Dark Times at the Midnight Market by Robert Silverberg: This story is about the tiny Vroor magician Ghambivole Zwoll, a creature with a beak and tentacles, and his business partner Shostik-Willeron, a two-headed Su-Suheris, whose magic shop has fallen on hard times as the world has become so overcrowded by magic that there is simply no more profit in it. An opportunity arises when a nobleman comes to their shop to buy a love potion, which ends up getting them into deep trouble. Robert Silverberg can write, that much I have to give him, and he might do quite well in writing for his familiar genres. But this story does have absolutely nothing to do with Sword & Sorcery. That this one was even submitted as a contribution to this book already indicates a failure on the side of the publisher, who apparently wasn’t even able to set any clear submission guidelines.
The Undefiled by Greg Keyes: I was really hoping the stories would get better the longer I keep reading, but instead it is only getting worse. By absolutely any standard I can apply, this story is just shit! The protagonist is called Fool Wolf, and always in this full form, never shortened to either Fool or Wolf. Apparently he is possessed by his girlfriend, who he raped to death in a berserker rage or something. There is no context at all, not even the slightest indication that locations are shifting, and there, and nothing makes any sense. Later on it is revealed that one of the groups extends its life by raping little children, and then somehow they are dead and the story stops. This is shit! Please don’t write anything again.
Since I have given up hope on this book, I am going to wrap up this review by quickly summarising what the remaining stories are about:
- Hew the Tintmaster by Micheal Shea: In a city obsessed with colors, a man sends one of his assistants to find him a random housepainter, a the fate of the world is at stake. No.
- In the Stacks by Scott Lynch: As part of their exams a group of magic students have to delve on a lethal mission into the dangerous depths of the library and demonstrate their ability to return books to their shelves by staying alive. No.
- Two Lions, a Witch, and the War-Robe by Tanith Lee: Two guys kill some of the evil guards of the king and as punishment are send to get some magic thing from a cave, and on the way there are turned into lions. At least this is a story that tries to be Sword & Sorcery, unfortunately it’s rather bad.
- The Sea Troll’s Daughter by Caitlin R. Kiernan: This one is actually good. Not great, but much better than most stories in this book. Again, there are no action scenes and practically no magic, but other than that it’s quite decent. It’s a lot like the aftermath of a proper Sword & Sorcery story. Quite often, these stories begin with the heroes having lost everything they won on their last adventure and having to skip town in a hurry. This one is the opposite, starting after the beast is slain and then everything is going downhill from there. If all stories in this book were this good, I’d have been perfectly happy with it. But alas.
- Thieves of Daring by Bill Willingham: This is an interesting sample of the authors writings. It’s only a single scene covering four pages, during which obviously nothing happens but a short conversation between two characters. Just based on this, Willingham might be writing some really decent books. But as an entry for an anthology, this is a joke.
- The Fool Jobs by Joe Abercrombie: This man is a professional writer, and it shows. The writing is quite good, and in a longer story, this would have been a good scene. But at this length, you just don’t care who lives or dies and the final outcome is pretty irrelevant. It got decent action though.
So, what is my final opinion? Don’t buy this book! If you get it as a gift, I recommend reading Goats of Glory, Red Pearls, The Sea Troll’s Daughter, and The Fool Jobs. The reat ranges from junk to shit. For an anthology of Sword & Sorcery stories, this book doesn’t have the slightest idea what that genre is. This is simply a book of generic fantasy short stories. Stories of fast paced action about daring swordsmen fighting supernatural evil are almost entirely absent. Only Goats of Glory and Red Pearls actually deliver that, and they are not worth the purchase of this book.
Another great review of the book can be found here at Black Gate.