Review of The Shield-Maiden by Michael Tinker Pearce and Linda Pearce

February 13, 2015 by · 1 Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Shield-MaidenThe Shield-Maiden (The Foreworld Saga: A Foreworld SideQuest #4)
By Michael Tinker Pearce and Linda Pearce; Narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 4 January 2013

Themes: / Mongoliad / Vikings / fantasy / warriors /

Publisher summary:

Sigrid is a Shield-Maiden who yearns to break free of the restrictions of her father’s home and join the Sworn Men in an actual raiding expedition. When a small diplomatic party that includes members of the Shield-Brethren lands at her family’s holding on Göttland, the party’s second in command, Halldor, sees in Sigrid a vision of beauty and power that might challenge – and even destroy – many men.

And when bloody chaos ensues at a nearby Viking fishing village, Sigrid proves she has more than mere talent: she has Vor – the fate sight – an astonishing focus in fighting that sets her apart from nearly all who have ever lived and puts her in the rare company of the finest Shield-Brethren.

But as Sigrid and her family confront her otherworldly ability, will it prove to be a gift to be celebrated, or an affliction to be cured?

Review:

Note: This book is available individually (as I listened to it) or as a part of the book SideQuest Adventures No. 1, which includes The Lion in Chains, The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, and this story.

As with The Lion in Chains and The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, this story is a “sidequest” in the Foreworld Saga, basically a side story to the main-line books intended to give readers more information on certain characters. As with The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, this story seemed to be farther removed from the main crusades in The Mongoliad world, taking place in the north sort of near where the Shield Brethren have their main training facility, though one of the characters, Halldor, may have been a minor character in the main series (his name was familiar, at least).

This short story explores the mysterious “Vor,” the somewhat mystical “force” that overtakes many of the Shield Brethren when they fight. In this story, we see that this force, which is often mentioned in reference to the visions that some of them have (notably, Percival), can also afflict female warriors, and that it is also attributed to feats of amazing bravery and strength, that it is what enables the Shield Brethren to be victorious even against crazy odds. The main character in this story is a young woman, Sigrid, the daughter of the land owner where the story occurs. She has trained as a Shield Maiden, though still lives on her father’s lands, hasn’t been allowed (by her father) to join any of the local skirmishes, even though she’s taken a vow to be a Shield Maiden. Things change, however, when her people find themselves under attack by some Danes, where Sigrid’s ability in battle helps win the day–plays a key role in the victory, in fact. Suddenly, her family, her people, and Sigrid herself, must come to terms with what she is and what she can do. This story was refreshing in that it was primarily about a female warrior, though some of the reactions from the other characters were all too familiar.

Narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal, it was fitting to have a female voice narrate the story of the female warrior. Kowal’s narration was quite good, far superior to the narrator in Siege Perilous (the only other Mongoliad-world story I’ve listened to not narrated by Luke Daniels). That said, sometimes the pronunciation was odd, for places or things mentioned in this book and in others. For example, the island where the Shield Brethren do their initiation was pronounced by Kowal as “Tear’s Hammer” where Daniels pronounced it “Tear-shamar). This sometimes made it confusing to keep the entire world in my head as I listened, but did not detract from the overall story.

All in all, it was a nice diversion for a Saturday afternoon. Read more

Review of The Warriors, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

September 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Audiobook - Warriors edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner DozoisWarriors
Edited by George R. R. Martin and Garner Dozois
Read by Patrick Lawlor and Christina Traister
26 CDs – 31 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2011
Themes: / Fantasy / Historical / Mainstream / Warriors /

A review by Brian Murphy.

“People have been telling stories about warriors for as long as they have been telling stories. Since Homer first sang the wrath of Achilles and the ancient Sumerians set down their tales of Gilgamesh, warriors, soldiers, and fighters have fascinated us; they are a part of every culture, every literary tradition, every genre.”
–George R.R. Martin, Warriors

There are two ways to approach the George R.R. Martin-Gardner Dozois edited anthology Warriors, one which is guaranteed to induce disappointment. If you expect a collection of swords and sorcery stories or medieval-based historical fiction, the clatter of steel on shield and heroic feats of arms, you will be disappointed. But if you keep an open mind and read it for what it is — a group of disparate genre stories all loosely connected by a warrior theme — you’ll enjoy it, and maybe more.

To be fair, the packaging on the label (a sword blade and an old gothic style script) is slightly misleading, and I admit that I was initially disappointed by the collection, my expectations placed elsewhere. But that feeling faded quickly, and by the end I was very pleased with Warriors.

In Warriors you’ll find horror, a western, and a mystery, as well as historical fiction, fantasy, and science fiction, from all ages of history including ancient Rome, the Viking Age, the medieval era, the world wars, the present, and the future. It’s hard to call this entirely a collection of genre fiction: How does one classify “The Girls from Avenger” by Carrie Vaughn, a moving story about a pilot from an all-female unit in WWII who investigates a mysterious death of a friend during a training accident? Historical fiction? Mainstream (is that a genre)? The same classification problem could be said of many other stories in here, like Peter Beagle’s “Dirae,” which follows the soul of a hospitalized woman that transcends its mortal coil by leaving her body and materializing as a kick-ass vigilante, allowing her to fight battles for the disadvantaged and the bullied.

But that’s really the entire point of Warriors. In the introduction, Martin states he was inspired to commission the anthology based on his experiences combing through the old drugstore wire spinner racks of his youth, in which you could science fiction sandwiched alongside westerns, or a bodice-ripping romance next to an Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter sword-and-planet novel.

There is nothing in Warriors that’s badly written, and in fact everything is well-done. It’s an antidote to those who think genre writing is shallow and formulaic; this collection is anything but. It’s also worth noting that every story in here is new, commissioned for the volume, so there’s no danger in reading something you’ve encountered before.

All that said, I have yet to encounter the anthology in which I liked every story. Unfortunately one of the weaker entries kicks off the volume. Even as a fan of Vikings, “The King of Norway” by Cecelia Holland did nothing for me. It features a bloody ship-to-ship engagement with no real investment in the characters involved, and the flow of battle is hard to follow, to boot. Warriors contains a couple other stories that I didn’t much care for: “The Custom of the Army” by Diana Gabaldon was too involved and seemed a thinly-veiled attempt to get readers interested in her Lord John novels. I don’t like when authors do this. “Defenders of the Frontier” was ambitious and well-done but lacked a decisive punch. War is often described as endless stretches of tedium followed by brief moments of terror. “Defenders’ explores this aspect of war, but unfortunately my overwhelming feeling upon finishing it was the same, sans terror.

Other stories are partial successes. “Out of the Dark” was shaping up as one of the most engaging and well-executed stories in the collection, but the ending (which was telegraphed enough so that it didn’t take me wholly by surprise) is too jarring, and renders the hard-fought sacrifices void. But even so I’d recommend it. I’m not so sure I could say the same for “Seven Years from Home” by Naomi Novik, which was well-done but a little to close to Avatar for me to completely enjoy.

The rest of Warriors was almost uniformly good, and some of the stories are absolute gems.

“The Pit” by James Rollins is written from the point of view of a domesticated dog stolen by a ruthless trainer of pit fighters, and it works. It’s a great little story that tugs at the heartstrings.

“The Eagle and the Rabbit” by Steven Saylor is another fine tale. The characterization carries the story as everyone from the sympathetic protagonist to the chief bad guy—a cruel Roman slave-driver—is memorably portrayed.

The best stories in my opinion were Joe Lansdale’s “Soldierin,” “My Name is Legion” by David Morrell, “The Scroll” by David Ball, and “The Mystery Knight” by George R.R. Martin. The only writer of this foursome with whom I had no previous acquaintance was Ball, and after reading “The Scroll” I’d certainly be interested in picking up more of his stuff. It’s about a French military engineer taken captive by the sultan of Morocco and forced to oversee the construction of a mighty city. The sultan is an absolute bastard who cruelly toys with the fates of his captives (the lucky are killed outright). At the outset of the story the sultan writes down the engineer’s fortune on a scroll, and every twist and turn in the tale seems fated by what has already been written. The execution is superb.

Morrell and Lansdale are similar writers: Both are highly competent, professional storytellers with the ability to spin compelling yarns with a very high batting average. They don’t disappoint here. “My Name is Legion” features a soldier who seeks to repent for his troubled past by entering the crucible known as the French Foreign Legion. It’s a great little story about discipline and honor and the strange fortunes of war. Lansdale is one of the best tale spinners of this or any era, as far as I’m concerned. His stuff is always gripping and visceral but suffused with humor, which certainly describes “Soldierin,” a story about an all-black unit of buffalo soldiers and a savage encounter with Apaches in the old west.

Warriors saves the best for last with “The Mystery Knight.” Martin’s story is set in his A Song of Ice and Fire world of Westeros, which is ostensibly fantasy but is deeply medieval. Heraldry, jousting, dark ages cuisine, and the knight-squire relationship are examined here in detail. The story includes a few too many characters to keep them all straight, particularly in an audio format (this is my one criticism of audio—I find it tedious to bookmark and/or flip back and forth, which is a requirement when reading a typical byzantine Martin story). But the quality of the writing is superb and stands out even in this collection of heavyweights.

Current or former Martin readers who are turned off by A) The sheer length of A Song of Ice and Fire, or B) Its unrelenting brutality (I’ve had issues with both, though I do plan to finish the series) should nevertheless enjoy “The Mystery Knight.” My first thought upon finishing it was that I wish that A Song of Ice and Fire was more like this: A little more light-hearted, with a sharper, tighter focus on the characters I care about. The hedge knight Dunk and his squire Egg are a memorable pair, and “The Mystery Knight” whet my appetite for the two previously published Dunk and Egg stories.

One final note on the audio version: Listening to Warriors was a freaking epic. It’s 26 discs and checks in at 31 hours, 13 minutes. It almost wore me down a few times. Warriors does feature two narrators — Patrick Lawlor, who narrates the stories with male protagonists, and Christina Traister, who reads those featuring women. This does help to break things up. It took a while for Lawlor to grow on me, as I found his voice much more suited to the lightheartedness of “The Mystery Knight” than some of the other, harder-edged stories. Traister was very good, particularly in her reading of “The Girls from Avenger” and the hard-edged horror/thriller “Clean Slate.”

Posted by Brian Murphy