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Book Review

Book Cover

Dangerous Women
Part II


Edited by: George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Publisher: Harper Voyager
RRP: £8.99
ISBN: 978 0 00 754943 6
Publication Date: 23 October 2014

Following on from the release of Dangerous Women: Part I, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, we now have the inevitable Part II, with Part III to follow. This book was originally released as a single volume, but seems to have been split up for the UK market.

Megan Lindholm, writing under the name Robin Hobb, is always a joy to read, here she provides a little tale entitled Neighbours, which would not have felt out of place in The Twilight Zone. Sarah Wilkins lives alone. Around her friends and family, which used to give her life joy and meaning, have either moved away or died, leaving Sarah with little but memories. Even her friend, Linda, is behaving oddly, with her wild hair and bizarre behaviour many consider that age has slipped into senility. When Linda disappears it starts a train of events which threatens to take away what little Sarah has left.

For the longest time Lindholm toys with the reader. Is the fog, which only she can see, actually the precursor to Sarah’s own mental decline? Certainly the reaction of those around her gives this impression. Ultimately, Sarah is stronger and more resolute than her family think and it is left to the reader to decide if the ending is real or a delusion.

Being an eclectic mix of genres, our second story, The Girl in the Mirror, by Lev Grossman, is set in a school for magic, in the United States and examines how pranks can often backfire on their perpetrators.

Plum hides a secret, which makes her want to over achieve all the time, which is why she formed the League, to right real and imagined slights. When the League perceives that Wharton’s pouring of the evening wine is less than generous, they conclude that he must be short pouring in order to keep the rest for himself. In order to address the matter they concoct an elaborate sting, involving his beloved pencils, but when Plum journeys through the bowels of the school she discovers more than she had wished for.

It’s another good story, but with the ubiquitous spectre of Harry Potter. Any story set in a school for magic is going to be held up for comparison. For fans of Grossman’s books, this tale is firmly set in his Magician's universe which opens up another chapter of Brakebills and its students.

Moving away from fantasy, in one sense, Sharon Kay Penman, offers up A Queen in Exile, a fictionalise account of a real historical figure in the form of Constance, wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. Having married late, to a man who is as cold as his countries climate, Constance dreams of moving back to the Italian coast and her home. She unexpectedly gets the opportunity when the throne of Sicily becomes available.

As a character she has much in common with Sarah, from the first story. Medieval Europe was a place where marriages were made along political lines, with women having little or no real power. Her husband uses the pretext of Sicily to start a war, in Constance’s name against the usurper of the crown, however while he is happy to have her around in victory, he is just as happy to abandon her in defeat.

We move from one sort of doom to another with Pronouncing Doom, by S. M. Sterling. Set in a post apocalyptic America, Juniper travels around the remaining settlements, part chieftain, part law giver. Here she travels to administrate justice in a rape case.

Unlike the previous stories, where the character of the woman is at the centre of the narrative, Sterling has chosen to use Juniper to explore and explain the cultural changes which occurred following some unexplained catastrophe change. This being the case, your enjoyment of the story very much hinges on whether the changes made to survive makes any sense. That the remaining population should gather together in smaller agricultural communities seems reasonable enough, but I’m not sure that I really accepted that the survivors would have the time to redesign their culture along Celtic lines.

Lie My Mother Told Me, by Caroline Spector takes us back to the Wild Cards universe, a story cycle which has been going for some time, with Martin as one of its main contributors.

Starting out, very much on an amusing note, the story introduces The Amazing Bubbles, Saviour of New Orleans, zombie fighter. Although there is exploration of Bubbles's relationship with her daughter, the story was a refreshing change to much of the dour story telling which preceded it. This is not the cosy world of comic book heroes, which is so often portrayed, but with the violence and swearing, has more in common with Watchman and the grittier side of what it is to be a hero.

Name the Beast, by Samuel Sykes takes us back to a world of fantasy, as a mother and child enter the forest, hunting a beast as the child’s initiation. It is less a tale of the initiation rather it is an exploration of love, written in incredibly good prose. It may be one of the shorter pieces in the anthology, but it is one of the better ones.

Virgins, from Diana Gabaldon, takes us back to the Outlander universe with a story about Jamie Fraser and friend becoming mercenaries in 1740’s France. Doctor Who fans will note the homage to a certain Scottish companion, who was the inspiration for Outlander.

Whilst not a bad story, its inclusion in the anthology seems a little odd as the women play second fiddle to the importance of the two main, male characters. That said, this volume has had much more focus on the women involved, as volume one often sidelined their heroines, so the story is neither more nor less guilty as some of the other pieces.

Overall, the second volume represents an interesting and eclectic mix of new and old authors.


Charles Packer

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