Dark fantasy, so this isn’t really my genre. Since I picked it up to get an overview of what this rather nebulous genre is about, I can’t say whether this is representative or not, or good for that matter.
It covered quite a bit of ground, but few stories stood out to me, and I don’t think that says much for the genre as a whole. Again, I don’t know whether that’s just because I don’t know much about the genre and what it’s compared to: but if I couldn’t find much, is that really a good thing?
Maybe a year is too short in time to get a decent overview.
The first three stories were all first person and all disappointing. I almost thought there was a conclusion to be drawn there until “Tragic Life Stories” which was third person and fantastic. I think the only first person story that stood out to me was Gaiman’s, and though I didn’t think anything of it in particular (sacrilege!) but at least he used the first person properly—I knew who the character, the “I”, was pretty quickly. I just think 3rd person is better at orientating the reader. Second person, of course, is most difficult of all for an author and reader alike, and there are three in the collection: decent, as best I recall.
As for the standout stories:
“Tragic Life Stories” How much I enjoyed this because I connected to a narrator who was an author as well may have made this story more appealing to me than a reader who doesn’t write, but I hope not, because that would say nothing good about Duffy as author or my reading. Nevertheless I immediately connected to how Dan created his fictional worlds, and then that’s where it all went wrong. Well-constructed, good pacing, and a fascinating premise (the inability to discriminate between hallucinations and reality) took me by surprise. And I cared about the character and wanted the best for him. But did he want the best for himself in this story?
“The Naturalist” A zombie story, and once I enjoyed The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor that I won on First Reads, but I’m starting to think, with the handful in this collection, that zombie stories, by definition, all sound the same. I was curious about the narrator’s observations, and thought that the most interesting part of the work, but given how quickly the end came after, I’m not sure even the author knew what it meant. A disappointment, since I saw that as really the most original part of the story.
“The Broadsword” I wanted to like this one, and it is dark, I’ll give it that. But it felt unsatisfying. There seemed both too much of information that contributed nothing, but then too little about the coming darkness. Some vividly disturbing description though.
“A Thousand Flowers” Not only did I not know what I was supposed to get out of it: what was the point? why was it written? (that seemed to be the weakness of much of the collection: someone had an image they wanted to share, but seemed to have trouble making it into a full story. The sheer amount of detail everywhere that made no sense, went nowhere and never connected to anything else boggled my mind. Peeing on flowers is bad. Why? I have no idea. Is it related to this world’s culture? I don’t know. I’m not even sure what this culture is supposed to be.
Frankly, I hated this story—terrible characters, pointless plot accomplishes nothing, plenty of creepy and unfortunate implications in a quasi-medieval setting (with Narwhals, Africa, and rhinoceros WHAT). Decent ear for dialogue at least.
“Hurt Me” I did like this one. The fantasy, the supernatural darkness of the story paralleled the character growth and back story and became a metaphor for the underlying plot. That’s what I mean by a plot with a point. Not only did something happen, but it changed the characters and it made a difference. Worth it.
“Sea Warg” Only notable because it has a misanthropic philosophy that I don’t disagree with, but in the story found unconvincing. I rather liked the clinical Johnson, but the uneven pacing made the end sudden and unconvincing.
“The Thing About Cassandra” Gaiman’s story. I rather liked it, but the end was too telegraphed and obvious. Felt cliché, even though I couldn’t say that it actually is.
“The Things” Lee developed an interesting and distinct alien consciousness.I haven’t seen the movie it’s based on (The Thing), so I’m not sure how it fits in? But I think I know enough of the genre tropes to get what the human characters were up to anyway.
“The Return” Again, a story without a real premise. An idea: a girl disappears, returns without her soul, but went where?
“How Bria Died” A good story I guess, like any horror story. But there’s a bit about a promise at the very, very end and it made no sense and made me think I missed something. I may have. I tried rereading and it didn’t help. Otherwise a fairly standard ghost-story type, and I rather liked it.
“Parallel Lines” another one where the supernatural element highlights the character growth. Engaging and good character growth: well, for someone.
“The Mystery Knight” This isn’t going to be fair. But.
I didn’t like A Game of Thrones. It felt bloated. I can only imagine this equally bloated so-called story means he’s incapable of conciseness. Much of it is unnecessary of the story I actually did manage to discern. Also the main character is introduced with his squire as Dunk and Egg. I think Martin may have found it amusing. But I found it increasingly difficult to remember who anyone was, especially since everyone has at least three names and there are approximately one hundred named characters.
This seems to take place in the same universe as his series, though I’m not sure where or when it takes place, this is one time I would have preferred some appendices. It’s some kind of really, really dull political intrigue, without any actually intrigue, just a badly put together conspiracy that’s already been ‘solved’ before our characters were even introduced. They’re just witnesses. So pointless! Yes, that may be how “real life” happens (which seems to be how Martin’s work is often defended, but that doesn’t mean it makes good fiction. And hey, Nick wasn’t involved in Gatsby’s story, but at least he had a point, and he observed a story and drew conclusions. The interlude described in this novella-length work happens but doesn’t seem to matter, and the observers don’t actually accomplish anything other than to be there for literally no good reason. Just terrible storytelling all over.
Unfortunately it affected my entire view toward the book as a whole, which did have some good stories.
Still, I do want to say it’s probably worth picking up for anyone who does like the genre.