I do not normally read short stories. Over the years, I have made various attempts – in both crime and science fiction, especially – to get more acquainted with that form of fiction, but have never succeeded. So, it took an exceptionally strong review and recommendation for me to buy this collection of newly commissioned short stories, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, on the theme of rogues. (Surprise!)

Inevitably, the book trades on Martin’s Game of Thrones success by promoting that it includes a new story from that world. And equally inevitably, it’s a stinker. It’s a partial history of the early life of Daemon Targaryen, and reads like a trip through the author’s background notes (or database) with event after event, occasionally freshened up with a sparky comment or two. But there’s no meaningful dialogue, no plot as such, and nothing much of value, except for Game of Thrones’ fanatics.

Fortunately, there are some other works that more than compensate for Martin’s clunker.

I liked:

  • Joe Abercrombie‘s Tough Times All Over, with an action packed, fast, thriller story, including his trademark irreverence for the standards of fantasy.
  • Daniel Abraham‘s The Meaning of Love, with its simple, effective tale that seemed to perfectly fit the format.
  • David W. Ball‘s Provenance, with its sharp, focused storytelling injecting some life into a well worn plot path.
  • Paul Cornell‘s A Better Way to Die, for its fascinating fantasy setting, gothic atmosphere, and sharp writing.
  • Bradley Denton‘s Bad Brass for its unusual setting and perspective, mixed with some clever and cynical observation.
  • Phyllis Eisenstein‘s The Caravan to Nowhere for its gentle but effective use of language and characterization.
  • Gillian Flynn‘s What Do You Do? for its sassy, bright plot, and interesting characters.
  • Matthew HughesThe Inn of the Seven Blessings with its range of characters and a finely paced tale.
  • Joe R. Lansdale‘s Bent Twig, which was just a nice, simple short story.
  • Scott Lynch‘s A Year and a Day in Old Theradane, with a return to form expressed in the shape of quirky characters, a lovely plot, and neat execution.
  • Garth Nix‘s A Cargo of Ivories for its unusual main characters and a romp of an adventure done with a touch of class.
  • Cherie Priest‘s Heavy Metal, with its stark, dark, slow, but enthralling tale of spirits and hunters.
  • Patrick RothfussThe Lightning Tree, featuring one of the characters from his Kingkiller Chronicle series. An intriguing character and a nicely written, entertaining story.
  • Michael Swanwick‘s Tawny Petticoats, for just winning the best romp category in the book in a bawdy, classical tale of roguery, love, and revenge.
  • Lisa Tuttle‘s The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives, with its Sherlock Holmes style narrative, plot, and setting.
  • Walter Jon WilliamsDiamonds from Tequila for its leading character and almost making me suspend disbelief in the central premise, despite it being so daft.

I thought less well of:

  • Neil Gaiman‘s How the Marquis Got His Coat Back, for being a somewhat pedestrian tale that promised much but fizzled out.
  • Steven Saylor‘s Ill Seen in Tyre, for an obvious plot trick that was not saved by the curious connection with Fafhrd and Mouser.
  • Carrie Vaughn‘s Roaring Twenties, for a nice idea that lacked the oomph to carry it through.
  • Connie WillsNow Showing, for taking a ridiculous premise, and making it seem more ridiculous. (Though the movie references almost redeemed it.)

It is a mixed bag, but given that discovering just one new author – new to me – whose works might be worth following up, is alone worth the price of admission, I was well pleased.