In 1998 Robert Silverberg edited a collection of fantasy stories titled "Legends". That collection included stories by some of the best and most popular fantasy authors of the time (Robert Jordan, Raymond Feist, Stephen King, George Martin, etc). It was one of the best collections I had read, and allowed me to revisit some familiar worlds and discover some brand new ones. Legends II is the second collection by Robert Silverberg and it is just as good as the first collection. There are some authors that did not return for this collection (Robert Jordan, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett), some that returned (Raymond Feist, George Martin, Robert Silverberg, Anne McCaffrey), and some that are making their first appearance in Legends (Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb, Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Haydon). These stories are all mostly of high quality, and if you are looking for an excellent sampling of talented and popular fantasy authors, this is the volume for you.
What I like best about the Legends collections is that they give me the chance to revisit some of my favorite authors and see their worlds from a different perspective than that which is presented in their novels. Raymond Feist returns to Midkemia with a story set during the Riftwar. "The Messenger" is a story of the messengers who bring the military orders from one commander to another, risking their lives in the process. Some minor characters from the novels make an appearance, and some major ones are mentioned, and though this has a simple storyline, this is a well told story. George Martin continues the story of Dunk and Egg that he began in the first Legends. "The Sworn Sword" is one of my favorite stories in the collection and it is set approximately a hundred years before "A Game of Thrones". I haven't read one of Orson Scott Card's "Alvin Maker" novels in years, but I have thoroughly enjoyed both of the Alvin Maker stories that have been in the Legends collections. "The Yazoo Queen" continues the story of Alvin, and this time mixes in characters like Abraham Lincoln and Jim Bowie (yes, it is appropriate to the story, and yes, it does work). Reading "The Yazoo Queen" makes me want to go back and start reading the series anew.
I was surprised by the appearance of Neil Gaiman in this collection, but I can't say that I am disappointed. He takes the character of Shadow, from "American Gods" and tells a story that occurs two years after that novel. "The Monarch of the Glen" is set in Scotland, and while this isn't my favorite of the collection, it was a nice interlude until we get the sequel to "American Gods." Robin Hobb's story is set in the world of the Liveship Traders (more so than the regions of the Farseer). As I have not read the Liveship trilogy, I don't really know how that story connects to the main series, but Hobb's talent is undeniable. "Homecoming" is written as if it was the travel journal of a passenger on a boat who initially thinks that they are on a ship to help set up a colony of the Cursed Shores, but as the story continues, she discovers more about why she is there and then what this new land is like. The story that I was most looking forward to in this collection was "Indomitable", by Terry Brooks. Set two years after "The Wishsong of Shannara", this story follows Jair Ohmsford after he is visited by Kimber Boh telling him that Cogline believes that Brin somehow missed a page when she destroyed the Ildatch. While it was very nice to return to these characters, this story ended up being a little bit of a let down and anti-climactic (despite the action packed ending). I've always been a big fan of Shannara, but somehow this story felt rushed.
There are also several authors whom I had heard of, but had not yet read any of their work. I'll start with the editor of this collection, Robert Silverberg. He returns to the world of Majipoor with "The Book of Changes". This story is set in the early history of the gigantic world of Majipoor. I don't know how this relates to the series as a whole, and while it did not make me want to rush out and start reading the Majipoor novels, if I ever start to run low on new fantasy novels to read, I may give Majipoor a chance. This is also the first time I have read anything by Elizabeth Haydon and her "Symphony of Ages" series. This story is one of the best of the collection and focuses on the destruction of Serendair and the men who were the last defenders of the city. I'm sure this ties in somehow into the larger series, and this story is good enough that "Rhapsody" will be placed on my future reading list. Tad Williams also makes an appearance in this collection, telling a story of "Otherland". "The Happiest Dead Boy in the World" is a story of Orlando Gardiner who had died of a debilitating illness but is able to live on in the Otherland computer simulated worlds. Since I have not read the Otherland novels, I don't know if knowing that Orlando died spoils anything or not. I thought the ideas presented in this story were fascinating, and I am definitely going to read "Otherland" now.
This leaves me with two stories left unmentioned. I saved them for last simply because I thought they were rather bad, though for different reasons. The first is by Diana Gabaldon. Her story of "Lord John and the Succubus" did absolutely nothing for me, except bore me. I was not able to get interested in any of the characters of this story, nor did I care what happened. I've not read any of Gabaldon's novels, but then I have not read Tad Williams or Elizabeth Haydon before, either. This story just did not work for me. The last story to mention is by Anne McCaffrey and is set on the world of Pern. The Pern novels have long been some of my favorites, which is why I hate to say that this wasn't a good story. "Beyond Between" tells of what happens when a dragon (and rider) go Between, but never return. "Between" is that place where the dragon goes while it is teleporting from location to location. It is icy cold, and it is death when the dragon fails to return. While, I suppose I have always been interested in what happens Between, I've never wanted a story about it. I'm not even sure the story should have been told as some things are best left to the reader's imagination. The other problem with this story is who it is about: Moreta. Readers of the Pern series will know that Moreta was a legendary Queen Rider who died when she exhausted herself and the dragon so much trying to deliver medicine to halt a plague that she failed to return from Between. Her death was a huge sacrifice and a powerful moment in that novel (as well as Pern's history, as a song was made of it). This story nullifies that power and that sacrifice and removes the importance of the event because it changes how we view what happened. As she is already dead, a story of Moreta's further adventures was simply disappointing both as a Pern story, as well as just being a story that was not terribly interesting despite my love of Pern.
With the exceptions of the two stories which I did not like, this was a fantastic collection and if anyone is looking for a new fantasy author to read and doesn't want to experiment with an entire novel, this collection is the place to look. I can only hope that Robert Silverberg will edit another Legends collection.