Wednesday 22 November 2017

#bookreview: Swords Against Darkness | Paula Guran (ed)

Swords Against DarknessSwords Against Darkness by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really did take about a month to finish this.
Partially because it's a really, really long book (it's really mostly an anthology of novellas!) and also because I've been running around Malaysia for most of October AND November.

Reading Swords Against Darkness was like having a crash course on the sword-and-sorcery genre. Paula Guran has put together a very educational collection of stories that showcases the best of sword and sorcery from its beginnings with Conan the Barbarian in 1933 to its current guise in 2017. The anthology features famous names in fantasy -- Michael Moorcock, Mercedes Lackey, Samuel R. Delany, Scott Lynch, and Kameron Hurley, to name a few. Those more firmly entrenched in this branch of fantasy would probably recognise many more of the authors featured, but I've always had a slightly more epic fantasy bent.

That said, there is much to love and hate about the stories in this book. For all that Conan is well known to me, at least in cartoon form, I've never actually read any of the original short stories, so the inclusion of The Tower of the Elephant (Robert E. Howard) was rather amusing. I liked it better than I expected. I initially wanted to be intrigued by Hellsgarde (CL Moore); after all, it was written by a woman and features a female protagonist. However, the story centred mostly around Jirel being tricked by men and used by men (and dead men/spirits) which didn't sit too well after a while (even if she bests them in the end). It was also annoying that deformity or illness was basically equated to being evil or cursed by God. I was rather distracted by the name Stark in Black Amazon of Mars , but I rather liked this one mostly because of the Eowyn-type. While the Gods Laugh (Michael Moorcock) was classic reluctant-hero, so there's nothing much to hate about it.

Undertow (Karl Edward Wagner) was a strange one. At first glance, it appears to be a story about a girl trying to escape from her abuser (who happens to be a renowned magician) but the ending is something else altogether. I absolutely loved Swords Against the Marluk (Katherine Kurtz) and Out of the Deep -- which basically flaunts my love for princes and royal family stories. Ha. (And also underdog stories.) The Swords of Her Heart (John Balestra) should also get a mention here for being amusing even if it only plays on bad fortune and stupidity, and poor Brimm trying to get out of all the trouble his friend Snoori gets him into.

Bluestocking (Joanna Russ) confused me a little -- probably because I was skimming by this point -- as did The Tale of Dragons and Dreamers (Samuel R. Delany), though I rather think I'd like to revisit the latter again when I have time. First Blood (Elizabeth Moon) recaptured my interest, falling neatly into that coming-of-age slot that I like. It also helps that Luden is such an earnest, innocent boy. Where Virtue Lives (Saladin Ahmed) and The Ghostmakers (Elizabeth Bear) stand out from the white, Western-centric crowd whilst Scott Lynch's The Effigy Engine: A Tale of the Red Hats reminds me that The Lies of Locke Lamora has been on my TBR forever.

There's more that I've skipped over because commenting on each story would be tedious and frankly, after reading so many over a month, I don't recall every single one of them.

Note: I received a digital review copy of this via Edelweiss.

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