The dangerous women who inhabit the pages of this huge cross-genre anthology range in temperament from slightly irritable to out and out bloodthirsty. With a few stops en route through feisty and frightening. As one might expect from the masterly editorial pairing of Dozois and Martin, this cross-genre anthology, Dangerous Women (Tor) is, with few exceptions, magnificent.
Given the size of the anthology, I won’t try to review each and every story. Instead I’ll single out a few and make some final comments about the collection overall.
Fantasy, crime, science fiction and historical fiction alternate, with fines stories by 21 great writers.
This cornucopia of goodness kicks off with an action-packed fantasy wild west tale, Some Desperado by Joe Abercrombie. In it, a desperate woman is chased by bounty hunters into a deserted town. While it’s a master class in action writing, full of pace and excitement, it feels more like a scene from a longer work than a standalone story. It’s credited as a story from Abercrombie’s First Law series, which may explain why it felt less than satisfying as a standalone tale.
Megan Abbott, on the other hand, knocked my socks off with a deeply disturbing crime story called My Heart is Either Broken, in which a husband suspects his wife of their daughter’s murder. The story felt realistic and so bone-chilling it stayed with me long after I’d read it.
A superb historical tale by Cecelia Holland, Nora’s Song, features princess Eleanor and her observations on the house of King Henry II. The writing is exceptional, the setting and the characters truly vivid and leap off the page.
Two of the science fiction stories are dystopian in nature. The Hands That are Not There, by Melinda Snodgrass, involves a conspiracy theory about aliens genetically altering humans; while Pronouncing Doom by S.M. Stirling takes the iconic “hanging judge” into a future in which machines and electricity have stopped and America has devolved into a more primitive state. Both stories are excellent, with the Stirling story having the slight edge for me.
I must give special mention to Jim Butcher’s story, Bombshells, about a post-Harry Dresden wizard’s apprentice trying to save a vampire. Having read just the first of the Dresden books, and loved it, this story fits right in and is full of the snappy writing, wit and two-fisted (or should that be two-wanded) battles we’ve come to expect from the Butcher.
Within these pages you’ll find stories about female World War II fighter pilots (Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughan); Virgins, an 18th century adventure featuring bawdy Scots mercenaries; a superhero story from the Wild Cards series (Lies my Mother Told Me by Caroline Spector, who writes brilliant superheroes and deals wonderfully with some powerfully emotional material); and, amongst other things, a native American ghost story by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Hell Hath No Fury. Of the latter, if you enjoy the real life TV series, Ghost Hunters, you’ll enjoy the ghost hunt in this tale – and, even although everything happens way too fast, and I didn’t feel there was enough build up to make the ghosts feel particularly creepy, the story improves greatly as it progresses.
Rather than listing the contents, I strongly urge you to seek out Dangerous Women and grab a copy for yourself. But, for completists, the tales I haven’t here singled out are by Megan Lindholm, Lawrence Block, Brandon Sanderson, Sharon Kay Penman, Lev Grossman, Nancy Kress, Diana Rowland, Sam Sykes, and Pat Cadigan.
Yes, there are two I haven’t mentioned so far, simply because I wanted to say a little more about them. First, Wrestling Jesus is a crackling, hard-boiled and magical tale by one of the masters of genre short stories, Joe R. Landsdale. Two wrestlers are so mesmerised by a woman and continually wrestle for her affections, even after retirement – winner takes all. But in the case of this particular dangerous woman, would you really want her?
Rounding out Dangerous Women is a long tale from George R.R.Martin, which takes places 200 years before the A Song of Ice and Fire series (filmed as Game of Thrones). The Princess and the Queen, or The Blacks and the Greens, features a war between the Targaryen Princess Rhaenyra and herstepmother, Queen Alicent. Martin uses the device of his being the transcriber for the original recorder of the story. Hence it’s written in a pseudo historical-factual style, recounting biblical lists of family names, places and events, while here and there zooming in on particularly exciting events. At first I found the approach rather dry, and the wealth of characters confusing, but sticking with it I found the tale sucked me in deeper and deeper and refused to let me go. The airborne dragon battles, dramatic conflict on sea and on land, conspiracies, subterfuge and world-shattering events, make for a compelling read and well worth the time and special attention the story demands of the reader.
While admittedly I didn’t love every story, hand on heart I can say the whole collection is never short of excellent, in some cases brilliant, and, at the very minimum, one that deserves a place of honour on your bookshelf, or in your e-reader library.
John Dodds is the author of The Kendrick Chronicles crime novels (Bone Machines and Kali’s Kiss ) and is currently completing the third novel in the series, Babylon Slide. Under a pseudonym, JT Macleod, has written a collection of historical/paranormal/erotic/romance stories called Warriors and Wenches, as well as the first novel in YA steampunk superhero series which he is shopping around agents. You can hear some of his short stories on podcasts such as Tales to Terrify, Starship Sofa and others. John also blogs for Amazing Stories Magazine.