Sunday, 4 May 2014

#CBR6 Book 42: "Songs of Love and Death: All Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love". Edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois

Page count: 468 pages
Overall rating: 3.5 stars

This is an anthology, where all the stories are focused around love and death. I know, extremely surprising, based on the title. I will write a tiny bit about each of the stories, and conclude with my general impression of the anthology as a whole.

Love Hurts by Jim Butcher -  4 stars.
See my write-up here.

The Marrying Maid by Jo Beverley - 3 stars
A young man needs to convince a reluctant woman to marry him in less than three days, or a faerie curse will kill him and everyone in his entire family within the year.

I liked the concept, and that the story was set in the mid-18th Century, which is a lot earlier than a lot of the romance I read is set. It was an interesting concept, it just didn't engage me a whole lot.

Rooftops by Carrie Vaughn - 2 stars
A young playwright has an encounter with a superhero, in a city where they are clearly not all that unusual. She starts to wonder if her seemingly workaholic boyfriend has a secret identity.

I liked the blending of superheroes with the more mundane, but the story didn't really go anywhere exciting. The only other thing I've read by Vaughn is the first Kitty Norville book, which didn't impress me much either. Based on these things, I'm not likely to seek out more of her work anytime soon.

Hurt Me by M.L.N Hanover - 4 stars
A woman buys a purportedly haunted house and all the neighbours start speculating about how long she'll last. Strangely, the woman doesn't seem very bothered by the ghost, and may have had an ulterior motive for buying the house in the first place.

This was a really effective little horror story with a cool twist. When I started reading it, I wasn't too thrilled, but then the story had a quick turn-around, and changed my mind entirely. One of my favourite stories in the anthology.

Demon Lover by Cecilia Holland - 2 stars
Fioretta, a formerly beautiful village girl, crippled and scarred in a fire, accepts the magical aid of a wizard without considering the price she'll have to pay. She finds herself longing for her old life, and the chubby village boy who proposed to her.

I had trouble entirely sympathising with Fioretta's plight, as she was pretty much in a situation of her own making. She wasn't all that hideous or crippled, and there was absolutely an element of TSTL to her character.

The Wayfarer's Advice by Melinda M. Snodgrass - 2 stars
A sci-fi story in which the crew of a small trading vessel find the rescue pod of the ruling princess of the galaxy, after a space battle that appears to have destroyed her entire fleet. The captain and the Infanta obviously have a history, and loved each other when they were still in the military academy, yet she had to marry someone else for political reasons. Now, with everyone believing her dead, they might have a second chance at happiness.

I don't tend to like sci-fi at the best of times, but the science fiction wasn't the main gripe I had with this story. There was just a bit too much convenient coincidence, and I never really liked either of the main characters (although several of the supporting cast, the crew on the trade ship, were cool).

Blue Boots by Robin Hobb - 3.5 stars
Set in the same universe as her Farseer and Wildship Traders trilogies, this story takes place in one of the more remote seven duchies. A young serving maid can't help but become infatuated with the handsome minstrel of the keep, even when there are rumours that the minstrel is in fact involved in some way with the Lady of the Keep. They go on one date, but then he goes with the lady on an extended journey, and the entire keep is abuzz with gossip about how the lady's coming back with an heir for the crippled lord. Heart-broken, the girl is caught in a storm, nearly dies, and loses her memory. Can she ever be reunited with her minstrel lover?

I like Robin Hobb a lot, and it was lovely to revisit her world again, if only for a little while. I did think that it was blatantly obvious that most of the gossip spread around the keep was malicious, and that our young heroine was a bit too prone to doubt her beloved. Still, considering Hobb has the first book of a new trilogy featuring Fitz and the Fool, coming out later in the year, this was a very nice warm-up to get me excited.

The Thing about Cassandra by Neil Gaiman - 4 stars
A man keeps hearing friends and family mentioning his first girlfriend, Cassandra, to him, and thinks back to his teenage years. He's extremely surprised to discover that she's looking for him, and wants to reconnect.

This was a really very strange story, but I liked it a lot, and it still pops into my head even weeks after I finished the anthology. I tend to think that Gaiman's at his very best when he's writing short fiction. I can't wait for his entry in the upcoming Rogues (also edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois), which brings back the Marquis de Carabas.

After the Blood by Marjorie M. Liu - 1 star
I'm honestly having trouble remembering what this story was even about, because I skim-read the whole thing. Something about a post-apocalyptic future and danger and a dude who I think was some sort of vampire and a woman with woobly magical powers. His Amish-like family completely shunned him when they realised he'd turned into some supernatural creature.

Suffice to say, I didn't like the story at all, and can't be bothered to even skim through the collection to remember it. Based on this, I'm not going to be reading anything by Majorie M. Liu anytime soon.

You and You Alone by Jacqueline Carey - 4 stars
A prequel of sorts to Carey's Kushiel books, this tells the story of the epic romance between Prince Rolande of Terre D'Ange and Ph├ędre's mentor, Anafiel. Because the framing narrative is set during the first third of Kushiel's Dart, there are some spoilers for that book, and anyone who hasn't read it yet (why haven't you, it's one of the greatest epic fantasy novels ever written!), should probably skip it and read once they've read the first book in the trilogy. I also don't want to give away too much of the plot here, as it is actually all pretty spoilery, but for a huge fan of Carey's Terre D'Ange universe, it was lovely to go back and revisit fairly minor characters and see how their stories fit into the greater whole.

I'm just going to reiterate - if you haven't read Kushiel's Dart, and you claim to like fantasy, you really should rearrange everything on your schedule so you can read it ASAP. You will thank me, I promise you.

His Wolf by Lisa Tuttle - 1.5 stars
A college professor in Texas falls in insta-love with a dude who owns a wolf. Turns out he's a drug dealer with shady connections, who's killed when he tries to give up his drug dealing (cause he loves her too - seriously they spend ONE afternoon together). The woman adopts his wolf.

Yeah, I wasn't too impressed with this. I hate insta-love. I really do. I refuse to believe that characters can built a viable and believable romance based on one casual afternoon together. This story didn't convince me of anything different. It was pretty dumb, in my opinion. Lisa Tuttle, you are unlikely to appear on my reading list.

Courting Trouble by Linnea Sinclair - 4 stars
Another sci-fi story where an intrepid starship captain reunites with her former best friend, who also happens to be a spy. They had a massive falling out when she felt he supported her cheating ex-boyfriend over her. Turns out he totally fancied her and still does. Now he they have to rescue her spaceship from being destroyed.

I'd only ever read Gabriel's Ghost by Linnea Sinclair before, and wasn't exactly blown away. To be fair, it was a monthly pick in Vaginal Fantasy, and the Grand Duchess of the bookclub herself, Felicia Day, admitted that they should have picked a different book in the series, as several of the others are better. Based on that promise, and this story, I think I would absolutely be up for trying some more of Sinclair's books. This was fun, had a convincing romance, a very cool heroine - and I'm always a sucker for a good secret agent hero.

The Demon Dancer by Mary Jo Putney - 1 star
A whole bunch of guys have died in the last twenty-four hours. A police officer with some sort of supernatural gift figures out that the deaths are due to a succubus being in town. She needs to be stopped. He works with the old lady "slayer" to bring her down.

OMG, this story was predictable and dumb. I could tell where the story was going from the first pages, and it didn't make me like it any more. The Guardians of the story clearly had extremely convenient powers for fighting evil, especially our hero. The romance angle was frankly rather skeevy, and the ending, which as I said, I'd seen coming from pretty much page two, just made me want to throw the book away. Mary Jo Putney, I've never read any of your romances, but based on this, you may be blacklisted now.

Under/Above the Water by Tanith Lee - 2 stars
I'm going to be entirely honest, I'm not completely sure I understood what went on in this story. There something about an ancient sunken underwater kingdom, and the betrayed ruler of such, and a heart-broken lady in a boat who witnessed someone drowning herself. The story keeps jumping, and the stories are clearly intertwined somehow, I should probably have read it more carefully.

I'm giving it 2 stars because it was nicely atmospheric, and I suspect I may have liked it more if I'd read it more carefully, and understood it more clearly.

Kaskia by Peter S. Beagle - 2 stars
A guy gets a strange computer from his brother-in-law with a number of keys you can't find on a normal keyboard. He starts interacting with an individual who may or may not be part of the computer, or exist in a universe somewhere else. His obsession with his new online friend starts putting his current relationship in danger.

This story was just wierd, and ended a bit strangely and sadly. I'm not sure I like the implications that were made towards the end of the story.

The Man in the Mirror by Yasmine Galenorn - 2 stars
A young woman moves into an abandoned old house, trying to recover from an abusive former relationship. She discovers that there is a man trapped in the mirrors of the house, the cousin of the man who used to torment her. Frightened at first, the young woman comes to find the man a comforting presence.

This was quite a sad story, and I felt a lot of sympathy for the heroine. I haven't read anything else by Galenorn, but wouldn't rule out trying something, as I didn't hate this story, by any means.

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon - 3.5 stars
Pilot Jerry MacKenzie is asked by a special operative to train for a secret reconnaissance mission. While practising in the highlands of Scotland just before All Hallow's Eve, his plane crashes, and he passes out after experiencing something inexplicable by a stone circle. He discovers that he is trapped, far away from his wife and son, and desperately tries to return to them.

This story is connected to events in Diana Gabaldon's An Echo in the Bone, book 7 in her Outlander series, and the only one I haven't read yet. I suspect this story will not have resonated very much with people unfamiliar with Gabaldon's universe, but as I know which character Jerry MacKenzie and his wife Dolly are connected to, and understand why this story was told, I found it a lovely expansion of the already existing story. I suspect I may have rated it even higher if I'd read the book it's most closely connected to, but that shall have to wait for later in the year, when I've finished my first Cannonball.

So those are all the stories. I tend to find that anthologies that feature multiple genres, and multiple authors, many of which write about already established characters, can be a bit hit and miss. Because in this case, most of the stories here that were connected to other series, such as those of Butcher, Carey and Gabaldon, were authors whose books I have pretty much all read and love, those stories worked really well for me. I honestly am not sure how those three stories would work for non-fans of the authors' books. As for a lot of the other stories, there were very few I actively hated. I read the entire anthology because it fit into several of my reading challenges, most prominently the Monthly Motif one. I also own this book in a rather gorgeous hardback copy, an anniversary gift from my husband, so it felt wrong to only read selected stories. In future anthologies of this kind, I may only dip in and read the ones that seem relevant to me.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

2 comments:

  1. Lovely review, you made me want to read the book. Mainly the Carey though. And new Robin Hobb with my favourite should-have-beens? *hyperventilates*

    Happy belated anniversary :)

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    1. Thank you, dear. It was a gift for our tenth anniversary, so the book had been languishing on our shelves for quite some time. I have a tendency to desperately want books, then sort of forgetting about them once I actually own them.

      With regards to the Robin Hobb, check the Dropbox folder. Someone may have been lucky on NetGalley, and may be able to share her bounty.

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