This continues to be the year of anthologies. I've always intended to read the Lace and Blade anthologies edited by Deborah J. Ross. They seemed to be the sort of fantasy that I liked. Yet I never got to them. So many books and too little time. More recently, I obtained an ARC of the fourth volume in the series for free from the publisher via Net Galley.
I had chosen a novel to read this Thanksgiving because I was certain I'd be thankful for it, but it turned out to be darker than I expected. Then my eyes fell on Lace and Blade 4 on my digital galley priority list. It was the right time to read it. I would be thankful for some good fantasy.
I started the anthology on Thanksgiving, but it took me several days to read Lace and Blade 4 because I read the anthology in its entirety. I won't say that I liked every story. That happens with anthologies very rarely. In fact, I can only recall one anthology whose stories I thought were uniformly wonderful, and it was a Shakespearean mystery anthology called Much Ado About Murder edited by Anne Perry. This is a very specialized theme anthology and that theme won't be as fascinating to all readers as it was to me. Usually editors want to appeal to a variety of readers who will have different tastes.
Despite the above disclaimer, I have good news about Lace and Blade 4. There were two stories that I would rate as excellent which is more than usual in an anthology. (See my review of Brave New Girls #2, another anthology that I found to be well above average here.)
"The Butcher's Boy and the Piri Folk" by Pat McEwen is the first of these excellent stories. It contains a variety of fae, but it's really about a 17th century historical personage who was previously unknown to me. Jeffrey Hudson was a dwarf, but he also fought in the English Civil War with the rank of Captain. You can find an account of his far from ordinary life here. McEwen's story takes place after his expulsion from court and provides an alternate fantastical explanation for a significant change that happened to him. I'm not so fond of the fae, but I love reading about underdogs.
I was also impressed by "The Heart's Coda" by Carol Berg. This highly original story deals with a bard who heals traumatized dragons by singing to them. I admit to being very tired of the standard portrayals of dragons in fantasy. Authors normally give us dragons who are monsters, or they are gentle and totally domesticated. In Berg's story they are neither. I also love stories that show the power of music. So "The Heart's Coda" is very special indeed.
There was one other story that I found noteworthy. "A Sword For Liberty" by Diana Paxson is a compelling tale about a Patriot in the American Revolution who is also a visionary. The story realistically portrays how angst ridden support for the revolution could be in some circumstances.
If this is the level of quality that I can expect from Lace and Blade, I will definitely need to pick up the earlier volumes.