Before I get to my review, I want to offer a friendly public service message to those who are fortunate enough to be reading and voting on the various genre awards. Go ahead and pencil in Fearsome Journeys as this year's winner for best anthology, and Jonathan Strahan as winner for best editor. That's right, find your nomination form, jot the title down, put a huge asterisk beside it as the likely winner, and focus your reading efforts on those categories yet be decided.
Okay, so maybe I am being a bit facetious, but it really is that good!
Short story collections are problematic for me. On the one hand, I like being able to sample authors in small doses, and to get a feel for their work, or to simply pay a brief visit with old favorites, no strings (or subsequent volumes) attached. On the other hand, I find them wildly uneven in terms of content and quality, with the weakest entries unfairly dragging down my overall impression of the collection as a whole.
Much to my delight, Fearsome Journeys has proven to be the rare exception to that rule. There were a few stories here that didn't completely wow me, but I can honestly say I still enjoyed them all. While those few suffer by comparison against their companions here, they likely would have come across as some of the better entries in a different collection. There are several authors here who have just shot to the top of my TBR pile, based on the strength of their contributions, and a few others who've absolutely demanded I immediately rectify their absence from that same pile.
The Effigy Engine: A Tale of the Red Hats by Scott Lynch was a great choice to lead off the collection. It's fantastic in every sense of the world, with a world and characters I would gladly revisit.
Amethyst, Shadow, and Light by Saladin Ahmed was another great story, reminiscent (to me) of the tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, with a surprise ending that left me with a satisfied smile.
Camp Follower by Trudi Canavan was a really interesting story, with several twists that worked exceptionally well, and an ending that satisfied immensely.
The Dragonslayer of Merebarton by K J Parker was, for me, probably the weakest entry in the collection. I simply didn't care for the telling, finding it too casual and removed, with no sense of urgency, but the story itself was decent.
Leaf and Branch and Grass and Vine by Kate Elliott more than redeemed that small literary stumble with a great tale, exceptionally well-told, some nice mythology, and characters I really want to read more about.
Spirits of Salt: A Tale of the Coral Heart by Jeffrey Ford is one of the few I had issues with. As well-told as it was, I didn't care for the main character at all. The clever twist ending redeemed it somewhat, but not enough to rise above its peers.
Forever People by Robert V S Redick is a story that I quite liked, finding myself very invested in seeing how it all developed, but I find myself feeling a little . . . well, ambiguous about the ambiguity of the ending. I didn't originally care for it, but found it better on a second read, although I find myself wavering again this morning.
Sponda the Suet Girl and the Secret of the French Pearl by Ellen Klages is an oddly comic tale that almost felt out of place here, but had some really nice elements to it, and won me over with just how thoroughly the tables were turned by the end.
Shaggy Dog Bridge: A Black Company Story by Glen Cook was a serviceable enough story, with some great moments of action and drama, but I found the narrative a bit flat, as if it assumed too much of the reader in terms of Black Company knowledge. Having said that, I can see why Cook is so often mentioned in the same breath as Steven Erikson.
The Ghost Makers by Elizabeth Bear was an absolutely stellar tale, well-told, with a pair of intriguing protagonists, and a nice weaving of magic and mythology. It took me a while to warm up to it, but my appreciation continued to grow as each layer was revealed.
One Last, Great Adventure by Ellen Kushner and Ysabeau S. Wilce was a story where I found the present-tense narrative a bit jarring at first, but eventually settled in to enjoy a decent tale.
The High King Dreaming by Daniel Abraham is a deep, dark, introspective, tale told in snippets and scenes. While it may not have offered the strongest story in terms of plot, it was compelling from a narrative standpoint.
For those of you who are curious, it's Lynch, Elliott, and Bear who are the three authors who've made the most significant climbs in my TBR pile, and Ahmed and Canavan who have won themselves a place. Overall, however, this just a great collection of tales, well-selected and well put together by a man who has an obvious feel for the genre. I cannot recommend Fearsome Journeys highly enough.
Published May 28th 2013 by Solaris
Paperback, 416 pages