In February 2018, Petros Triantafyllou of Booknest.eu is going to drop one of the coolest anthologies of the year, Art of War–and its message and content is going to blow your socks off.
Art of War features 40 authors, two artists, a designer, and an editor, all who donated their time and expertise to make this book happen–all so Petros could take the proceeds and donate them all to Doctors Without Borders. Not the worst reason you’ve ever had to put down a few bob and read some short stories, right?
In this review, I’ve broken it down into something short for those of you after a quick drop in to GdM only, and a longer version for those wanting to pull up a chair with a pint and get to know more about each story.
Either way, I assure you this anthology is going to be one for your bookshelf, with gorgeous artwork and design by John Anthony Di Giovanni (cover art), Jason Deem (interior art), and Shawn King (design).
The short of it
Art of War is a fun anthology to read–you’re not going to be disappointed. There are 40 short stories to rip in to, all written to the theme of war being some form of art or another. There are plenty of messages for you to dig your teeth into from plenty of perspectives.
One of the key things I like to remember when reviewing an anthology is that I’m not going to connect with every author. It’s like meeting up with 40 randoms at a pub–there are going to be some you love, and some you just wish would leave as soon as humanly possible. Art of War is no different.
Petros has done a magnificent job of putting together 40 amazing voices in this anthology, and for me, the greater majority of them hit the theme and hit the mark for me. Some of the highlights include stories by Timandra Whitecastle, Rob J. Hayes, Thomas R. Gaskin, Brian Staveley, Nicholas Eames, Anne Nichols, Michael R. Fletcher, Dyrk Ashton, Miles Cameron, Anna Stephens, and Mark Lawrence.
There are some stories I just did not connect with. Maybe they needed to be culled, or maybe it’s just me, who am I to say. However, when I look at this as an overall project, Petros has put together an excellent product with plenty to love for most readers.
I’m giving this anthology a 4/5: for it’s average story score across 40 pieces of short fiction, for the reason for its existence, and for the value Petros created through his vision for this product.
The long of it
I’ve put together a few lines on each and every story–a quick pitch on each story and then a quick assessment followed by a score. There are some stories that blew my socks off, and some that just weren’t for me. The average score for the stories was 3.36/5, but the theme and the reason for the anthology make it easy to bump it up to a 4/5.
The scores were a spur of the moment feel for each story upon completion–there isn’t a system behind it. Before we delve deeper, I’d like to take this opportunity to take my hat off to the authors who put their stories in, one and all. If you only achieve one good thing in 2018, I’m glad this was it. Your blood’s worth bottling, guys.
Foreword by Brian D. Anderson: interesting discussions on war and veterans. but talks mostly of vets and battle, and little of the aftermath of war. Would have been good to see mentions of the Middle East, Balkans, even post-WWI/II Europe, etc. Not a bad scene-setter for this anthology.
The Breaking of the Sky by Ed McDonald: really sets a depressing tone for the Art of War. Set in the Raven’s Mark world, The Breaking of the Sky is Grimdark to a tee and does a fantastic job of presenting life when you’re not a frontline soldier—actually, when your naught but a pretty face. 3.5/5
The Last Arrow by Mitchell Hogan: in a last stand against an invading horde our protagonist is part of a starving army on its last breath full of dying soldiers and strangely well-fed mages and nobles. A nice focus on hopelessness and exhaustion, with some enjoyable little hints of horror. Had to read the end a couple of times to get it. 2.5/5
Dear Menelaus by Laura M. Hughes: Helen of Troy / Sparta writes to Menelaus regarding his decision to sign on with Agamemnon and invade Troy for “the face that launched a thousand ships.” A fun short correspondence with an enjoyable message. 3.5/5
Warborn by C.T. Phipps: a demon is summoned from the Hell of War by Laura, a young woman looking to kill her parents, who are Warborn (crazy demons with insatiable appetites for destruction). A pretty good story that didn’t have as much of a punchy ending as I’d like. 2.5/5
The Greatest Battle by John Gwynne: Corban leads the Order of the Bright Star into a battle against the Kadoshim. Most of our favourite characters are there in the breathless fury that is a Gwynn’s battle, and the desperate run to his Cora’s side. Great fun. 3.5/5
This War of Ours by Timandra Whitecastle: Sparrow and her family of four are fleeing war through a wintered forest. Her mother protecting them with spells and talons, and Uncle Barras with his pistol, while little brother Bug is just annoying her. Story had a WWI Europe feel, and is gorgeously written, mixing the oppression of war with Sparrow’s unhappiness at losing her mother’s attention to her little brother. 4.5/5
Shadows in the Mist by Sue Tingey: Christian and his small warband were too slow to join the battle against the Northmen, but they go into the fog-choked battlefield anyway to try to find anyone left from their side. Something awaits them, and it’s not the Northmen. A kind of horror fantasy, the story really needed some sort of on-theme message or twist at the end. 1/5
The Art: Post War by RJ Barker: a painter travels to the ruined city of Murast. A story of a telling of a conquerer who strive for greatness and beauty in the bloody manner of conquerors. Darkly funny in places, though second person storytelling is not something I generally enjoy. 2.5/5
The Fox and the Bowman by Sebastian de Castell: Thomas meets Master Reynard at a rather inopportune moment—a single breath before he was to take his vengeance. But the mystical and mysterious Reynard has great plans for Thomas. A fun story that moved through time phases quite seamlessly. The Fox is the star of this story, for me—a thoroughly enjoyable character. 4/5
Arrow’s Wrath by Charles F. Bond: Mackell seeks vengeance for the death of his love. This story needed a really solid edit to take the focus off the prose and onto the characters and story. After the first two paragraphs showed some promise it was my least favourite so far with no punch at the end, hard to read prose, and no character attachment. If I wasn’t reviewing the book I would have skipped it. 1/5
Hard Lessons by Michael R. Miller: Scythe is a soldier on the retreat, fleeing demons and chasing dragons. Like a group of children fleeing between two warring adults, they are the most numerous and least effective fighters, and pretty much doomed from the outset. Pretty damned grim, and a decent read. 2.5/5.
Battle for Elucame: Leah by R.B. Watkinson: Leah is a Freed rebel fighting oppressive overlords. She’s good with a pair of knives, rather bloody minded, and driven to take revenge on Blood-Priest Wenst. No idea what a lacert or a writhen is, and I feel there is a fair bit in this story that either (a) isn’t explained, or (b) requires prior reading of the authors other works in the same world. 1/5
The Revolution Changed Everyone by D. Thourson Palmer: Camule is a healer, a Leech, working behind the lines of a bloody revolution. She hears of a patient waking and rushes back to her tent to treat him. Nice scenery descriptions but from the outset it was clear the author was hiding something from the reader, and therefore when the twist came is was a bit of a “meh” moment. 2.5/5
Misplaced Heroism by Andrew Rowe: a bloke from our time is teleported to a fantasy realm to try to save the humans from demons. They probably should have teleported a mechanical engineer; they got a gamer. Pretty funny read with a focus on a Diablo style of levelling magic. A cheeky voice I enjoyed. 4/5
Violet by Mazarkis Williams: Violet wakes up after a night in the hay with a magician. He’s gone, and he’s taken something of hers with her. She wants it back. Beautiful prose and quite dreamily written. An enjoyable story. 4/5
The Two Faces of War by Rob J. Hayes: Bolin and Jun are two edges of the same sword—one a healer, the other a warrior, both part of an army. An interesting tale of two perspectives; two men talking their experiences out after a bloody day—almost like a therapy session. Different. Good. 4.25/5
Grannit by JP Ashman: Grannit and Sir Silver head off to a life of war—one a pox-marked 16 year old, the other a rich knight. A nice story and a pleasant angle on the theme. 3.75/5
Asalantir Forever by Steven Poore: Jin and her pride join the assault through the bloody trenches to take the walls of Asalantir. A fun read start to finish, and I really enjoyed the idea of trench warfare in a medieval fantasy setting. Plenty to enjoy about this one. 4/5
Tower of the Last by Steven Kelliher: Madrek fights his way to the top of a tower to take on a fabled warlord named The Last. Some really cool ideas in there, but the execution of them wasn’t for me. 2/5
The Waving of the Flag by Thomas R. Gaskin: Toris leaves his family to join all the other men and boys in glorious adventure. This one skips through time to tell the story and at first I thought it wouldn’t work, but it actually painted a beautiful series of memories up to the climax. Gaskin really nailed the feel and the theme of this one. 4.5/5
The Art of War by Brian Staveley: Dakesh is two men. A gladiator from a long brutal upbringing who has no memory of killing a single opponent, and the demon of war who takes over when people need to die in droves. Sigh. Somebody grab me a pipe, some tobacco, and a light, because Staveley is just so damned good at finding something in your heart to tug at. 5/5
Hero of the day by Nathan T. Boyce: Golfrey is royal blood, but nobody knows about it. He’s heading off to battle as an archer to prove his lineage. The theme, the characters, the plot—I loved those, but having to read paragraphs two and three times over to make sure I’ve understood what the author is saying isn’t great. 2.5/5
Sacred Semantics by Nicholas Eames: Neph is off to fight the Sixers to prove to them the Spider Goddess has eight legs, not six. Eames nails this story. I laughed. I whipped through it at breakneck speed. I loved it. Perfect. 5/5
The War God’s Axe by Anne Nichols: Goat is a cripple, living amongst the people of the temple and living under the shadow of the tribes’ coming assault. Excellently written and a world of fun to read. 5/5
The Feather and the Paw by Benedict Patrick: Reoric and the lion folk march on the forest to claim it from the Magpie King. A funk folklore style story with a fitting ending. 4/5
Until the Light has Faded by Graham Austin-King: Reanne and Ferrin flee the fae army, hoping to warn their people in time. A gritty as hell story that felt a bit Abercrombie in message. Had an odd POV change at the end that wasn’t really signalled, just happened, when I wanted to stay with the main protagonist. 3/5
Under the Queen’s Throne by Ed Greenwood: the Amarrandans invade the Syndaelins as soon as the king dies. This is an interesting one. It felt like the author started with one story, took a sharp left-hand turn at the 50% mark and went and did something different to finish it. 2/5
Good Steel by Zachary Barnes: a piece of steel starts its life as a hoe. The quiet life doesn’t last. This was a hard one to judge. I wouldn’t have read it voluntarily, but I’m glad I read it, but what it comes down to is I’m not sure how on-theme this was. 2/5
The Cost of Power by Ulff Lehmann: King Drammoch works his way through a complicated high council meeting, trying to work out who is trying to betray him. The setting was solid but the story lacked any sort of impact throughout. It felt like the start of a novel and not a short, self-contained work. 1.5/5
The Undying Lands by Michael R. Fletcher’s Doppels: Fayad is a criminal. She’s about to walk into the colosseum with a rusty blade and a bent sword. She’s going to die. Fletcher delivers another masterclass in grit, dark humour, and storytelling. 5/5
The Fall of Tereen by Anna Smith-Spark: a new queen defends her home from the fabled and terrifying Amrath. Written in Smith-Spark’s million miles an hour bleak and violent AF style. 4/5
Valkyrie Rain by Dyrk Ashton: Pruor and Odin’s armies descend into the final battle—into Ragnarok. An enjoyable fable of the old gods, lightning fast with no tripping points, and an enjoyable ending that wrapped up a stand-alone story and left me wanting more of this world. 5/5
Chattels by Stan Nichols: Deras and Taryian survey a grisly battlefield looking for survivors. A long italicised info dump at the start seemed unnecessary, making me think this was tied to a novel that I needed to read to understand the story (at the end it’s noted this is the latest in a series of stories). Apart from that, it was an interesting premise, but not the most engaging story. 2/5
The Storm by Miles Cameron: Great Sword Ippeas, leader of the Vicar’s armies, is at somewhat of an impasse with the engineer charged with getting his knights within charge distance of a breach in the bastion’s walls. The lives of his soldiers rest on his ability to work with the inexperienced Kallinikos. What an absolutely magnificent flintlock / medieval / siege combat story that was. Somebody point me in the direction of this bloke’s book, immediately! 5/5
Shortblade by Brandon Draga: O’den the halfling guards his city to the best of his ability—something his peers do not value much. An enjoyable story about overcoming your… ah… shortcomings. 4/5
Rendered Chaos by D.M. Murray: Sontino DeVerocci has been forced from his life of comfort, painting, and women, and into war. In this place of violent men, some of his previous escapades catch up to him. An interesting story featuring a deplorable main character with one redeeming feature—his painting. I would have liked a little more focus on the drive of that redeeming feature and off the sex obsession, but other than that it was much to my liking. 4/5
The Best and the Bravest by M.L. Spencer: Michel squires for his father as two ancient houses square off against each other. The dead watch on, waiting. An at times confusing story (where we, as the reader, are as confused as the protagonist, in a good way) that has an enjoyable end. 4/5
Exhibition by Ben Galley: another war; another artist trying to create art from mayhem. A very different take on the literal approach to the theme. 3.5/5
Flesh and Coin by Anna Stephens: Syl Stoneheart and her mercenary crew lay in ambush, stealing to earn a bag of gold from a tinker, trusting another crew she didn’t trust to back them. My first bit of Stephens’ imagination and holy shit somebody go get me Godblind fucking stat!!! 5/5
The Hero of Aral Pass by Mark Lawrence: We hear the real story of the Hero of Aral Pass from the man himself, Prince Jalan Kendeth. An excellent short story full of laughs and action. Pretty much what I’ve come to expect from Lawrence’s short stories. 5/5
Art of War drops on the 13th of Feb 2018. make sure you pick up a copy to support a worthy cause and to get 40 short stories of battle.