Fight Like A Girl, by many and various

fight-like-a-girl-v2-400ppiWomen in conflict is the theme of this anthology. Edited by Bristolians Joanne Hall and Roz Clarke, it features fifteen stories, all by female authors, spanning fantasy and SF. The overriding flavour is one of gritty combat. There’s no cheesecake fluff here – think Ellen Ripley, not a screaming 1970s Doctor Who companion. Of course, the nature of anthologies is that you’re going to like some stories more than others, but there are no real duffers here. I’ll highlight a few that stood out for me. My favourite was probably Lou Morgan‘s “Archer 57”, a tale of loss, revenge and desperation in a dystopian future. Joanne Hall‘s “Arrested Development” has a nasty sting in the tail that makes you reassess the protagonist and ponder the ethics of what she’s doing. KT Davies‘ “The Quality Of Light” is more a vignette than a full story, but it’s an evocative piece that conjures the sensations of medieval battle very effectively (like I would know). Danie Ware‘s “Unnatural History” is a bughunt, not a stand up fight, a gothic monster movie with hints of Lovecraft and Mieville. “Fire And Ash” by Gaie Sebold is rightly placed at the end of the book. It’s about aftermath, surviving the wars and what comes next.
Overall, it’s a good collection, with some really strong pieces in. My only caveat would be that reading all the stories in one splurge means the theme becomes a bit repetitive and restricting, but that’s an issue with all themed anthologies, and one easily avoided by pacing yourself (if you can) and parcelling the stories out. You can order it from the publisher: http://www.kristell-ink.com

A City Dreaming, by Daniel Polansky

city-dreaming-polansky-e1461348167145After five strong secondary world fantasy novels, this is a change of direction for Daniel Polansky. It’s firmly set in a modern New York of hipsters and craft beers, but also one where the supernatural is very real. There are pirates on the Gowanus Canal, a subway ride through the circles of Hell, and goblin markets where you can buy your heart’s desire. The sense of place is one of the strengths of the book. We see it all, from Wall Street financier luxury to grubby dive bars. Our hero is the almost nameless M, a magician without any visible means of support who nevertheless has a knack for navigating the city and its denizens to his advantage. If he’s between homes, an apartment sitting gig will open up, if he’s thirsty someone will buy him a drink. His insouciant cockiness puts me in mind of no one so much as John Constantine. In fact, there’s a vaguely edgy, vaguely hip quality to the whole book that’s reminiscent of mid 90s Vertigo comics.

It’s an engaging read, but it’s quite lightweight. I enjoyed it a lot while I was reading it, but I’m not sure how long it will linger in the mind. The lack of gravity is emphasised by the structure. It’s more a series of vignettes, episodic adventures of M and his friends, than it is a complete novel. There is a loosely overarching story of two rival magical leaders, but it’s mostly background stuff until the end. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Polansky had been writing these stories as palate cleaning diversions between his other novels and has now lashed them together as his next book. That might be a good way to approach reading it, taking a couple of stories at a time and then breaking for something else before picking it up again.

A City Dreaming is a fun and enjoyable book, just don’t expect it to change your life.

Sharp Ends, by Joe Abercrombie

sharpAfter nine novels, this is Joe Abercrombie’s first short story collection, all based in his First Law universe. Although the short story is more associated with SF than fantasy fiction, people who have enjoyed the novels will find a lot to enjoy here. There’s plenty of Abercrombie’s trademark violence, none of which he flinches from describing, as well as the humour that relieves the relentless grimness of the setting. A lot of these stories are very funny, in a “throw your hands up and laugh at the unfairness of the world because there’s nothing else you can do” kind of way.
Characters from the other First law books float around the edges of these stories, but they are mostly standalone works where a bit of background knowledge is useful, but not essential. Several of the stories in the book follow the adventures of Shevedieh the thief and the warrior Javre, two women who have been thrown together by circumstance and end up in a series of scrapes across the continent like a latter day Fafhrd and Grey Mouser. These stories are the most enjoyable works here with the two adventurers sparking off each other in a most entertaining way. They could easily have been fixed up into a short novel of their own, and I’d love to see Abercrombie return to this pair, especially as my only grumble about this collection would be that quite a few of the stories are more like vignettes that place you in a scene and then then whip you away with the outcome unresolved. But being left wanting more isn’t exactly a bad problem when it comes to reading, is it? If you’ve never read any Abercrombie then you should probably start with the novels, but once you’ve torn through them and left wanting more this collection will do nicely.