Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Quick Thoughts: ‘Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy’ – Edited by Jonathan Strahan (Solaris)

Science Fiction was my first route into genre fiction but Fantasy has always been my first love and it always will be I think. I enjoy my sci-fi but my reading tastes have always run towards ‘worlds that never were’ over ‘worlds that might yet be’ (which is another reason I don’t read an awful lot of Urban Fantasy anymore, the settings are too real). Fantasy novels have seen me through a lot of tough times and never let me down once (well, apart from Terry Goodkind but how could he let me down when I was half expecting him to?), any book with a fantasy landscape/hooded man etc will always awaken that familiar anticipation of strange new worlds to explore. So when I saw the cover to ‘Fearsome Journeys’ then, I was sold before I even had the book in my hands; especially with those names on the front. Go on, have a look at those names and tell me you’re not interested in reading this book if you haven’t already. A whole book full of worlds to explore…

So why has it taken this long for me to actually get round to saying anything about it? Life, just life… That being the case, I figured I really needed to post something about ‘Fearsome Journeys’ before it became one of those books that feature heavily on my ‘Shelf of Shame’. I’ve pretty much stopped reading anthologies from cover to cover now, preferring to dip in and out of them now and then, so this post is going to be about my impressions of the book and some very quick thoughts on the stories that I have managed to read.

While there are a few stories that I haven’t yet read, the quality of the stories that I have read would indicate that even if the remaining tales weren’t up to scratch ‘Fearsome Journeys’ would still be a very strong anthology that any fan of well written fantasy would do well to pick up. It’s a collection that has everything I would ask for; old friends to get reacquainted with (Cook and Ford) and a whole bunch of others that I know but are writing in different worlds than they would normally. I liked the freshness that gave things; I know what most of these authors can do in their most recognisable worlds so it was good to see them step out of the comfort zone and try something new. Glen Cook was the notable exception here but I’m always up for a new Black Company story and it was good to see another little hole filled in terms of back story. Out of the stories that I read, all of them flowed and kept my interest, all of them had me feeling a little sad when I got to the end. Evidence here of writers very much on top of their game then.
I move a lot of books on once I’ve read them but ‘Fearsome Journeys’ is a book that will be staying on my shelves for a while to come, if not permanently. Like I said, I’ve got a few more stories to read but I’d recommend buying it on the strength of what I have read. I’m hoping that this will be the start of regular fantasy anthologies from Solaris, we could do with more collections like this.

Here’s the table of contents and what I thought of the stories that I read…

“The Effigy Engine: A Tale of the Red Hats” by Scott Lynch (Am I the only person who would rather see more of this world than the world of Locke and Jean? ‘The Effigy Engine’ was nothing short of awesome)
“Amethyst, Shadow, and Light” by Saladin Ahmed (Not as vibrant as ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ but a good mixture of solid world building, well placed moments of action and some nice twists. Wouldn’t mind seeing more of these characters)
“Camp Follower” by Trudi Canavan (Probably won’t ever read this, I still haven’t got over the whole ‘King Kalpol’ thing from years ago…)
“The Dragonslayer of Merebarton” by K.J. Parker (While I can’t get into Parker’s novels I haven’t read a short story of hers/his that I haven’t enjoyed. While nothing really jumped out at me here, ‘The Dragonslayer’ was a solid enjoyable read)
“Leaf and Branch and Grass and Vine” by Kate Eliot (Still to read)
“Spirits of Salt: A Tale of the Coral Sword” by Jeffrey Ford (You already know that I love the tales of Ismet Toler and would love to see more. ‘Spirits of Salt’ only reinforces that view and I really hope to see more short stories, or something longer, very soon)
“Forever People” by Robert V.S. Redick (Never really got into Redick’s longer work so haven’t been too keen on reading this one. Anyone read it?)
“Sponda the Suet Girl and the Secret of the French Pearl” by Ellen Klages (Still to read and I’ve got to say that the clunky title hasn’t got me in a hurry to get going…)
“Shaggy Dog Bridge: A Black Company Story” by Glen Cook (Cook makes no allowances for his readers, as usual, preferring to just get on with the tale. Stick with it though and you’ll find yourself with another solid instalment in the Annals of the Company, although maybe this isn’t the best place for newcomers to jump on board)
“The Ghost Makers” by Elizabeth Bear (I love finding short stories that have me thinking that I really have to check out an author’s longer works. If ‘The Ghost Makers’ is anything to go by then I really should have read ‘Range of Ghosts’ and ‘Shattered Pillars’ long before now, it’s another awesome tale with two lead characters that carry the story effortlessly. Hints of the world around them have got me wanting more)
“One Last, Great Adventure” by Ellen Kushner & Ysabeau Wilce (Still to read)
“The High King Dreaming” by Daniel Abraham (Daniel Abraham has got such good form for writing fantasy that I almost want to be there when he writes a clunker, just so I can say I was there when he did. It looks like I’ll be waiting a little while longer then…)


  1. I'd urge you to give Canavan a chance - I thought her tale had some nice twists and a satisfying ending. Elliott's tale was a great one (nice mythology, and characters I'd follow into a novel), but I'm on the fence about Redick's contribution (particularly the ending).

    Based on the anthology alone, Lynch, Elliott, and Bear made the most significant climbs in my TBR pile, while Ahmed and Canavan won themselves a place.

  2. I was so-so on the Canavan story, to be honest - it seemed like it was trying to cram too much into a short story. l'd love to read it as a novel though.

    By contrast, the Lynch short feels like it should be used in writing classes: he establishes a world, a magic system, characters and a conflict - then resolves it all neatly, without any loose ends or shortcuts. In the length of a short story! That's tough for any genre, and doubly so for epic fantasy (which always struggles).

    I think the only story I actively disliked was "Sponda the Suet Girl", but that's because "gag-style / quippy / one twist / shaggy dog / whatever you want to call it" endings are kind of a bugbear for me. But to pick up an anthology and only dislike a single story? I mean, that's amazing! (So, basically: agree, this is a great book)

  3. New Year's Resolution - Don't take so long to reply to comments... *redface*

    I will probably go back and read the ones I'm missing (even the Trudi Canavan, I guess) because, unfortunately, I can be the kind of person who will read stories that I don't enjoy - just so I can say that I've finished a book. I don't know why I do it to myself... :o(
    In the meantime, I've still got all my fingers crossed for more collections like these and that a few of these stories grow into novels. I think they could be really cool.