Review: Art of War anthology

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the anthology from the publisher. Thanks Petros!

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This is a mammoth anthology, with 40 (FORTY!) authors and stories. I know I tend toward wordiness at the best of times so I’m not going to set myself some kind of terrible challenge and talk about everything in here. But, in general, it’s worth noting a few things about the anthology as a collection.

First, it is thematically strong, with all bar a few stories really tying in nicely to the exploration of the art of war, but a huge range of takes on that concept within the book (some grim, some funny, some heartbreaking, some heartening). Second, it’s got some great authors you probably already know and love, and they all deliver, but there’s probably some stories in there by people you don’t know that are gonna knock your socks off (there were for me). Third, it’s entirely for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), so your money is going to one of the best causes you could ask for. It’d be a reeeeeeal shame if you didn’t buy this anthology, son. A real shame.

To my mind, there were a lot of enjoyable reads and only a couple that I really struggled with (remarkable, considering the sheer number of stories). Highlights for me were (in order of appearance not rating):

  • Ed McDonald, The Breaking of the Sky: I have Blackwing but haven’t had a chance to read it yet, and now I’m keener than ever – this was a prequel story set in the Blackwing universe and even without any context in the universe it was compelling reading about the beginning of terrible things.
  • Laura M Hughes, Dear Menelaus: This was probably the most unique story in format – a letter from Helen to Menelaus. Sharp and fresh take on an old story.
  • John Gwynne, The Greatest Battle: If you know John’s work you’ll recognise the style and characters, but it stands, I think, as an enjoyable, well placed fragment of a bigger story, with entertaining characters and a typically engaging and well-written battle scene.
  • Timandra Whitecastle, This War of Ours: this one HURT, man. Gut wrenching little tale of the price of violence and war on children. I read it twice. On reflection, likely my favourite story in the whole anthology. Will be keeping a VERY strong eye on the author.
  • Steven Poore, Asalantir Forever: I’ve had a weakness for stories that deal with the particular futility of life in the trenches since Blackadder Goes Forth. This one had strong writing and powerful imagery.
  • Brian Staveley, the Art of War: This one blew me away with the sheer scope and depth presented within such a short space. Thoughtful, beautifully written.
  • Nicholas Eames, Sacred Semantics: I cannot really describe this story except to note that it is bloody hilarious and had me cracking up the whole way through. I was a bit careless about paying attention to who I was reading when but it wasn’t hard to pick this as the same writer who is currently delighting me with Kings of the Wyld.
  • The combined efforts of Michael R Fletcher’s Doppels, The Undying Lands: Sort-of-zombies, colosseums, humour, tragedy and even a bit of romance, all in one package. Very entertaining and kept upsetting my expectations. Excellent.
  • Anna Smith-Spark, The Fall of Tereen: another author whose debut is sitting waiting on my TBR pile. It’s been bumped up in priority after reading this story, which is one of the standouts in terms of quality and uniqueness of prose. The style is probably not for everyone but I loved it. Very dark though!
  • Dyrk Ashton, Valkyrie Rain: A nuanced and interesting telling of the Valkyries’ fall from and return to grace.
  • Miles Cameron, The Storm: An awesome self contained siege story with a lot of character. I really enjoyed this.
  • Anna Stephens, Flesh and Coin: Mercenaries and ambushes and brutal action with emotional punch, surprise, and even a few laughs. This story does a lot. If you haven’t read Godblind you’re going to want to go out and get it after you’ve read this sample of her writing. Loved it.
  • Mark Lawrence, The Hero of Aral Pass: Great finish to the anthology – action-packed, compelling voice, funny and dark. Classic Lawrence.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the stories I enjoyed but they’re the ones that stayed with me. I’d be stunned if you couldn’t find a bunch you like in there. Overall, I found it a delight, and I’ll be getting the paperback with the beautiful art to add to my collection.

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