Review: The Book of Swords (edited) by Gardner Dozois - 8/10*
Fantasy is pervaded by legendary weapons, by weapons of awesome power and history: the kind that belonged to kings, queens and heroes. However, fantasy is also full of ordinary swords, swords that belonged to the common man defending his family, ceremonial swords that have caught the eye of infamous thiefs and swords that are worn and dull having spent years in service to a solider in numerous battles.
What the writers here do is take the idea of the sword and play with it, showing its significance in a rich variety of situations. I was glad not all the writers chose to depict incredible blades with a razor sharp edge, and chose to explore how significant a sword can be in a number of situations to a number of different people. Had they not done so this collection would have been a somewhat repetitive and unimaginative bunch of stories. That being said though, not all the stories used the sword as well as others. Some were barely mentioned and for others it was the absolute essence of the story.
For example, George R.R Martin’s The Sons of the Dragon wasn’t really about a sword, but about two Targaryen princes. The story is an excellent piece of writing; I cannot fault it, though it shows the looseness of the model the writers followed. I implore readers to look beyond this and enjoy the stories for what they are. I enjoyed them all and, naturally, Martin’s was my favourite. I loved hearing about Maegor the cruel, how he got his name and how absolutely ruthless he was towards his own family. It’s no wonder the Targaryen dynasty suffered so much over the years.
Buffs of Westeros lore will know how he met his end; it is referenced a few times in A Game of Thrones so I’ve not bothered with a spoiler warning. But as ever with Martin’s world nothing is quite simple. His death appears straight forward, he was found with his wrists slit having died from exsanguination after cutting himself on the throne. Though this seems exceedingly suspicious; the man was a renowned warrior and tactician, he would not have gone down so easily and stupidly. Someone murdered him, no doubt, because of his tyrannical ways. And he was far to pig-headed and self-indulgent to be prone to suicide. I wonder who did it.
Whilst George R.R Martin stole the show and sold the book to me, as he did with Rogues and Dangerous Women, there are many other good stories in here. I particularly enjoyed Scott Lynch’s entry about a thief along with Mathew Hughs’ story. The Robin Hobb story was also rather excellent; it felt incredibly grimdark for her and centred on the horrors of the Red Ship Wars with a young FitzChivalry attempting to save a bunch of villagers who would not heed his warnings about the oncoming wave of forged ones.
Overall, this is a really strong collection from a strong group of writers. I would recommend it to all fantasy fans. It’s certainly good to get a taste of other writers across the field. For fans of A Song of Ice and Fire I think the book is worth the purchase for George R.R Martin’s story alone.