RoguesRogues by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Rogues, the short story anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, contains over twenty stories of above average quality and wonderful use of the titular quality that connects all the stories. The twenty-one stories from several genres features significant characters as rogues no matter gender, species, and orientation from authors both well-known to general audiences and some note so.

Of the twenty-one stories featured in Rogues the three best not only were high quality writing and features very roguish characters, but also were able to introduce a reader into the already established universe they take place in that only enhanced the story. The opening story “Tough Times All Over” takes place within the First Law world that Joe Abercrombie established himself writing about, “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” by Matthew Hughes takes place with in the world of Archonate, and “A Cargo of Ivories” by Garth Nix takes place within the world of Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. While these were the best, the stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Stanwick, and Patrick Rothfuss set within an establish world they had create were also very good.

The stories especially created for this anthology is a mixture of the very good, the bad, and those that were just missing something. Daniel Abraham’s “The Meaning of Love”, David W. Ball’s “Provenance”, and Scott Lynch’s “A Year and A Day in Old Theradane” were wonderfully written stories in two separate genres that were in the top seven stories of the whole collection. “Now Showing” by Connie Willis is unfortunately one of the worst stories of the collection which was a shame considering that she wrote about several interesting ideas, but the execution with the characters crushed the story. Yet some of the stories while good and having roguish characters just felt like they were missing something: “Heavy Metal” was missing a fuller backstory to the main character and a better understanding of the supernatural powers at work yet once done could become a fascinating future series for Cherie Priest, and “The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives” was fantastic homage to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson by Lisa Tuttle that just felt it could have been more.

Yet some of the biggest disappointments in this collection were from established authors and their established series. The worst story of the collection is “A Better Way to Die” by Paul Cornell that takes place in his alternate history timeline that features the spy Johnathan Hamilton but the reader has no idea about the world if you had never read an earlier story that featured Hamilton. And my personal disappointment was “The Rogue Prince” that George R.R. Martin wrote as an Archmaester of the Citadel as a biography of Daemon Targaryen but was more of a history of the events leading up to The Dance of the Dragons that he told in “The Princess and the Queen”.

The twenty-one stories that make up Rogues feature–more than not–very good short stories from across genres whether in established worlds or one-offs. Yet like all anthologies, it is a mixed bag in quality and expectations, but often than not the reader will be satisfied after finishing these stories with time well spent in several wonderful settings following some very unscrupulous individuals.

Individual Story Ratings
Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie (4.5/5)
What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn (3.5/5)
The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes (5/5)
Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale (4/5)
Tawny Petticoats by Michael Stanwick (4/5)
Provenance by David W. Ball (4/5)
Roaring Twenties by Carrie Vaughn (3/5)
A Year and A Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch (4/5)
Bad Brass by Bradley Denton (2.5/5)
Heavy Metal by Cherie Priest (3/5)
The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham (4/5)
A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell (1/5)
Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor (3/5)
A Cargo of Ivories by Garth Nix (4.5/5)
Diamonds from Tequila by Walter Jon Williams (3/5)
The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein (2.5/5)
The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle (3/5)
How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman (3.5/5)
Now Showing by Connie Willis (2/5)
The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss (4/5)
The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother by George R.R. Martin (2.5/5)

A Better Way to Die (Jonathan Hamilton)

RoguesA Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Jonathan Hamilton believes he’d heading to his death on an estate that is connected to multiple alternate worlds, facing off against a younger version of himself that he had “humiliated” several weeks prior at a dinner party in a card game. Now his younger Alt-Self has stolen money from the College of Heralds and even kidnapped a young senior Herald Precious Nothing before making his way to a place he can get back home or take Hamilton’s place. Unfortunately this story suffers because unless you’ve read previous Jonathan Hamilton stories, what I just wrote above is the only thing you understand in the entire story. The story features a little twist that makes you wonder who the “true” rogue of the story is, but without understanding anything about the world it’s almost worthless.

The Hitler Options: Alternate Decisions of World War II

HitlerThe Hitler Options: Alternate Decisions of World War II by Kenneth John Macksey
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Within the realm of alternate history literature and scenarios, World War II is particularly prominent for fiction authors and historians to ponder on. In The Hitler Options: Alternate Decisions of WWII, ten military historians—which included book editor Kenneth Macksey—looked at scenarios which could have changed the course of the war towards the Third Reich and its Axis partners against the Allies or that the Allies could have decided to the detriment of the Nazis.

The scenarios ranged from the decision to invade England soon after the end of the Battle of France to the Axis securing the Mediterranean before turning to the Soviet Union to linking up with the Japanese to focusing on a jet fighter instead of a jet bomber. While eight of the scenario focused on decisions benefiting the Nazis, two focused on decisions the Western Allies could have made to fight the war differently. The two Allied focused scenarios, “Through the Soft Underbelly” and “Operation ARMAGGEDON”, were among best written in the book along with the Nazi focused “Operation SPINX”, “Operation WOTAN”, and “Operation GREENBRIER”.

While the five other scenarios were just as interesting, the style the author chose to write them undermined their overall effectiveness to some degree especially when compared those scenarios cited above as. Then ten scenarios came up a total of 216 pages, which came out to just barely 20 pages per scenario when excluding maps used for each. This short length for each scenario to be developed in my opinion hurt some of the less impressive scenarios and could have added depth to some of the best as well.

Overall The Hitler Decisions is a good book for those interested in alternate history, especially concentrated around World War II. Yet, there are some drawbacks with the relatively short length average of each piece that hurt some of the scenarios along with stylistic choices.

Legends II: Dragon, Sword, and King

034547578x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Legends II: Dragon, Sword, and King by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Legends II: Dragon, Sword, and King bounds together short stories from five bestselling authors in fantasy in one-half of a follow up volume to the first Legends anthology. Edited by Robert Silverberg, this collection sees returning authors such as George R.R. Martin and Orson Scott Card with newcomers Terry Brooks, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Haydon. All are connected to the author’s best known established universe; however the success of each story is how the reader quickly understands the universe connected to it.

The first three stories in this volume are the best of the five, whether stand alone or part of a prequel sequence, they’re success was on how minimal the reader needed to be knowledge about the author’s established universe regardless of how long their story was. The last two stories while okay-to-good suffered from the reader trying to comprehend some aspect of the established world or in the case of one story having no clue about the importance of anything given that the story was an epilogue of an entire series.

The fact that the two weakest stories of the collection finish off the book gives the overall volume a bad rap when finishing it, however the first three stories make this collection for any first-time readers of their authors. For long-time or experiences readers of any or all of these authors, these stories will be well worth the read.

Individual Story Ratings
The Sworn Sword by George R.R. Martin (4.5/5)
The Yazoo Queen by Orson Scott Card (4/5)
Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon (4/5)
Threshold by Elizabeth Haydon (3.5/5)
Indomitable by Terry Brooks (2.5/5)

The Yazoo Queen (Tales of Alvin Maker #5b)

034547578x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Yazoo Queen by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Once again Alvin Maker interacts with various historical individuals in the alternate history/fantasy version of our world in this tale written by Orson Scott Card. On a journey via steamboat, the titular vessel, to New Orleans Alvin and his apprentice Arthur travel as master and servant on a mission from his pregnant wife about something to do with her abolition efforts.

What Alvin and Arthur find on the steamboat is something completely different, a possible conspiracy to fight the Mexica with black guides for the paramilitary force; though for the half-Black Arthur it’s more about freeing the 12 men in chains that stopping a war. What complicates matters is a ne’er-do-well by the name of Jim Bowie who seems to know who Alvin actually is, but things only come to a head when Alvin, Arthur, and Bowie rescue a raft on which Abe Lincoln and Cuz Johnson are taking down river.

Grinning Man (Tales of Alvin Maker #5a)

0765300354.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Grinning Man by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The alternate history/fantasy version of our world in which the Alvin Maker tale takes place results in meeting historical characters, who are the same and different at the same time. In the frontier of Kenituck, Alvin and his apprentice, the half-Black, Arthur Stuart come across the titular “Grinning Man” Davy Crockett who is grinning down a grizzly bear. After watching the confrontation, Alvin and Davy don’t get off on the right foot as the later accuses the former of being a thief.

After the two parties go their separate ways, Alvin and Arthur arrive in Westville to find Crockett has been there falsely warning the town about the two “thieves”. The town’s miller, Rack Miller, however is inclined to believe Alvin protestations of innocence and welcomes them to his home. Alvin then finds out that Rack is crooked and sets about to ruin him while positioning for a chastened Crockett to take over as the “miller”. All round a very enjoyable story.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel

Strang NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The restoration of English magic by Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a wonderful alternate history fantasy novel set in Regency England during and after the Napoleonic wars.  The decade-long crafting that Susanna Clarke put into her genre mixing first novel rewards the fantasy reader with something different than they have read before.

The premise of the novel is that magic returns to England after disappearing two centuries with the works of Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange, who then put their ‘powers’ to work in helping Great Britain in the fight against the Emperor Napoleon first on the sea and then on land.  However, the personalities and magical philosophies of Strange and Norrell are completely different from one another which leads to the split of their pupil-tutor relationship and mild rivalry especially when it came to the figure of the mysterious Raven King of Northern England.  Intertwining with the main story arc are numerous secondary characters with their own arcs that combine in the novel climax that the reader doesn’t see coming but is satisfying once completed.

Clarke’s combination of faux-Austen and faux-Victorian prose give the novel an authentic feel to set-up the alternate historic aspects of the novel as well as the class distinctions between various secondary characters that come into play.  One of the greatest aspects of the novel is the worldbuilding that Clarke puts into her story, which can be seen in around 200 footnotes that cover everything from reference books of magic to folklore concerning various English magicians including the Raven King.  The distinctions between northern England, the former realm of the human-fairy Raven King, and southern England/London is not just rural and urban but romanticism and rationalism concerning magic that Clarke uses effectively.

Although the faux-Austen/faux-Victorian prose does give the story an authentic feel, it does take time for the reader unfamiliar with them to get use to.  Although Clarke creates a wonderful alternate history of Regency England using magic to face Napoleon, she does forget to take in account the effects of the long reign of the Raven King in northern England would impact all of British history due to the dynastic implications of various nobles not influencing the politics of England and Scotland because they no longer have their lands.  While one can forgive Clarke’s mistakes in alternate history because she focused on the bigger story, the one thing I personally was upset with was that the reader wasn’t given a name for the antagonistic thistle-down haired gentleman.

Upon completion of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I felt very satisfied with the time I spent reading this wonderful novel.  Adding fantasy to Regency England and the influencing the Napoleonic wars really awakened the history buff in me adding to my enjoyment of the novel.  If you are an open-minded fantasy reader, I recommended this book to you.

Ruled Britannia

0451460847-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

For those who have ever thought about reading at least one alternate history novel, Harry Turtledove’s Ruled Britannia is the one you should try.  The premise of the novel is the successful invasion of England via the famed Spanish Armada by the Duke of Parma’s army that places Queen Elizabeth in captive within the Tower of London and places Philip II’s daughter Isabella on the throne along side her husband-cousin Albert.  Almost 10 years later, celebrated English playwright Williams Shakespeare is brought into a conspiracy to write and stage a play that will insight London to rise up upon learning of the death of Philip, but then Shakespeare must contend with the occupying Spaniards wanting him to write a play in tribute of Philip to by staged upon news of this death.

The novel is seen from only two point-of-view characters: Shakespeare and Lope de Vega, an officer in the occupying Spanish army fluent in English and an unpublished playwright.  Through their eyes the setting of Spanish-occupied late 16th-century London comes alive as well as the individuals the two encounter without throughout the novel, including those they both interact with.  Obviously it allows the reader to view both sides of Spanish-controlled Catholic England politically speaking, but also religiously.  Although both men are friendly with one another, especially as Shakespeare doesn’t want to upset an officer of the occupying army, there is an unspoken barrier between the two the reader readily recognizes that is present throughout the novel that adds to the story.

The use of late 16th-century English speech patterns by Turtledove brought an authentic feel to the story, though it does take a little time to get use nonetheless by the end of the book its very easy to follow.  Though the story does seem to tread water around the 60-70% mark, in retrospect the events that happen therein really pay off throughout the climax of the story.  With all of this said, if you’ve ever wanted to read an alternate history novel this standalone work by Harry Turtledove is the one you should try.