Rogues

Rogues was my second George R.R. Martin/Gardner Dozois themed anthology in less than six months, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it more overall than their previous effort, Dangerous Women. (I will pick up Warriors eventually. Maybe next year. I’m soooo done with anthologies for now.) And I’m sad to say, especially for how good Martin is at writing lady characters, I really think the main difference is that a lot of genre writers (including women!) just could not fathom how to write a complex “da Rogues was my second George R.R. Martin/Gardner Dozois themed anthology in less than six months, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it more overall than their previous effort, Dangerous Women. (I will pick up Warriors eventually. Maybe next year. I’m soooo done with anthologies for now.) And I’m sad to say, especially for how good Martin is at writing lady characters, I really think the main difference is that a lot of genre writers (including women!) just could not fathom how to write a complex “dangerous women.” For every story that was intriguing and had great characters, there was one that featured reductive, cliche-ridden awfulness. The rogue, though, he’s usually a dude (though happily not always so in this anthology), and people had a better idea, I think, of how to play around with that theme more than they did the previous volume. But that’s just like, my opinion, man.Full review of each individual story/novella below:- – -

“Tough Times All Over,” Joe Abercrombie — This was a fun little story, set in the same world as Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy (and more relevantly, his standalone novel, Best Served Cold). It was notably less violent and full of profanity than his usual fare. I guess all the fun he was having took some of the vulgar out of him? The story follows a mysterious package as it’s stolen from one hand to another in the dangerous city of Sipani, meeting one rogue after another (Abercrombie delivers immediately and in bulk quantities on that front). The story can stand on its own, but I recognized several faces from our visit to Sipani from Best Served Cold, although my memory had to strain a bit to place them all. Still, fun as this story was, it doesn’t play to Abercrombie’s strengths as a writer (the deep-digging, nitty-gritty, long-form character stuff, and the overturning of fantasy tropes). 3/5 stars

“What Do You Do?” Gillian Flynn — As with everything else I’ve read by her, I kind of have no idea what to do with this story. It’s all over the place in terms of subject matter, even genre (although this is a purposeful trickery–I’m convinced she is fucking with us because of the nature of this anthology, i.e. never knowing what each story is going to be). The very first sentence is about handjobs, and then you think it’s about psychics, and then it’s haunted houses and sociopaths (it’s always sociopaths with her). And then she throws all that over with the ambiguous ending. Ambiguous endings drive me up the wall. But it was well-written, and I liked her first person narrator. 4/5 stars

“The Inn of the Seven Blessings,” Matthew Hughes — Oh, I liked this one. It’s a got a thief, an innkeeper’s daughter, and a small forgotten god in it, as well as some creepy demon things. A bit simple, perhaps, but it read like a cheekier adult version of a Grimm’s brother fairy-tale. (And I love fairy-tales.) 4/5 stars

“Bent Twig,” Joe R. Lansdale — I do not understand the appeal of this author. At all. It’s just a bunch of horrible people doing horrible things, and there isn’t even any snappy dialogue to make it bearable. This story is set in the world of Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard mystery novels, but the mystery here was pretty much non-existent, as was the bond between the two main characters, who are mixed race but see themselves as being ‘brothers from another mother’. Doubtless readers of that series will enjoy this more than I did, but the story should be able to work on its own as well. Reading it felt like an excuse to wallow in filth and drudgery. I don’t mind filth and drudgery, as long as they’re in service to something, but here it felt like they were the main attraction. And I didn’t like it at all. (As a point of interest, I didn’t like Lansdale’s story in Dangerous Women, either, although I liked that one better than this. Barely.) 1/5 stars

“Tawny Petticoats,” Michael Swanwick — This was a surprisingly fun (if a bit confusing) story about con artists in some sort of weird alternate version of New Orleans where people’s debts are sold by serving as ‘zombie’ workers (essentially chemically indentured servants without free will), and there are animal-humanoid type people in existence (one of the main characters is a canine-humanoid). Again: very weird. But it was a fun weird. I wasn’t really a huge fan of the ending, but I liked the story very much up until that point. 3.5/5 stars

“Provenance,” David W. Ball — I quite enjoyed this story, mostly because it was about the history of a lost painting (its provenance, I guess it’s called–the more you know!) and had to do with WWII and Nazis also. The plot was nice and interesting, but it was lacking in character, and ended up reading more like a history lesson than a story (although I did like the end, which sort of made up for that, but only sort of). All in all, great premise, awkward (but still enjoyable) execution. 3/5 stars

“The Roaring Twenties,” Carrie Vaughn — An urban fantasy story set in the — wait for it — roaring twenties. At the tail end, most likely, right before the start of the Great Depression. It’s a real-time jaunt, set in a speakeasy for supernatural creatures, and the main character is a witch of sorts, although we mainly see her acting like some sort of body guard to the mysterious Madame M (and possibly, if my spidey sense is correct, as her lover as well). Urban fantasy isn’t something I automatically enjoy right off the bat, but I seem to like Vaughn’s style, even if endings aren’t her strong suit. The ending to this story just kind of fizzled out. (I recall being underwhelmed by the ending to her otherwise enjoyable story in Dangerous Women as well). 3/5 stars

“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane,” Scott Lynch — The longest story in the collection so far, and hurray for that. The thing about Scott Lynch writings is that you don’t just get one awesome thing. You get four or five awesome things–complicated and fun plots, great characters, hilarious dialogue, fucking top notch swearing, an unbelievable amounts of sass–all bundled up into one mondo jumbo amazing super-thing. When I heard that he had a story in this anthology, of course I immediately hoped it would feature the Gentleman Bastards, because my love for Locke Lamora knows no bounds, but this was really great as well. Almost a female version of the Gentleman Bastards, except with warring wizards and automatons and goblins and taverns that are made out of ginormous steel-plated dragon skeletons instead. So far, this is also the story that has most lived up to my expectations for the ‘rogues’ theme. Cheers, Scott Lynch, you magnificent asshole. 5/5 stars

“Bad Brass,” Bradley Denton — I spoke too soon about the length. This one is longer than the Lynch by a good twenty pages, and man I felt every one of them. This was a slog, and a weirdly passive one at that. The narrator is a small-time criminal who mostly steals from other criminals. He’s a substitute teacher, too, and the main plot mostly consists of him following some of his students as they try to sell off stolen tubas. I tell you, it’s riveting stuff. The best part of the story was the girl who was obsessed with her tuba and kept stealing it back. The rest of it was just uninteresting. 2.5/5 stars

“Heavy Metal,” Cherie Priest — This was a well-written story (I liked Priest’s sense of atmosphere and some of the characters had promise), but the plot was nothing special. Monster-of-the-Week type storytelling is only interesting to me if it’s done with characters I know and love. I’m also not sure Priest’s hero, Kilgore, qualifies as a rogue. Unless he calls himself a Rogue Demon Hunter or something. Maybe in the sense that he seems to be a wanderer and outcast by choice? But I’m not sure that’s really the spirit meant by ‘rogues’ in this collection, although I guess he could be. We just don’t get very much time with him. I was excited to try my first taste of Cherie Priest’s writing, and am not sure what think after having done so. 3/5 stars

“The Meaning of Love,” Daniel Abraham – This guy is just a really solid writer, although I think this

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story might be the first work of his I’ve read solo (previously I’ve only read his graphic novel adaptations of GRRM’s A Game of Thrones and his Expanse series under the penname James S.A. Corey, with his writing partner Ty Franck). His prose is sometimes a bit dense, but he knows how to structure a story so that it really sucks you in. I wasn’t even necessarily that interested in this one, but by the end I realized I’d really enjoyed myself while reading it. It’s a fantasy set in a city within a city, a lawless place where everyone is poor or a fugitive, or basically doing something illegal. The main character is Asa, who finds himself putting together a complicated scheme to save a girl from slavery because the young man he’s in love with (a prince in exile) saw her once from a distance and decided he was in love with her. It’s got rogues up the wazoo, and the ending was actually quite poignant. For my personal tastes, it could have done with a bit more humor, but that’s just me. 4/5 stars

“A Better Way to Die,” Paul Cornell — This went from fun to confusing then back to fun again, but by the time I (sort of) understood what was going on, the ending happened, and it wasn’t as interesting of an ending as I think Cornell wanted it to be. This is always the problem with speculative fiction–authors have to walk a very fine line between feeding readers forced handfuls of exposition so that their complicated worlds makes sense, and portraying that world they wish us to believe plausible with any sort of verisimilitude. Cornell went for the second option at the expense of clarity. I spent half the story trying to figure out what the hell Cornell meant by terms like ’the balance’ and ‘optional worlds’. (That last one I figured out pretty quickly–just another name for parallel universes, but it illustrates my point fine enough.) I liked his main character, Hamilton, and stories about doppelgängers always intrigue me, as do stories with alternate history and espionage as features. If only the ending would have been better. I didn’t know Cornell wrote fiction, though. Previously I’d only known him as the writer of three of my favorite Doctor Who episodes (“Father’s Day,” “Human Nature,” and “The Family of Blood”). Will definitely be checking out his other stuff now. 3.5/4 stars

“Ill Seen in Tyre,” Steven Saylor — I seriously just heard of this guy for the first time last week when I added the first of the Roma Sub Rosa books to my to-read list (historical fiction/mystery). I didn’t make the connection to the Steven Saylor listed on the back cover of Rogues until about five words in to the intro for this story. A Roman private investigator? Color me intrigued. This novella details an incident in the life of said Roman P.I. from when he was a teenager, traveling with his teacher to see the seven wonders of the world, except this is “between wonders”, and it had a sort of Emperor’s New Clothes thing going on. I quite liked it. (Will also be checking out the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books, which he sort of borrows, but which belong to Fritz Leiber, and are apparently classics of the genre that I’ve never heard of.) 4/5 stars

“A Cargo of Ivories,” Garth Nix — If there’s one thing this anthology has aplenty, it’s thieves. Nix’s entry is about the fifth one so far. Not that I’m complaining, understand, because I love stories about thieves, especially ones that don’t take themselves too seriously. This one fits on both counts. It’s got a rogue knight, his partner the puppet-sorcerer (meaning: he’s a puppet, a wooden one, who is also a sorcerer), and a wee little magical mammoth named Rosie in it. Said characters have to liberate some ivory statues from a magically protected manor so that bad things don’t happen. Nothing special, but I’m a fan of Garth Nix, so this worked for me, but I’ve seen him do better. 3/5 stars

“Diamonds From Tequila,” Walter Jon Williams — Even though this sort of story isn’t usually my thing, I really enjoyed it. It’s a hard-boiled mystery set in Mexico during the filming of a Hollywood blockbuster. The narrator is a former child star with a genetic condition that has made it hard for him to find work as an adult, but this movie is his big chance, only his co-star (and pretend tabloid girlfriend) is murdered in the middle of shooting. The mystery was good; the main character is actually a pretty horrible person, but he’s also smart, and his story interested me, despite myself. 4/5 stars

“The Caravan to Nowhere,” Phyllis Eisenstein — I really, really liked this one. It might not go over as well with other readers, but something about it just pushed my buttons the right way. It features Eisenstein’s previous creation, Alaric the Minstrel, who also has the ability to teleport himself to anywhere he can see with his eyes, or where he’s been before. In this adventure, he joins a caravan (as their Minstrel, obvs) that makes a yearly round trip to the place beyond the Great Desert, simply because he is curious. Very few people make this journey because they are afraid of the desert and its siren songs. What he finds along the way is mysterious and actually quite frightening. I liked Alaric enough that I will check out Eisenstein’s previous work sometime in the future. 4/5 stars

“The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives,” Lisa Tuttle — A young detective pair, Jesperson and Lane, in Victorian times are asked to locate a young woman who had been pronounced dead a month previously, but who was seen by her sister very much alive at her mother’s grave the day before. The intro to the story mentions that Jesperson and Lane are modeled after Holmes and Watson (who are themselves mentioned as fictional characters these characters know of). Jesperson and Lane were okay, I suppose, but we don’t get very much characterization from them. The focus is mostly on where they end up finding the missing girl, and how creepy it is. That part I thought was done well. I would have liked to see more character moments, as mentioned previously, but also more of the actual mystery-solving. J&L figured things out really quickly, and Jesperson didn’t so much seem brilliant at the end as he did a collection of convenient talents for Tuttle to employ. Still, not bad, per se. Just nothing special here. 3/5 stars

“How the Marquis Got His Coat Back,” Neil Gaiman — I’m pretty sure I would have liked this story even if I hadn’t read Neverwhere, but having done so, it’s one of my favorites in the collection. I love London Below, so dirty and freaky but somehow still charming, and I love love love the Marquis. The shepherds were scary, yes, but for me the Mushroom actually trumps them. And of course, Gaiman sure does know how to turn a phrase. He’s so cheeky and clever, I just want to punch him sometimes. 4.5/5 stars

“Now Showing,” Connie Willis — This was really fun, like one of those wacky near-future episodes of Doctor Who mixed with a ridiculous amount of (intentional and purposeful) pop culture references. It’s very impossible to explain, so I won’t even try, except to say that it engages in the sort of anti-commercial satire that makes my soul hurt, but right alongside that is a genuinely imaginative story coming from the mind of someone who clearly loves stories. Especially ones with rogues, ahem scoundrels, in them. Very excited to finally try Doomsday Book later this year. 4/5 stars

“The Lightning Tree,” Patrick Rothfuss — Second favorite story in the collection, just after the Lynch one. I love Bast, and this follows a sort of day-in-the-life for him, where he basically sits at the base of a lightning tree, and strikes deals with children for favors. It’s naughty and self-aware, and I really really liked it. Don’t think you even need to have read Rothfuss’s stuff to enjoy it (although it helps). 5/5 stars

“The Rogue Prince, or The King’s Brother,” George R.R. Martin — Ugh, I was just SO disappointed this, which is really surprising! For multiple reasons! First of all, I really enjoyed the very similar novella he had in Dangerous Women (“The Princess and the Queen . . . etc”). Then again, maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy this one as much. It covered A LOT of the same material. I kept thinking, wait . . . didn’t we already read about this? But also, it’s not really about the rogue prince? I feel like Martin spent more time on the rogue prince’s niece (his eventual wife) and on the politics of the court than he did on the rogue prince himself. Sad I didn’t enjoy it very much, but oh well. C’est la vie. 2.5/5 stars

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Category: Review

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