The second of three paperback editions that cover the contents of the very large hardback.
Like the first paperback, this is a collection of stories with the common `warrior' theme - and nothing from George RR Martin himself. GRRM has given a free hand to a variety of authors to come up with a tale on the theme, so the stories sit in any genre and here we have a mix of fantasy, historical, and sci-fi. The mix is not as strong as the previous volume:
Naomi Novik - a tale of planetary war with one side using ecological warfare - interesting enough tale
Peter S Beagle - a very complex tale about a heroic avenger - this one didn't work for me I am afraid
SM Sterling - an "Emberverse" tale - I've not read them, but actually enjoyed this as a standalone
David Bull - a psychological war between a captured French engineer and a Moroccan king - a dark and violent tale, short but absorbing
Gardner Dozois - The remaining humans battle against AI that is re-shaping our world - not great for me, a bit pointless and a premise that was hard to accept
Howard Waldrup - a somewhat surreal story set in WW1 - just not clever enough for me and a little too strange
David Weber - a novella featuring an invasion of Earth and the use of a historical and ultimate weapon by the humans - a slight cop out with the solution, but still not a bad tale
So enough here to justify the purchase and to enjoy, but not up to the standards of the first volume. An interesting idea that has been delivered in a variety of ways so there will always be an element of hit or miss or personal preferences.
This is volume two (out of three) with another collection of short stories from seven authors about “warriors” with this term being defined somewhat loosely. Admittedly, as with just about all other collections of short stories that I have come across and read, you will find some better than others, and maybe even some that are either exceptionally good or bad. The point here is that the higher the number of authors and stories and the less likely that the collection will deserve either two or five stars.
The point here was for me to decide whether this collection was worth three or four stars when all stories are considered together. Unlike other reviewers, I finally decided on four stars, after hesitations, and did not feel that this collection was in any way inferior to the one presented in the first volume.
Another factor with such collections is that the stories that worked the best and those which I found the weakest are not necessarily the same as other reviewers, partly because of personal tastes and preferences.
For instance, Dirae, the second story about a mysterious saviour with superhuman powers that prevents crimes and rescues victims was one of my favourite ones, and a somewhat moving and sad tale. I also very much liked David Weber’s “Out of the Dark” short story, which was the basis of his full blown and more lengthy novel of the same name (published the following year) and which I (and a number of other reviewers) did not appreciate as much.
On the negative side, I was not carried away by “The Scroll” which is the story of a battle of wills between a captured French military engineer and a very powerful, somewhat deranged and awfully sadistic Moroccan monarch (Moulay Ismael) who seeks to outdo the French King Louis XIV and comes up with all sorts of ways of tormenting his captive. I did not fully appreciate the story set during WW1 and more precisely on the western front during the awful trench warfare. While it is certainly original, I found it utterly implausible for reasons that will become rather obvious when you read it read.
The three other short stories were good, somewhat original, and would each have been worth about four stars had I rated them separately. The average rating, had it been possible to rate each story on a standalone basis and come up with fractions, would come out at something like 3.7 or 3.8 stars, enough to go for four stars rather than three.
To be fair, I don't have this book; I have the hardcover which has been split into three paperbacks. The contents of the paperbacks are not in the same order they are in the hardcover, and nor are they arranged by genre or anything else I can see.
First of all, this is not a fantasy anthology, despite GRRM being associated with it. If you want one of those, go try Swords and Dark Magic. This is multi-genre - sci-fi, fantasy, and historical fiction, with the common theme of being a "warrior" of some sort or other. This is pretty broadly defined, with everything from regular soldiers to the more exotic stuff (a bureaucrat, a psycho). The setting varies as greatly, from past, present and future, here and there, and our protagonists are all sorts of people. It is "Warriors" too and not "War Stories": there is often more talking than action here.
Of the seven stories here, I only thought two were much good: Novik's story of cultural imperialism gone wrong (and nothing to do with Temeraire at all) and also Stirling's "Emberverse" piece. Weber's story was (for a change in this anthology) about actual soldiers in wartime, and it was real fun to read, but he broke Hammer's Law * . The story was a fun soldiers v aliens romp, and then we end up with not just Vampires, but Dracula himself getting involved: that's not much of a spoiler since the editor's intro puts you on notice that when the character is introduced you spend the rest of the story hoping it's a fake out, only to find its not. Somehow, the story survives, but really there must have been a better way.
The balance tales I found uninspiring, and Waldrop's Esperanto story might as well have been written in Esperanto for all it moved me. Dozois at least had an interesting premise, and did then nothing with it.
This is probably the weakest part of the whole, and two and half stars is closer than 3, but two stars is - just - unfair.
*Named after the UK film company which was the exception that proves the rule. "Don't borrow Dracula in print, it never works." With Dacre's corollary "Even if your last name is Stoker".