Book Review: Art of War anthology, edited by Petros Triantafyllou (published by Booknest.EU)
This fantasy short story anthology features forty (yes, FORTY!) stories from an incredible selection of self-published and traditionally published authors. All proceeds from the sale of the book are being donated to the charity Doctors Without Borders, which makes this anthology all the more special.
I could only read one or two stories at a time as I like to immerse myself in a world and switching rapidly between characters and settings is a tad disorientating! The theme for the anthology is ‘War’, and as with every story, some really clicked with me and others were not my cup of tea.
Below are short reviews on my top five.
1. This War of Ours by Timandra Whitecastle
This was my favourite story of the anthology. The ending was so emotionally powerful that my heart hurt after finishing it. It tells the story of a small family who is on the move in a forest during a time of war. It’s told from the point of view of Sparrow, a little girl. She is with her mother, her baby brother who is strapped to her mother’s back and her Uncle Barras.
As they travel, Sparrow recounts how they got to be there. The loss of her home, her father, their hiding in secret with Barras and other refugees in a basement. She remembers the loss of her tail and the day they had to leave the basement, the dangers that they faced in the dense forest.
It’s not clear what kind of creatures Sparrow and her family are. At one point her mother flaps her wings, there’s feathers and talons and Sparrow once had a tail. But Barras has a leg missing, wears trousers, and holds a revolver and Sparrow talks about her arm. They have magic and special abilities and Mother is called ‘Nightwitch’ and is being hunted by the enemy, Wildcat soldiers, who have tanks and anti-aircraft guns. This ambiguity only added to the story for me.
“Where do you go when there’s nowhere safe left?” Sparrow asks. And then something harrowing happens. The story starts with a list of what Sparrow has lost, and ends with a list, with new items added. SOB.
2. Flesh and Coin – Anna Stephens
Yup, I’m in love with the feisty Syl Stoneheart. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Anna Stephens’ story Just a Little Murder in Grimdark Magazine #15 with the same character before I read this one. Flesh and Coin comes first and tells of Syl Stoneheart’s ambush gone wrong. Syl is the leader of a small company, and there are two other companies with her, plus a fourth company that is guarding the goods, which are about to get robbed.
However, the companies are all double and triple crossing one another. And the company that Syl is attacking, happens to be led by someone she knows very well and doesn’t particularly like much. There’s backstabbing, swiftly changing allegiances, plenty of humour and battles to the bitter end.
The story Just a Little Murder picks up soon after the end of this one and both are seriously great reads!
3. The Breaking of the Sky – Ed McDonald
This story is set in the same world as the excellent novel Blackwing (read my review here) and tells of a group of three soldiers bringing something mysterious, dark and dangerous in a box to a Blackwing captain in a border town on the edge of the war zone.
The first-person narrative is told from a young soldier, who is not sure why he was brought along apart from being a “pretty face”. His descriptions of his fellow travelling companions, the frontier town that is as “tense as a cat”, the box’s contents that seem to be inflicting humans and animals alike with some kind of illness and the young, resolute and sad Blackwing Captain Narada, are vivid, atmospheric and pull you immediately into the story.
The ending is excellent, as the enemy attacks, the townspeople flee and the Captain does what she has to do, aided by the young solider.
4. The Art of War – Brian Staveley
I loved this one – so clever. It’s about a 47-year-old warrior / gladiator, General Dakash, who has been duelling since he was sixteen. He’s killed many opponents on the battlefield and in the arena and is revered by the emperor. The imperial gallery has many paintings and sculptures of Dakash, but he’s never stepped foot in the building to see them.
There’s an odd thing about Dakash – he cannot remember any of his fights. Not one. Zero memories. He spends his leisure time growing grapes and making wine in the hills. When he learns he will be a father for the first time, he must decide if he wants to be in contact with the baby. Fearful of what his ‘other’ violent self might do around a child, he decides to visit the gallery, in the hopes that the art depicting his battles might spark a memory and help him decide.
5. The Fall of Tereen – Anna Smith Spark
This was the most unique story in terms of language use. It is almost like a long poem, with word repetition and a quick-paced rhythm with short sentences and one-word paragraphs. The way it is presented makes you feel as if you are there in the thick of the action – it’s chaotic, fast and desperate.
It tells of the fall of a city from the perspective of the would-be Queen, Lendalla. There’s mage fire, earth shaking explosions, distressing scenes where the enemy soldiers climb ladders up and over the walls like insects and the defenders attempt to hold them off.
They retreat as the walls are breeched and Lendalla fights and remembers the moments leading up to the battle, and what she could have done differently to have prevented this attack, to have saved her people, and the city.
Three other notable stories that I really enjoyed were Dear Menelaus by Laura M. Hughes (Helen of Troy / Helen of Sparta’s first person take on war), Shadows in the Mist by Sue Tingey (spooky!) and The Fox and the Bowman by Sebastien de Castell (interesting concept with the passing of time).
This is a fantastic anthology for fantasy fans who love shorter tales, as well as those who want to ‘test’ out a quick story by an unknown author before investing in the longer works. It’s also for a great cause, so what’s not to love!
The full listing of contributors is on Goodreads.
My rating: 5/5
Goodreads | Publisher website
* I received a free review copy from one of the participating authors in exchange for an honest review.
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