Normally in my reviews I’ll take a step back, and try to remove all bias. They’re formulaic: a description, the good, the bad, something else good, a general summary, and the release date of the novel, or the sequel, if there is one. That’s not something I did here. Be warned, this is a long one.
Unfettered is a fantasy anthology, containing stories from many of the biggest names in fantasy out there right now. It’s a wonderful amalgamation of talent, put together by and for the editor, Shawn Speakman. The anthology was put together in order to help Speakman’s medical debt after a fight with cancer back in 2011. The stories in this anthology are exactly what the title says — unfettered. They’re all unique; some take place in familiar worlds, while others are a step away into a different fancy of the authors.
I’ve met a bunch of the authors in the anthology, and for many of those I haven’t yet had a chance to meet, I’ve read their books, talked to them online, or heard things about them… and it’s one thing to know them and to think of them as being good people, but it’s another entirely, to realize just how caring, and how close the SF/Fantasy community is. If anything can show it, it’s this anthology — the 20 or so authors coming together to support one of their own in a time of need. It really is amazing, and it made this anthology all that much better. To me, it kind of served as an affirmation of the good that is out there.
I wasn’t entirely sure how to write this review — so, I’ve decided I will start at the beginning, and just have a few sentences for each of the stories. For some of them, I could write full reviews on, but I think it will be best this way.
Anyways, without further ado, the stories:
Imaginary Friends by Terry Brooks:
This is an older story by Brooks, first published back in 1990, and served as a prototype of sorts for his Word and the Void series. It was an interesting read, and very different for me, as I’d only read his Shannara books previously. It’s an enjoyable read of self-discovery and overcoming challenges.
How Old Holly Came to Be by Patrick Rothfuss:
First off, don’t go into this story expecting a story from the Kingkiller Chronicles world; it isn’t. I’m not entirely sure on my feelings about this story, it’s very different and interesting. It’s written in a very rhythmic and almost simplistic way… I found it to be poetic, and rather sad.
The Old Scale Game by Tad Williams
This story was a bit of a fun twist on the old “Knight vs Dragon” story. In this one, the knight and the dragon work together to con the kingdom. I found it to be a cute read, well written and very enjoyable.
Game of Chance by Carrie Vaughn
This was the first story of Vaughn’s that I’ve read, and I think it to be a good introduction to her writing. Her story contained a dynamic world, backstory, and characters — it felt to be that this was part of a novel, not just a short story.
The Martyr of the Roses by Jacqueline Carey
This one was another first for me, having never read her Kushiel series or anything else by her before. However, The Martyr of the Roses serves as a precursor to the Kushiel series, and serves as an interesting introduction to the world, though I did find myself feeling a bit lost at times.
Mudboy by Peter V. Brett
Brett’s story is probably amongst the top three stories I was looking forward to reading most in this anthology. Set in the Demon Cycle world, it’s the story of what would have been one of the main characters in the series. It was similar to that of Arlen, Rojer, and a few of the other characters in that it’s an encounter with the corelings. It was quite good, well written; and helps as a tie-over while waiting for book 4. (Plus, it included bacon!)
The Sound of Broken Absolutes by Peter Orullian
Instead of being a short story, this one was more of a novelette, or a novella. Set in the same universe as The Vault of Heaven, it had an interesting magic system based on music. There’s a lot of raw emotion in this story; frustration, anger, regret, grief and mourning. This story is written in response to the question: What would you write if you thought your friend was going to die?
The Coach With Big Teeth by R.A. Salvatore
I expected something very different when I saw that Salvatore had a story in the anthology, after all, I’ve read almost all of the Drizzt Do’urden novels, and yet, this was very different. This story was probably the hardest for me to get through, as it was a baseball story, following a young timid baseball player.
Keeper of Memory by Todd Lockwood
Lockwood’s story is another that I was really looking forward to. I grew up recognizing his art; seeing it on many of my favourite novels, and admiring his talent. So when I heard that he was going to step into writing, I had an immense curiosity as to if he could write as well as he could draw, and well.. I really enjoyed this story, it was interesting and well-written. I think Lockwood is a promising writer, and I look forward to reading more of his writing.
Heaven in a Wild Flower by Blake Charlton
I was really uncertain about this story at first, quite frankly I found it odd, and I wasn’t sure if that was in a good way or not. However, after a few short pages I found myself loving it. It has an interesting concept; the story was beautiful, and so very sad.
Dogs by Daniel Abraham
I was kind of at odds with this story; as with Salvatore’s story, it wasn’t really fantasy. However, after rereading it, I find that it was a good read, it’s a horror story more than anything, and quite well-written.
The Chapel Perilous by Kevin Hearne
This story was a retelling of The Holy Grail story, only, it was very different. The changes to the story, featuring Attricus O’Sullivan (from The Iron Druid Chronicles) as Gawain, and as the finder of the Grail. It was certainly interesting, and not a bad read at all.
Select Mode by Mark Lawrence
This is a Jorg story from The Broken Empire novels, I found it to be a good read, and it certainly doesn’t require you to have read the series in order to understand what’s going on. Though, it does serve as a good introduction to Lawrence’s writing, and the series in general.
All The Girls Love Michael Stein by David Anthony Durham
I don’t really have any words for this one other than “cute”. I heard Durham read this story back in November at the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto. It follows Michael Stein, the ghost of a dead cat who won’t let death get in the way of him caring for the girl he loves, and was his companion in life.
Strange Rain by Jennifer Bosworth
This is the origin story for Iris and Ivan from Bosworth’s Struck. It can be read without reading the novel. The story was interesting, though I think it may be easier to appreciate the story already knowing the characters.
Nocturne by Robert V.S. Redick
Redick’s story is another that took me a little while to get into before I enjoyed; however, after reading a bit of it I found it to be an engaging story. I don’t know if I’d say that it’s a great introduction to his writing, though, that could just be me.
Unbowed by Eldon Thompson
I haven’t read the Thompson’s Legend of Asahiel series yet, but this story serves as an introduction to Kylac Kronus. The series, and Thompson’s writing seem to be interesting and quite good, after reading the story I find myself looking forward to reading the series.
In Favour With Their Stars by Naomi Novik
Set in the Temeraire-universe, fans of Novik’s novels, and readers who haven’t yet picked them up will enjoy this story. I believe it serves as an intriguing introduction to her world, and writing. I’ve only read the first novel so far, but this story reminded me of how much I do enjoy her writing.
River of Souls by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
… Can I skip this one, please…? This story was extremely bittersweet. As a longtime Wheel of Time fan, I had reconciled that A Memory of Light would be it, then shortly after, I heard about this short story. So, there’s a lot of the same feelings, the knowledge that after so many years: this is it. River of Souls is a deleted scene from AMOL, featuring Bao and his time in Shara. Though, readers who haven’t read the series or AMOL should be wary of some minor spoilers.
The Jester by Michael J. Sullivan
The Jester is a standalone story that takes place after The Rose and the Thorn and before Theft of Swords; it features an adventure that Royce and Hadrian go on. This was quite possibly one of my favourite stories in the anthology, I found it to be a quite enjoyable read, and simply put, I love his writing.
The Duel by Lev Grossman
Set in the same world of his Magicians trilogy, fans of his writing and the series should enjoy this story. This was my first time reading a story by Grossman, and while he’s undoubtedly a talented writer, I couldn’t quite get into his story. Though, I intend on rereading it.
Walker and the Shade of Allanon by Terry Brooks
The penultimate story in this anthology, it’s probably more along the lines of what I went into his first story expecting: a Shannara story. This story is exactly what the title says it is — a discussion between Walker Boh and the shade of Allanon. I enjoyed reading the interactions between the two. This story is a short deleted scene from one of the Shannara novels. Though, readers who have no yet read the Shannara series may find themselves lost. I’m not entirely sure.
The Unfettered Knight by Shawn Speakman
Yet another bittersweet moment, though, that was mainly due to it being the final story in the anthology. This story is set in Speakman’s The Dark Thorn world, though, many years before the events of the novel. At first I was a bit put-off, as in the introduction he mentioned that it contains both vampires and urban fantasy — two things I tend to avoid, yet, I’m glad that I stuck through it, as it definitely was an enjoyable read and quite interesting.
Well, that’s my two-pence on each of the stories. I tried to keep it brief for each of them, not wanting to give anything away, while still sharing a bit of my opinion on each — I hope I succeeded in doing so.
I implore you to go out and get a copy of the anthology and support Shawn Speakman. He’s a deserving guy, and can really use the help. Plus, it IS filled with fantastic stories from some of the masters of fantasy, you’ll get a bunch of great reads, and snippets from authors you might not yet be familiar with.
E-copies are available on Amazon, or if you’d like to get a physical copy, head over to Grim Oak Press to order a copy — there’s a limited number of them, so get it while you can.