this one way more than I did, though.
Acephalous Dreams – 2.5 of 5 stars Another story featuring the A.I. Geronamid. After the discovery of a Csorian node, a death row prisoner is offered the chance to clear his sentence if he agrees to test drive the device. Having a bit of alien brain implanted in your head versus execution…should have been an easy choice, right? This is another story that should have been awesome, but again it didn’t quite grab me. I liked it, but with such an ambitious plot, I think this one would have worked better given more pages to develop. I might have enjoyed it even more if it had been a full-length novel.
Snow in the Desert – 4 of 5 stars Snow is an albino living in the desert…and everyone wants his balls. Literally! His unique DNA means that he has an exorbitant bounty placed on his testicles. While everyone is hunting him, Snow does what he can to survive the numerous attempts on his life as well as the dangerous conditions of his hot, arid planet. I really liked the crazy, over-the-top premise and nature of this offering. A fun and action-packed novelette.
Choudapt – 3.5 of 5 stars Perhaps a cautionary tale into the dangers of mixing alien DNA just to gain an edge. We venture a little into horror territory here. Truly terrifying. Truly enjoyable. Don’t want say anything more than that for fear of spoilers.
Adaptogenic – 3 of 5 stars It all began with an auction. Two relic hunters go searching for a missing piece of a puzzle, and their efforts land them on a strange planet at the worst time possible. An enjoyable yarn, but not the most memorable. I had to go back to the book to remind myself what happened because I hardly remembered the nitty-gritty details of it, especially since some of the better stories have already gone ahead and the bar to impress me now is set pretty high at this point. Not bad though, and I don’t remember disliking the story when I read it.
The Gabble – 4 of 5 stars We end the same way as we began – with a Gabbleduck! Researchers want to uncover the secrets behind these mysterious and frightful beings. Like Alien Archaeology, this story reveals a little more about the history and connections between different species, especially when it comes to Gabbleducks and Hooders. The Gabble is a great closer for this collection, wrapping things up with a solid tale that ties together threads introduced in some of the previous stories in this book. It’s not an overly powerful or profound offering, but it cuts deeply all the same, making it an apt conclusion.
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On the whole, this is a great collection. Like all anthologies, it has its ups and downs, i.e. some stories are better than others. I’m admittedly not a big reader of short fiction because I so often find stories to be too short (“I want more character development! More world building!”) or too long (“Wait, what’s going on? Am I supposed to understand this part? But I haven’t read the original series, there’s just too much I don’t know here!” etc., etc.) My experience with The Gabble was not so different, but I did enjoy myself more than I expected.
I think this is a decent place to start if you’re curious about Neal Asher’s work and want to give it a try, or if you want just a taste of what Polity has to offer before taking the full plunge. Being new to this universe, I have to say I was pretty impressed, and if you’re already familiar with Asher’s Polity series, you’ll probably enjoy it even more. My interest is certainly piqued; I might have to check out his other books now....more
Stories of the Raksura is a delightful romp into Martha Wells’ world of the Raksura – even if you have not read the main series. I have been meaning to get to her Books of the Raksura for a long time now but still haven’t found the opportunity yet, so I was very happy to get my hands on this collection.
Of course, I had the usual concerns: How much do I need to know before jumping in? Am I going to be able to follow along with the short stories in here without getting lost? I shouldn’t have worried. As it turns out, this collection actually serves pretty well as an introduction to Wells’ wildly imaginative universe and the fantastical beings that live in it.
The Falling World
“The Falling World” is the first novella found in this anthology. For those like me who were unfamiliar with the race of fantasy creatures called the Raksura, you get a quick and intense crash course in this tale. Raksura are shapeshifters that look a bit to me like a form of bird-people, though their societies more closely resemble those of hive insects. A ruling queen is at the top, followed by lesser queens. Queens mate with fertile males called Consorts to produce royal clutches composed of Queens, Consorts and Warriors (infertile males and females that defend the colony). Together, these three types make up the Aeriat. They are winged and capable of flight.
Then there are the Arbora, who have no wings but are capable climbers. They are made up of Teachers that oversee the nurseries and train the young, Hunters who provide food for the colony, Soldiers who guard the colony, and Mentors who are seers with magical abilities enabling them to perform tasks such as foreseeing the future or healing the sick and wounded.
It can be a bit daunting at first, but all this information is adequately provided and easy to pick up as the story progresses. In “The Falling World”, a sister Queen called Jade travels with her entourage to another colony to negotiate trade, leaving her consort Moon behind at court. But then the diplomatic convoy fails to reach their destination, and an expedition is launched by Moon along with a party of warriors and hunters to try to discover what happened to them. However, what the rescuers find in the end might prove too dangerous and difficult for them to handle.
The story is simple and straightforward: one group sets out to find another. What amazed me though, was the amount of lore and world building Wells managed to inject into this novella. I was blown away by the information here about Raksuran culture, physiology, and social hierarchy. And the great thing is, none of it was really forced. I never once felt like I was taken aside and given and info dump; instead, all the information flowed naturally just from the normal course of storytelling. I’m sure as a new reader there’s lots I’m missing still, but the amount of knowledge I gleaned here of the Raksura and their world was just superb.
Perhaps it is also a good thing that the story itself is not overly complicated. On top of the information about Raksuran culture, there are a lot of characters to meet, many names to learn. The naming convention might take some getting used to, and you probably won’t remember who’s who all the time, but this particular story for me was mostly about getting to know this fantasy world and the Raksura, and I had a good time with it.
The Tale of Indigo and Cloud
“The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” is the second novella found in this collection. It is more of a historical narrative, exploring the legend behind the origins of Indigo Cloud court. A long time ago, a sister Queen called Indigo stole a consort named Cloud away from another Raksuran court, angering the hot-tempered queen who was Cloud’s mate, leading to a conflict that could mean all-out war between the two colonies.
This was an interesting story, which read a bit like a mythological scenario. That’s not too surprising, given its unique nature. It is a tale about the Indigo Cloud court’s queens of old, long before the key character Moon joined the colony’s ranks. It reveals more information about the way Raksuran society works, or rather how easily it could also fall apart. There’s a bit of politics and a bit of romance, the kind of perfect mix you’d want to find in an ancient legend.
There’s not much else I can think to say about this novella, but it’s probably my favorite of the two in this book. I really enjoyed the story and the lesson it imparted, as well as the overall vibe.
The Forest Boy
Next comes this short story, which tells of Moon as an injured fledgling taken in by a kind-hearted family in a nearby village, who are all unaware of his Raksuran background and shapeshifting abilities.
“The Forest Boy” is a nice bonus, giving the reader more insight into this central character.
The final short story tells of Chime, one of the warriors who accompanied Jade on her diplomatic mission back in the first novella in this collection, “The Falling World”. Chime’s situation is interesting in that he didn’t actually start off as a warrior. He was born a mentor, who then changed forms. That’s huge.
A switch from mentor to warrior, as you recall, also means a switch from Arbora to Aeriat. Wingless to winged. Fertile to infertile. Quite the life-changing event. “Adaptation” is exactly what it sounds like: Chime’s struggle to come to terms with this drastic transformation.
Despite being so short, this is probably my second favorite piece in this collection. It’s a powerful tale in its own right, not only because of the emotional and physical obstacles that Chime has to overcome, but also because of what his transformation might ultimately mean for the colony. It’s a great read, and in the end I am left to wonder what fate might hold in store for the entire Indigo Cloud court. It’s a bit ominous and unsettling.
The Raksura are one of the most original fantasy races I’ve ever encountered in fantasy fiction. I was genuinely compelled by everything about them. Despite them being so different biologically and culturally, the depth of their personalities and motivations make them feel very human. The novellas and short stories in this collection show that they have to deal with the same complex emotions we do, such as love, hate, guilt, etc. Their issues and conflicts like politics, gender and societal roles are also realistic and relatable.
All told, this is a great collection filled with all kinds of goodness like magic, rich worlds, and fascinating characters. I can’t believe how invested I am, as someone who hasn’t even read the Books of the Raksura main series. After reading this, I’m going to have to try hitting them sooner rather than later. Hopefully there will also be more of these short tales collected in future anthologies, because I would definitely be interested in reading them....more
I want to start by saying I’m not a big reader of short fiction, and on the whole I tend not to bother with any novellas, short stories or anthologies that are companion to an existing series. Part of this is due to my preference for full-length novels, but I’ve also not had the best experiences when it comes to the short format. Characters are world building are important for me, and with only a few exceptions, most short stories don’t go as in-depth into these aspects as I would like. Also, I always end up forming attachments to only a small handful of characters whenever I read a series, and I don’t often find myself as interested in companion novellas/shorts that feature the perspectives of other minor characters and people in a series’ “universe”.
That said, I had a really good time with Shifting Shadows. I’ve really fallen in love with the Mercy Thompson series in the last couple of years, which sparked my interest in this book despite it being an anthology. Aside from four new additions, most of the stories in here have previously been published, though I never felt the need to read them due to the reasons stated above, so I am reading everything with fresh eyes. Sure, as with any short story collection there are ups and downs, but overall I was very impressed with this book, and it probably ranks as up there as one of the best urban fantasy anthologies I’ve ever read.
Here’s a more detailed look at the contents:
According to the description, this is one of the new stories, written as an “origin” tale of sorts for the werewolves of Mercy Thompson’s world. We’ve always been told Bran and Samuel are old, but now we realize just how old. We’re talking possibly around the time Christianity first came to Wales. This story also has a bit of romance and sadness, detailing how Samuel and his beloved Ariana first met, but to me its true importance in the fact that it fills in a lot of history to help readers better understand the werewolf mythos as well as Bran and Samuel’s familial ties. A great starter to this anthology, and highly apt.
Unfortunately, after this comes a few stories that I just wasn’t as fond of. Thomas Hao was a vampire character I barely remember from his appearance in Frost Burned, though he may have been in any of Patricia Briggs’ other books/spin-off series, but since I haven’t read anything other than Mercy Thompson I really wouldn’t know. I like the “western” feel of this story, but other than that I have to say it was pretty forgettable. I was scarcely able to follow along with the story with its confusing back-and-forth time jumps, and I felt like I was dumped into the middle of a situation without knowing what was going on or who everyone was and why they mattered. Going back to my opening paragraph, this story is a pretty good example of my issues with series companion short stories.
The stories in here are arranged in chronological order based on the timeline of the Mercy Thompson series, and at this point we’re still in pre-Moon Called territory. Which is probably why I still found myself asking “Who are you and why do you matter again?” I feel a little guilty that I don’t remember who Elyna is, or even if I have encountered her before in any of the Mercy books. This is another one about vampires, but it’s also a ghost story at its heart. The story itself isn’t half bad, but again I would rather be reading about characters I’m more familiar with. This is definitely not one of my favorites either.
This story features Tom and Moira, two characters from Hunting Ground, book two of Briggs’ other series Alpha & Omega – which I have not read. But despite not being familiar with these characters, the author did a good job of really fleshing them out and I actually found myself curious to find out more about them beyond the events of this story. We have a perspective character here who is a witch, which was a treat. The plot also had a clear beginning and end, with the build-up and climax and everything good in between, so I didn’t feel lost at all. I loved how this story had a bit of mystery and sleuthing by the characters, and a sweet romance that ends up blossoming between them.
ALPHA AND OMEGA
I’ve always wanted to check out Alpha & Omega, though to be honest, I don’t know if I feel more or less enthusiastic about picking it up now, after reading this story. I was happy to meet up with Charles (yay, finally a character I recognize again) but I don’t know if I like the way he was portrayed here, or how Anna was portrayed either. Which is a bit ironic, I know, given how this technically gave rise to the series of the same name. It’s always grated on me a little, how the werewolf characters in the world of Mercy Thompson frequently let their wolf side take over all common sense and turn the human into chauvinistic testosterone-fueled meatheads. In this story, we are repeatedly told that Anna still has fire in her, despite being beaten and broken by her abusive pack, but it feels like whatever strength in her that’s fighting to get out is constantly being smothered by Charles’ overbearing need to own her and protect her. I realize this all fits in the context of Briggs’ “pack magic”, but it just always rankles whenever I see an over-possessive male and a helpless female that needs him to do the rescuing.
THE STAR OF DAVID
Hooray, we’re finally into Moon Called-territory and familiar ground for me. This is a great story about Adam’s fellow army ranger, David, whose tragic history illustrates the awful things that can happen when a werewolf isn’t in control of their wolf side. He reconnects with his estranged daughter in this heartwarming tale. My only problem with this story involves some of the implausible and unconvincing aspects of the situation, but given the limitations of the short story format, I didn’t let it bother me too much.
ROSES IN WINTER
This is one of the new stories, and it’s hands down my favorite out of this entire anthology. In my opinion, it’s worth picking up Shifting Shadows for this one alone. Again, I barely remember Kara since she was such a minor character (mentioned in Blood Bound, but never even appeared in any of the books) but I do recall Asil. Though I believe he’s a character in Alpha & Omega, he did make a very strong impression on me from his appearance in Frost Burned. But wow. I never imagined I would grow to love his character so much, and it was all thanks to this story. I had tears in my eyes at the end of this one, that’s how amazing it is.
IN RED, WITH PEARLS
This was a nice detective story, starring Warren. Someone sent a zombie to kill his boyfriend Kyle, and Warren’s not going to rest until he finds out who. Patricia Briggs did a fantastic job making him sound like the cowboy that he is, and I can tell she probably had a lot of fun writing this. We also get to see a few moments of tenderness between Warren and Kyle, but the best part of getting a story from Warren’s perspective is being able to experience his anxieties and doubts from inside his head. In the regular series, through Mercy’s eyes we see Warren as a happy-go-lucky, fiercely loyal friend. But as this story shows, there’s so much more to him beneath the surface.
Probably my second favorite story in the anthology, this one features Ben. It’s hard to get a bead on his character in the regular series. On the one hand, it’s been implied that Ben has a rather distasteful past, and his attitude towards women leaves a lot to be desired. On the other, Adam and Mercy seem to trust him implicitly, and Ben has gone out of his way for both of them on more than one occasion. This story gives the reader a better sense of who he is, and how he got this way. But it’s also downright hilarious. You gotta love Ben; he can be a real gentleman when he wants to be, and he takes crap from no one, not even when he’s not allowed to swear.
I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get a Mercy story at all, which despite some of the other great offerings in here, would have been disappointing. But fear not, this one’s all about Mercy, told from her point of view. And as Mercy stories go, I have to say it’s pretty standard – it reads like it could have been a story from one of the novels, but of course it’s much more condensed in this form. This meant I enjoyed it, but I admit, it does feel like Briggs crammed this one in just for the sake of having a story told in Mercy’s perspective. Just a little.
OUTTAKE FROM SILVER BORNE
Sorry to say, but…there’s probably a good reason why this was an outtake and never made it to the final book. Yeah, it gives a bit of closure to Samuel and Ariana’s story, but I wouldn’t say it’s needed in the least to enjoy the story of their relationship. I could take it or leave it. I think it was the right call to leave it out.
OUTTAKE FROM NIGHT BROKEN
On the other hand, I wish Briggs could have worked this one in somehow. I loved this scene from Adam’s point of view, at the end of Night Broken in the wake of all the craziness that happened. It endeared me to Adam, and my heart melts for his deep love for Mercy. It might just be me, but this scene would have also made the ending to that book a lot less confusing.
Concluding thoughts: there’s definitely a reason why this book is described as “Stories from the world of Mercy Thompson”, because as you can see, most of what you see in here isn’t about Mercy or even the people close to her. But with the exception of a couple of stories, that didn’t really put a damper on my experience reading Shifting Shadows. In fact, on the whole I think this book gave me a deeper understanding of the Mercy Thompson universe and made me appreciate it more. I’ve read similar anthologies and regretted it deeply afterwards, but this is not one of those cases. I highly recommended this for fans of the series, because if someone like me loved it, you probably will too...more
I'm not generally in the habit of reading short story collections, though it wouldn't be accurate to say I'm not a fan of them either. It's just that given a choice between an anthology or a full-length novel, I would most likely end up picking the latter because they tend to better satisfy my appetite for more in-depth character development and world-building. Not that I don't think a short story is incapable of achieving this at all, but it does take a talented author to make me connect to their characters and world the same way in so few pages. After reading The God Tattoo though, I'm happy to report that Tom Lloyd is one of them.
Of course, this collection of "untold tales from the Twilight Reign" also has the added benefit of taking place in a fantasy universe already established in a series of five books. According to the introduction, reading the main Twilight Reign series is not a prerequisite before tackling The God Tattoo, which is good because I'm a newcomer to this world myself. I have to say not being familiar with any of the locations or characters (apparently, not many of the major ones appear here anyway) did not hinder my enjoyment one bit; if anything I'm even more impressed with the sheer scope and epic quality of the world of Twilight Reign.
As the author himself has written, his series was never intended to be about one person or even a group of people; the history and population of an entire land are affected by the events, and the eleven stories presented here give a pretty good idea of what that means. There's a nice variety, from tales of mystery like A Beast in Velvet and The Marshall's Reflection, to some that are disturbingly magical, carrying a hint of that dark fairy tale flavor (examples like The God Tattoo, A Man Collecting Spirits, and Afraid of the Dark come immediately to mind).
This collection does a good job of fleshing out the world, showing how the people are an inextricable part of its history. The way some of these stories are connected merely serves to emphasize this point, featuring characters that shape events outside their own story and vice versa. As such, this anthology seems to flow better than most. Seen in context together, all eleven tales paint a very intriguing picture of Twilight Reign, with what I felt was a strong touch of horror to give the series that haunted, shadowy feel. It definitely sets the kind of tone I like to look for in my dark and epic fantasy.
Bottom line, I think this would be a great choice for avid readers of short stories and anthologies. That doesn't describe me at all, but even so, I found myself enjoying this book a lot. Though Tom Lloyd did say that this collection is not required reading for fans of the Twilight Reign novels, I can't think of any reason why any fan wouldn't want to pick this one up as well; if you're familiar with the world already, the stories here will probably resonate more. And if you're a new reader of his work, The God Tattoo might be inspiration to add The Stormcaller to your reading list. I personally added it because I got a taste of the series and Tom Lloyd's writing from these short stories, found that I liked what I saw, and now I'm interested in the full-length novels....more
I admit, if this hadn't been a book club read, I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own, and the reasons are threefold. First, even though I'veI admit, if this hadn't been a book club read, I probably wouldn't have picked it up on my own, and the reasons are threefold. First, even though I've been known to enjoy stories involving re-imagined fairy tales, it's not my preferred subject. Second, I'm not normally drawn to children's or middle grade books. And third, I'm generally not a big fan of anthologies or short story collections. One of the greatest joys of reading is being able to connect with the characters, and personally I find short stories are often too brief or are over too quickly for me to do that.
Still, another great joy of reading is being able to try new things, and I was glad for the chance to read something different for a change. This was a nice change of pace and a good opportunity to discover some new authors and their takes on the fairy tale subject.
I have to say, my feelings are mixed. There were stories I loved, and stories I did not like at all. Among my favorites were The Months of Manhattan (which I thought was the perfect story to open with) and The Twelve Dancing Princesses (likewise, the perfect closing story). As for the rest of the stories in between, there are a few that stand out, but I mostly found many of them to be mediocre.
The stories I tended to enjoy more were the fairy tale retellings that were more faithful to the classics, like Mrs. Big: Jack and the Beanstalk or Ali Baba and the Forty Aliens or Hansel's Eyes. These included elements from the original fairy tales that were immediately recognizable and gave me a frame of reference to which I could anchor myself while I read. Then there were those stories that were just downright "anything-goes" and made me wonder if the author even had an idea or simply slapped together a bunch of random fairy tale elements in an attempt to make their story sound as crazy as possible.
Granted, my feelings may have been influenced by my personal preferences that I mentioned at the beginning of this review, but I tried my best to form objective opinions. Overall, save for a few gems, the stories weren't too memorable, but the creativity and sheer range of styles in this book were impressive. Adults can certainly appreciate this, but I can see kids enjoying themselves a lot more with the stories in this collection, even (or perhaps especially) the ridiculous and nonsensical ones....more
25 Perfect Days is a collection of twenty-five short stories all linked together inSee the full review at The BiblioSanctum (co-reviewed with Wendyb!)
25 Perfect Days is a collection of twenty-five short stories all linked together in some way, each written from a different character's point of view. The book spans decades and generations, showing the decline of society into a totalitarian state where the government and a radical religion are one and the same, and overpopulation is leading to massive food shortages, congested cities and pollution. It's a scary look at how extreme measures to counter these problems can cost the people their personal freedoms.
As dystopian novels go, I thought Mark Tullius did a great job creating his disturbing vision of what could happen if a government is given too much power over its people. And usually when I read these kinds of books, the dystopia is already in place, as in whatever took place to bring the society to this state has already happened and is in the past. In 25 Perfect Days, however, we get to see an interpretation of the actual process, the slippery slope which leads to the downfall of a society. Like the book's blurb says, something like this simply doesn’t just happen overnight. It happens by degrees, and I thought the author's way of presenting the novel was a brilliant idea and also quite realistic.
Another aspect I liked about the book was its creative format, letting the story unfold over a series of short stories that each have their own focus, but are also interlinked through either events or the relationships between characters. It wasn't obvious at first, but after the first few stories, I think a bulb suddenly flashed on in my head and I understood. After that, trying to figure out the connections between the stories became an enjoyable part of the reading experience itself.
Of all the characters in the book, I think I liked Maria Salazar and her family the best. She was one of the more memorable characters, and since one of the major themes in this book is about the love and sacrifice needed to survive and overcome the tyranny, I thought the Salazars' stories were all perfect examples. One of the earlier chapters about Maria's fight to come up with the money to keep her newborn daughter was heartbreaking to read, especially for a mother. And then of course there was the story about Enrique and how he risked everything in order to procure food for his family, not to mention Vanessa Salazar, just an infant at the beginning of this book, who grows up to be a major part of the resistance along with her own child. Their family just seems to be quite central to the book.
While I liked the format with all the linked stories and the twenty-five perspectives, this also made it very hard to connect to any one character. For me, that's the most important thing to me as a reader. Like I said, there were some central characters or families that play a larger role or are more central to the overall story, but that left the more minor characters in the background. It was hard to keep track of the relationships, especially when it was a struggle to remember certain people. If it weren't for the list of characters and their connections at the end of the book, I wouldn't have been able to remember most of them on my own. I just think that in a book like this, where almost everyone and their stories are linked in some way or another, not being able to recall the details for some of them or why they're important diminishes the full effect somewhat.
Overall, 25 Perfect Days was a good read that kept me turning the pages and wondering how much worse this dystopian society could get. Though, I do think the writing could use a bit more tightening up, especially when it comes to the action scenes. Some of them were quite difficult to follow, especially when it comes to who does what and who speaks certain dialogue. Just some more description and detail into the setting and action would help me play the scenes out in my head and see them a lot clearer. Other than that, I really enjoyed this. It's nice to read a dystopian novel with elements in it that are more reminiscent of the classics....more
4.5 stars. Back when I first started getting into reading more sci-fi, John Scalzi's Old Man's War series was a great starting point. The books had ju4.5 stars. Back when I first started getting into reading more sci-fi, John Scalzi's Old Man's War series was a great starting point. The books had just the right mix of space travel, aliens and futuristic technology, but were still light enough not to intimidate a relative newcomer to the genre. Now they still rank among some of my favorite books of all time.
So when I found out about Scalzi's new serialized novel based on the Old Man's War universe, I became all excited and got set to pick up the new episodes every week from January to April 2013. Unfortunately, I discovered that I am very impatient when it comes to having to wait to find out what happens next, and I'm as bad with books as I am with TV shows when it comes to keeping up with weekly installments. For the latter, I'd much rather buy the complete DVD/Blu-ray box set with all the extras at the end of the season and do a marathon all at once, so I essentially decided to do the literary equivalent with The Human Division.
It will help to have read the previous books in the series, especially The Last Colony, since what happens in The Human Division is the direct result of the drastic events that occur the end of that novel. As such, this review may contain minor spoilers for the books that came before.
For a couple hundred years, the Colonial Union has happily taken advantage of Earth, keeping the planet's population in the dark while farming it aggressively for colonists and soldiers in the name of human expansion across a hostile universe. Last we saw, John Perry has basically blown the cover off that whole operation. Thanks to him, the people of Earth now know the truth.
Angry and betrayed, Earth considers an invitation from a political alliance made up of 400 alien races -- also known as the Conclave, bitter rivals of the Colonial Union. The CU, currently aware of their precarious position, begins to play things more carefully, making every possible effort in politics and diplomacy. An unknown entity, however, may be sabotaging all their efforts.
Being a serialized novel, this was a great mix of thirteen narratives which all come together to tell an overarching story. Some served to push the plot forward while focusing on the main characters, while others acted more as filler but were still invaluable in providing the necessary background information required to follow the story. Like any anthology-type book, there were some episodes I liked more than others, but on the whole they were all very entertaining and enjoyable.
Some highlights for me include Episode 1: The B-Team, the story which serves as an introduction to our main characters, Ambassador Abumwe, Captain Coloma, Hart Schmidt, and Harry Wilson. Wilson, of course, I was glad to see because he's someone we first met in Old Man's War, one of John Perry's friends in the group they'd dubbed the "Old Farts", so it was nice to be able to catch up with him. This story was also one hell of a start.
Also Episode 2: Walk the Plank, which a one-off short told in transcript form and was a punch in the gut. This just goes to show while John Scalzi's a funny guy and a delight to read, his stuff's not all fun and games; he's also very capable of writing poignant scenes that can fill you with dread. Walk The Plank also reaffirmed my decision to read this novel only after it was complete, as it was a drastic shift from the first episode and I would have been left very confused that week.
Then there were the episodes like #7, The Dog King which were lighter, more humorous and closer to what I expect when I think of Scalzi's works. There were also pleasant surprises like Episode 10: This Must be the Place which I found heartwarming and quite meaningful. And of course, the final episode Earth Below, Sky Above which was all action all craziness, and had me on the edge of my seat. John Scalzi gets to flex all his writing talents with this diverse collection of stories.
Basically, if you've followed the Old Man's War series up to this point, you really can't afford to miss this. It continues the story, but the serialization format also made this an incredible experience. Admittedly, I had initial doubts about it, fearing that the novel being presented as individual episodes would make it feel too disjointed, but that was not the case at all. In fact, I actually really liked it. Either I'm just not as bad as I thought at handling serial novels, or John Scalzi is simply really good at pulling this off. It's probably both.
Like I said, you can get the full-length novel now which includes all the episodes as well as a couple extras, and personally, I so much prefer reading it this way. It appears Scalzi's been signed on for a second season too, so I'm ecstatic that the adventures in the universe of Old Man's War will continue.
Side Jobs reminded me why I don't usually do anthologies. Short stories generally aren't my preferred format, but also because I don't often find theSide Jobs reminded me why I don't usually do anthologies. Short stories generally aren't my preferred format, but also because I don't often find the stories coming across naturally. Many of the ones in this book were written to form around a theme, not to really further the characters or the overall story.
The exception of course is "Aftermath", which alone made reading this worth it. Take note that you should only read this story after Changes, since it takes place immediately after the book's events, and gives major spoilers.
Not only does "Aftermath" provide a little closure to the end of Changes, it still manages to push the story forward but at the same time also gives the reader insight into one of the more beloved characters of the Dresden Files universe. I didn't start off liking Karrin Murphy, but over the series she has become Harry's best friend and one of my favorite characters.
In a way, I felt "Aftermath" was a culmination of all that the books have established and built up of Harry and Murphy's complicated relationship. One of the best things about the story was being able to see Murphy put to use all that she had learned during her years of working with him.
I realize I am quickly becoming too focused only on one story in this review, but the truth is, most of the other stories were pretty bland and it was "Aftermath" that really stood out. It made me realize how much I enjoyed Murphy's "voice", and I was surprised how well Jim Butcher wrote the character from her point of view.
This is totally making me want a Murphy spinoff. How cool would it be if she took up one of the swords now during her suspension from the police force, fighting supernatural baddies in Chicago as an avenging angel-type heroine with her sidekick Sanya and her on-again-off-again love interest Kincaid? This story just writes itself!...more
Worried about spoilers, I didn't start this anthology until I was finished with the game. In the end, I don't think it really mattered. The stories inWorried about spoilers, I didn't start this anthology until I was finished with the game. In the end, I don't think it really mattered. The stories in this collection takes place in the world of L.A. Noire, but none of them were really directly related, though I liked how couple stories provided a little background information into some of the cases.
I liked most of the stories, some more than others. Nevertheless, my guess is that fans of the noir genre probably won't think much of this book, but those familiar with the game might find it enjoyable, or at the very least a fun enough read. Still, not bad for a freebie....more
At present, I'm working my way through The Witcher 2 video game which is probably the main reason why I've finally decided to tackle The Last Wish, whAt present, I'm working my way through The Witcher 2 video game which is probably the main reason why I've finally decided to tackle The Last Wish, which has been sitting in my to-read list for almost two years. I am in love with the game so far, and curiosity naturally led me to the books that inspired it.
The book collects seven short stories in a "frame" format, so we have an overarching frame story and six more that are told in a flashback or a memory, each forming a story of its own. Not surprisingly, I found all of them quite enjoyable; after all, I can hardly complain about getting more Geralt of Rivia (though, I could have done with less Dandelion).
What both delighted and surprised me, however, was when I realized that the author was taking the character through several stories which were interwoven with familiar fairy tales -- albeit his own grittier, darker and more mature versions of them, and that's even compared to the originals.
Interestingly, while I was reading this, I couldn't help but compare this book and the Witcher to Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian. Perhaps it was the format, but it did have that sword and sorcery "pulpish" feel. And this was most certainly not a bad thing.