Recommended Reading: Dangerous Women

(Originally written April 2nd, 2015)

Dangerous Women, released in 2013, contains 21 short stories and novellas from a variety of celebrated authors including Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files) and George R.R. Marin (The Song of Ice and Fire).  I was drawn to it by the claim that within this multi-genre anthology I would find stories about powerful women, women who took charge and were not mere eye-candy or hapless damsels waiting for the brave knight to save them.  I wanted fierce warriors, badass adventurers and devious villains who happen to be women.

For the most part the book delivered.

What follows will be a brief synopsis  (as spoiler free as possible) of each story and my thoughts (with a simple rating out of 5).

“Some Desparado” by Joe Abercrombie-

Frankly I really enjoyed this tale about a young and inexperienced bandit as she flees from and then faces down her former compatriots.  I thought the pacing was solid and was quite entertained by the young lead as she fought against incredible odds for her survival.   4 out of 5.

“My Heart is Either Broken” by Megan Abbott-

This tale about a young couple coping with the disappearance of their daughter and the public perception of the mother has her bizarre behavior calls into question the official story of what happened the day their daughter vanished  (as well as the husband’s struggles with it all).  I enjoyed the mystery surrounding the events and the way the wife was characterized but truthfully I found the story lacking what I was hoping for with the way the anthology was sold.  Not a bad story but just “that much” off the mark for me.  3 out of 5.

“Nora’s Song” by Cecellia Holland

A historical fiction piece about King Henry II, his Queen Eleanor and their eight children, specifically the youngest Nora set during the 1100s.  I found this story horribly boring and while the argument could be made that Queen Eleanor was the “dangerous woman” of the piece due to her decisions and actions in the eyes of young Nora I believe the anthology would have been better served without this piece.  Not that it was horribly written on any level but I just simply did not enjoy a single word of it.  1 out of 5.

“The Hands That Are Not There” by Melinda Snodgrass

This is the first SF piece of the book and thankfully was a refreshing rebound from the dismal entry that preceded it.  A young officer listens to the tragic story of an old drunk as he recounts his personal encounter with a beautiful member of a near extinct race of aliens that have mastered genetic manipulation.  I was hoping that this anthology wouldn’t do it but the thematic dangerous woman uses her beauty and sex appeal to manipulate the lovelorn human to disastrous results (for him).  4 out of 5.

“Bombshells” by Jim Butcher

As a long time fan of Butcher’s Dresden Files series (but only having read the first five or so novels) I was initially thrilled to see his name when I turned the page and immediately crushed when the introduction to the story spoiled a major plot point of the series.  But being the fan I am I had to read this story about young Molly, Harry Dresden’s apprentice, as she carried on without her mentor to guide her.  In short I loved this story and it easily had me pulled in before I turned the first page.  5 out of 5.

“Raisa Stepanova” by Carrie Vaughn

More historical fiction here, this time about an amazing Soviet fighter pilot as she struggles with her desire to be the first female Ace in the Soviet air force even as she deals with her fears about the safety of her family.  Admittedly a step down from the awesome story that came before it but then again I am fairly biased.  Still worthy of high marks.  4 out of 5.

“Wrestling Jesus” by Joe R. Lansdale

For most of this story I was utterly confused as to why it was included.  The story begins with a teenage boy being saved from a brutal assault by an old man.  Over time he discovers the man to be an aging fighter and eventually starts training with him, the boy learning self defense while the man prepares for a fight with an old rival named Jesus.  Every five years the men meet and battle, with the winner getting to be with an aging beauty that was with the old man until Jesus knocked him out decades prior.  The woman brings nothing to the story apart from being  A)sexy at the time the fighers at the start of their rivalry, B) out of her mind and C)having incredible control of the two fighters.  While fitting the dangerous theme on a technicality she typifies exactly the sort of woman as trophies thinking I felt the book was trying to thumb its nose at.  0 out of 5.

“Neighbors” by Megan Lindholm

This story easily is the first one I could call an absolute surprise.  At its beginning it seemed to be a tale about a pair of elderly women slipping into dementia but I soon was unable to put it down as it became a tale about strange occurances and possible parallel worlds.  4 out of 5.

“I Know How to Pick’Em” by Lawrence Block

Much like “Wrestling Jesus” I would classify this one as out of place.  I enjoyed this story a bit more than the former but there were many things wrong with it upon initially reading it.  A troubled tough guy in a bar is approached by a beautiful woman with nefarious plans.   Seemingly a solid premise but between the tough guy’s creepy past and the way the plot “resolves” I was left feeling alternately filthy and disappointed.  2 out of 5.

“Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell” by Brandon Sanderson

Apart from the less than perfect title I was glad to see Sanderson’s name pop up as I loved how he handled the end run of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  This story was far from great but it was a more than a fair improvement over the previous story.  A bounty hunter doing her thing in the middle of a dangerous haunted forest, lots of suspense and action…just a good fun read.  3 out of 5.

“A Queen in Exile” by Sharon Kay Penman

Yet another well written but horribly uninteresting bit of historical fiction, this time about a Sicilian queen married to a German King and their struggle to gain the Sicilian throne.  For whatever reason I just have not enjoyed these stories.  2 out of 5.

“The Girl in the Mirror” by Lev Grossman

Here we have a story about a wizardry school, the various cliques, pranks being plotted and things going wrong…and much like the early Harry Potter s I just couldn’t get into it.  To be honest I read the whole thing and only remember that there was a character called Wharton and one called Coldwater, neither being the young girl protagonist.  2 out of 5.

“Second Arabesque, Very Slowly” by Nancy Kress

Post apocalyptic society? Check.  Survivors organized into scavenging tribes? Check.  Dancing? Unfortunately, check.  What started as a solid story about survival in a wasteland gets hung up on the desire of a few of the characters desiring to learn how to dance much to the violent disapproval of their Chief.  Potential definitely wasted.  3 out of 5.

“City Lazarus” by Diana Rowland

Finally the sort of story I was looking for.  A great crime story with shady cops, dirty businessman and murder with a beautiful and intelligent woman at the center of it all.  I’d say more but it’d spoil it.  4 out of 5.

“Virgins” by Diana Gabaldon

A prequel of sorts to the Outlander series, this time the anthology offers up a bit of historical fiction set in 1740 France about a pair of Scottish mercenaries and a bit of intrigue they manage to get wrapped up in involving arranged marriages with an extremely cunning young Jewish woman.  3 out of 5.

“Hell Hath No Fury” by Sherrilyn Kenyon

A straightforward ghost story about ghost hunters and vengeful spirits and while it isn’t the best written story in the anthology it definitely was entertaining and after the handful of disappointing stories before it I was thrilled to simply be entertained.  4 out of 5.

“Pronouncing Doom” by S.M. Stirling

I have a love/hate relationship with Stirling’s Dies the Fire series: I love the setting and world he has built, a world where the laws of physics and technology have failed and hate reading about one of the main characters and her “Clan”.  As my luck would have it this short story, set a year into “the change”, stars that very character I find so annoying.  Thankfully this story mostly stays out of the obnoxious territory the character so often gets into and simply deals with a trial and sentencing of a brutal crime amongst her people.  I enjoyed this one story more than I have any single chapter involving “Clan Mackenzie” in the novels this story was born from.  4 out of 5.

“Name the Beast” by Samuel Sykes

A tale about two different families, from two different races and the violence between them all.  This was one of those rare stories that I neither enjoyed nor hated.  I found myself just reading word after word just so that I could put it behind me but with a complete lack of contempt for the story before me.  3 out of 5.

“Caretakers” by Pat Cadigan

“Caretakers” is about two siblings and their concerns that there may be wrong doing occurring in the facility caring for their mother.  It didn’t quite end the way I would have expected or for that matter would have been satisfied with but I can’t say more without spoiling it.  In short it was well written but not satisfactory.  3 out of 5.

“Lies My Mother Told Me” by Caroline Spector

Female superheroes with crazy powers, a villain that can steal powers, zombies, mutants and alien viruses!  All things that were starting to add up to a great story….and then (sorry but its going to get spoiler heavy here) an origin story pops up with graphic rape of a young girl…apart from the disgusting imagery of a child being molested by her stepfather the story was on track to be one of my favorites.  Unfortunately the way in which one of the more powerful characters was turned into a superhuman was written, with the…and I am disgusted by the thought of it as I write about it…depiction of her rape and description of the smell and pain ruined it for me.  1 out of 5 (and not a zero simply because it was a good story prior to that).

“The Princess and the Queen” by George R.R. Martin

Without a doubt the “star” of this collection, a prequel novella to the Song of Ice and Fire set during the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons.  When the Targaryen king dies, first born daughter Rhaenyra claims the Iron Throne as hers by right of birth while her half-brother Aegon also claims it by right of being the firstborn son.  The various Lords of Westoros are split and the war follows.  Unlike the novels in the series, this story is written as a historical account.  This story was good to sate my desire for new Song of Ice and Fire material but it did also make me long just that much harder for the Winds of Winter….here’s hoping Martin gets it out soon! 5 out of 5

-S.Y.

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