Review: Art of War edited by Petros Triantafyllou

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John Anthony Di Giovanni and Shawn King’s forces combined – always so awesome!

I love a good short story. Sometimes I don’t have a lot of time for reading, so I like to get complete stories into my eyeholes before I have to go off and do something else. Anthologies are something I can start and then slowly chip away at without feeling bad that it’s taking an absolute age and a half to get through.

I did receive a free copy of this particular anthology from one of the authors in it, however it should be noted that all the proceeds from the sale of this book go to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, so there’s really no reason to not buy it. We’re each doing a little good for the world by buying it.

How do you get forty fantasy authors to contribute short stories for a war-themed anthology without paying them? It sounds as if there should be a good punchline to that, but all Petros Triantafyllou did was twist the moral thumbscrews and tell them all the profits would go to Doctors Without Borders, a charity that works tirelessly across the world to alleviate the effects of conflict, sickness and poverty.

So, with clear consciences, several busloads of excellent and acclaimed fantasy authors have applied themselves to the task of penning a veritable mountain of words on the subject of The Art of War, expect bloodshed, gore, pathos, insight, passion, and laughs. Maybe even a wombat. Who knows. Anyway, as the original blurb said: “It’s good. Buy it.”
-Mark Lawrence 

Featuring: Mark Lawrence, Ed Greenwood, Brian Staveley, Miles Cameron, John Gwynne, Sebastien De Castell, Mitchell Hogan, Stan Nicholls, Andrew Rowe, C.T. Phipps, Rob J. Hayes, Nicholas Eames, Mazarkis Williams, Ben Galley, Michael R. Fletcher, Graham Austin-King, Ed McDonald, Anna Stephens, Anna Smith Spark, RJ Barker, Michael R. Miller, Benedict Patrick, Sue Tingey, Dyrk Ashton, Steven Kelliher, Timandra Whitecastle, Laura M Hughes, J.P. Ashman, M.L. Spencer, Steven Poore, Brandon Draga, D. Thourson Palmer, D.M. Murray, Anne Nicholls, R.B. Watkinson, Charles F Bond, Ulff Lehmann, Thomas R. Gaskin, Zachary Barnes & Nathan Boyce.

Foreword by Brian D. Anderson

Through it all, the aftermath of battle is often forgotten. The victory is won, the enemy defeated, and all rejoice. Cue the music. But it doesn’t end there in the real world.

Real war creates poverty, hunger, and disease on a massive scale. Ravaged towns and shattered lives are left in its wake.

-Brian D. Anderson

It’s one thing to look at that list of authors and be like ‘goddamn!’ and then it’s entirely another thing to actually open the book and look at the table of contents. I got legitimately child-on-Christmas-morning excited for my foray into this book. Many of my favorite authors are included. Many that I have heard of but hadn’t read yet. Hell, there’s a couple that I’m friends with on facebook but haven’t read yet (I’m getting there though, I promise). Having the opportunity to sample before diving into larger works is often a good thing for me.

I don’t often like every story in an anthology (and yet, don’t like to skip over stories I don’t like in the beginning, just in case I love them in the end), so even my absolute favorites (Rogues, Unfettered) are largely 3 star events for me because I loved some stories and disliked others and it evens out to somewhere in the middle.

This one though… this one leaned far, far closer to ‘I like all of these!’ than not. Very, very close to complete likage. In fact, I don’t think I can say I disliked any of them. These stories are also often shorter than I have found is typical in fantasy anthologies. Some are only 5-10 minutes of reading long. This is not a bad thing. If I can sip someone’s work for 10 minutes and yet get a complete story out of the deal, that’s a good thing. 😀 But, it should also be said that this is an anthology whose theme is war, and so many of these stories are not in any way what you would consider to be… uplifting. Some are downright depressing AF. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if they are enjoyable to read. If they’re written well and spark your imagination, which most of these do. Some are really grim, but others aren’t. Some are legitimately funny. So, it’s a nice variety.

Let me tell you about some of my favorites. I won’t comment on every single story, because… let’s be honest here, there are 40 of them and I already tend to ramble. Let’s call it… sort of a top 10, okay? Okay. Oh, I wrote down 11? Okay, 11 then. GO!

The Breaking of the Sky by Ed McDonald – Being the first story in the anthology, it starts the whole thing off with quite a bang. This takes place in the same world as Blackwing, and tells the story, more or less, of how the Misery became the Misery. But, don’t worry if you haven’t read Blackwing, you don’t need any knowledge of it to enjoy this story!

Dear Menelaus by Laura M. Hughes – Being in the form of a letter to Menelaus, the king of Sparta from his estranged wife, Helen (yes, that Helen). All I really have to say about this one is: hells yes, fuckin’ preach it, girl!

Warborn by C.T. Phipps – This story was intriguing AF, and I want to read more of the like. Summoning demons, and demons vs. demons. I really liked the writing style. I liked the sarcasm of the main character, too. I haven’t read any of C.T. Phipps stuff (there’s a few on the TBR of Babel though!) but I’m damn well going to start.

This War of Ours by Timandra Whitecastle – An interesting story which conjured, to me, images of a world quite like ours. A woman and her children flee a war torn city. The woman is someone special, someone magical, and so with that in mind, this story conjured up all kinds of imagery. And then it came in and swiftly stabbed me right in the feels, because of course it did.

The Fox and the Bowman by Sebastien de Castell – This story has a really interesting trick about it, that makes it seem so much bigger and more complex than it truly is. I thought it was a fantastic bit of storytelling, and I loved the characters! This is another author whom I have not read anything from yet, but in this case, I have pretty much every book he’s published (including two I had to import!) on my shelves, so, I mean, it’s… it’s gunna happen soon. 😉

Sacred Semantics by Nicholas Eames – This is the story of two factions of spider-people, some with six legs, and some with eight, who are at war with each other based on a bit of a disagreement over whether the spider goddess that both factions worship has six legs or eight, which… when you really think about it, is a really realistic reason for two nations of spider-esque people to go to war. Neph was a great character, and this was a riveting story with a great ending!

Violet by Mazarkis Williams – A story about a farm girl named Violet who wakes up after a night giving a traveling magician Shelter, by the traditions of her people, and realizes that something is wrong about her. Something is missing and she thinks the magician stole it, so she follows him in an effort to find him and get it back. I thought this story has a great premise, and the world it took place in was really interesting. I want more!

The Undying Lands by Michael R. Fletcher – This is a great, funny story about a coliseum within a section of land that was once cursed by a necromancer. Anyone who dies there becomes undead, so it’s (of course) where the ruler of the land sets accused criminals on each other in duels to the death. Anyone who defeats 10 living people goes free. Anyone who dies in their first fight gets their head put on a shelf in the shitter. So… uh… win?

Rendered Chaos by D.M. Murray – A story about a painter who is tasked by the archduke to paint a visceral war painting. He leaves his cushy, wine-and-pussy-filled life to see a real battlefield in order to get the proper inspiration and experience to carry out his task. This story is hilariously sweary and crass AF. The main character was snarky and awesome. I loved it! I’ll definitely be reading more of this author’s stuff sooner rather than later!

Valkyrie Rain by Dyrk Ashton – A story in the world of Paternus about Ragnarok, from the POV of one of the Valkyries. This was interesting to me because I love, love, love Norse mythology, and I love the way that Dyrk mixes up all mythologies together in his world, and how I think of the All-father as so many different people now, thanks to Paternus! I recently watched Thor: Ragnarok and read another book in which the event featured pretty strongly. These last few months have been Ragnarok-tacular for me, and I’m okay with it (as long as the world doesn’t end and all that). This was a fantastic addition to my unplanned Ragnarok-themed media consumption.

The Hero of Aral Pass by Mark Lawrence – Oh Jalan. Never change, you magnificent bastard. I could read about you forever. This was my favorite story in the whole anthology, because I did love me some Red Queen’s War. This is a story which gives a little bit of insight into Jalan’s life after the end of The Wheel of Osheim, which is hilarious. It also details some of his exploits in the battle at Aral Pass and just how he became the hero. It… it happens pretty much exactly how you think it happens, if you know anything about Jalan Kendeth and his modus operandi.

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A worthy cause!

Well, all told, that might have just been the first anthology of more than 10 stories that I’ve ever read wherein I liked every story presented. True, I didn’t love them all, but I didn’t dislike any of them, and that’s fantastic!

Everybody, go get you some of this book!

You can see this book on goodreads here, and preorder it on amazon here (it’s out February 13th!)

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