The Underdogs

AzuelaThe Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone who has learned anything about the Mexican Revolution knows that it was a complicated era in that nation’s history that just seemed to continue without end. The Underdogs was the first novel about the conflict even as it continued to grind on and written by a former participant Mariano Azuela.

The majority of the narrative follows Demetrio Macias, who finds himself on the bad side of the local chief and is burned out of his home before feeling to the mountains. Gathering his friends, Macias begins battling the Federales becoming a local then regional military leader. Joining with a growing Villista army around Zacatecas, Macias and his men achieve a remarkable feat during the battle that leads to victory and a promotion of Macias to general. The main reason Macias journeys to Zacatecas is an idealistic Federales deserter, Luis Cervantes, who conveniences the leader to join the growing Villista force. But after the battle, both men become disillusioned with the overall Revolution leading to simply leaving—Cervantes—for the United States or just keep fighting until the odds become too much—Macias.

This relatively short, well-written, yet seemingly disjointed narrative is considered the greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution because of this final aspect. Although this was Azuela’s first novel, it reads very well—in translation—and gives someone not interested in history a little knowledge about the defining moment in Mexican history if only in a brief glimpse.

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Rogues

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)

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Ill Seen in Tyre (Young Gordianus #3.5)

RoguesIll Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Young Gordianus and his tutor Antipater have arrived in the latter hometown of Tyre on their way to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but Gordianus finds out that his mentor has a soft spot for illogical magic and mythic heroes. While staying at a tavern, Gordianus learns of the local heroes Fafhrd and Grey Mouser who had very roguish adventures in the city and interacted with Antipater’s grandfather on one occasion. But all of this is prelude to Antipater purchasing the Books of Secret Wisdom and both of them getting taken in by the seller and possibly everyone in the entire tavern as well. But Antipater doesn’t care and Gordianus, while furious, has to let it go. The story itself gets a tad predictable when the seller arrives, but the highlight was the descriptions of Fafhrd and Grey Mouser which were created by Fritz Leiber and who I know what to read myself.

Dangerous Women 1

Dangerous Women 1Dangerous Women 1 by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first subdivision of the Dangerous Women anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois is a mix bag of both story quality and the interpretation of the phrase ‘dangerous women’. In seven stories across genres around the central theme of women who are dangerous, a reader is treated to see women in various ways only but is also forced to figure out if the women presented or alluded to are actually dangerous.

Of the seven stories featured in Dangerous Women 1 the three best at presenting both a very good story and dangerous women were Carrie Vaugh’s “Raisa Stepanova”, Megan Abbott’s “My Heart Is Either Broken”, and George R.R. Martin’s “The Princess and the Queen”. Just outside these three was Cecelia Holland’s “Nora’s Song” which had a very good story but was seen from the perspective of a little girl finding out how dangerous her mother is. These four stories were at the very beginning and the last three stories of the collection giving the anthology a strong start and finish.

However, the three stories in the middle suffered from a failure of either not being very good or not having a dangerous woman. Both Megan Lindholm’s “Neighbors” and Joe R. Lansdale’s “Wrestling Jesus” were very good stories, but the danger posed by the women either featured or more mentioned then seen was hard to detect. But the weakest story of the entire collection was Lawrence Block’s “I Know How to Pick’em” which went from having potential to falling flat by the end.

Overall Dangerous Women 1 is a mixed bag of very good stories with strong female characters, just very good stories with no danger attached to any female character, and just plain bad all around. The best that could be said is in the end the reader is the ultimate judge.

Individual Story Ratings
Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn (4/5)
I Know How to Pick’em by Lawrence Block (1/5)
Neighbors by Megan Lindholm (2.5/5)
Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale (2/5)
My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott (4/5)
Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland (3.5/5)
The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin (4/5)

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Nora’s Song (Dangerous Women 1)

dw1Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Young Eleanor, or Nora to her large family, is enjoying being a little noble born girl exploring little creeks and grass with her little sister Joanna when her big brother Richard founds her so they can greet their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. But this day starts the process of how Nora views her family, from how her parents treat one another and how they scheme behind each other’s backs and how they treat her siblings then her. For those how know history, the dangerous woman in this story is well known yet seeing from the pov of a child it’s well down.

Raisa Stepanova (Dangerous Women 1)

dw1Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A female fighter pilot for the Soviet military fights for her country, her family, and herself against the Fascists and the Party. This dangerous woman at first only finds herself fighting against the Nazis and in a quasi-rivalry with another pilot, who beats her to becoming an ace. But Raisa’s military career is suddenly in jeopardy when her brother goes missing in action, which to Comrade Stalin means he’s a traitor. Suddenly Raisa is desperate to either earn esteem to spare her family or die in combat so her family will be taken care of because of their heroic daughter. Not only is this a “woman in a man’s world” situation that is very believable, the action from Raisa’s point-of-view in the cockpit gives the reader a glimpse into the action.

Warriors 1

Warriors 1Warriors 1 by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warriors 1 brings together short stories from across all genres by authors whose only criteria were to write about a warrior. This is the one of three paperback volumes of the whole anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois in which Martin is joined in contributing by Joe Haldeman, Steven Saylor, Tad Williams, Cecelia Holland, and Robert Silverberg.

Save for the opening story, this volume is packed with great writing and stories. Of the five stories that are truly outstanding two are historical fiction, one is science fiction, and two are fantasy. Not all the stories are full of action as seen in Robert Silverberg’s “Defenders of the Frontier” is more a psychological study but still a well written and compelling narrative. Only two of the stories featured in this volume are connected in some way to established universes by their authors, Joe Haldeman’s Forever War universe and Martin’s own world of A Song of Ice and Fire. But while Martin’s “The Mystery Knight” is compelling story with action and intrigue, Haldeman’s “Forever Bound” just doesn’t seem to really connect to a first time reader of his work. I would be remiss if I forgot to praise the excellent historical fiction stories by Steven Saylor and Cecelia Holland that featured Romans, Carthaginians, and Vikings.

While the opening story doesn’t seem to connect well, the rest of the stories in this volume more than make up for it. These tales of warriors whether based in our own history or worlds far off in space or in a fantastical realm are excellent reads. The same is true for action, political intrigue, and psychological struggles. I really loved this collection of short stories and highly recommend it to those interested in get or reading this volume.

Individual Story Ratings
Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman (3/5)
The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor (5/5)
And Ministers of Grace by Tad Williams (4/5)
The King of Norway by Cecelia Holland (5/5)
Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg (4.5/5)
The Mystery Knight by George R.R. Martin (5/5)

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