As soon as I heard about the anthology titled “Dangerous Women”, I knew I wanted to read it. The theme is fascinating, and the collection features stories by some authors whose work I’ve enjoyed – plus it’s a massive anthology with 21 stories!
As I’ve said before, anthologies are great in that they give you lots of different stories in different voices – there’s always bound to be something you like. However, that is also their weakness: they probably feature stories that you’re not too interested in. Still, it is a good way to sample works by new authors. In ”Dangerous Women”, I was already familiar with the works of George R. R. Martin, Diana Gabaldon, Sharon Kay Penman, Joe Abercrombie and Jim Butcher. So, many new authors for me to sample!
“Dangerous Women” certainly gives you a wide variety of stories. There’s historical fiction, fantasy (urban and more traditional), SF, crime, mystery... This is something I enjoyed very much; each story was definitely different and the genre-hopping made the experience versatile and exciting (love those ”Ooo, I wonder what I'm going to get next!” moments). Just as I expected, there were some great stories but also some I did not enjoy so much.
Some of the tales did justice to the theme, but there were some where you had to be rather... creative and generous to accept that women featured in the stories could be called dangerous. I don’t know what this means exactly. I hope it isn’t that the authors really did have such a hard time coming up with situations/worlds/characters that would fit the theme. That was a little disappointing, but I decided not to mind; I still got interesting stories to read.
I won’t go into each individual story, but there are a few I want to name:
Joe Abercrombie’s “Some Desperado”, an action-packed bit with something of a wild west feel, shows an intriguing character in a very sticky situation. Loved the voice. Apparently, the character features in one of his novels, “Red Country”. (I’ve read ”The Blade Itself” but wasn't intrigued enough to continue with the trilogy – maybe I should look into this one.)
Diana Gabaldon’s “Virgins” is a sort of prequel to her time travel series (“Outlander”), depicting adventures of familiar characters (Jamie and Ian when they were young mercenaries in France). A novella rather than a short story.
I expected much from George R. R. Martin’s – who’s also one of the editors – “The Princess and the Queen”. And it is indeed very well written (I wouldn’t expect anything else), but it reads like a history book... which was probably the author’s intention. I don’t have anything against history books, quite the opposite, but I happen to prefer my fiction in the form where I get to experience events through the characters. Still, a must-read background story for serious “Game of Thrones” fans.
”Wrestling Jesus” by Joe R. Lansdale is gritty but humorous and even kind of sweet coming-of-age story where a young boy meets a mentor figure, an old boxer, and his obsession/one true love, the story's femme fatale.
A little surprisingly, my favourite was “Second Arabesque, Very Slowly” by Nancy Kress, an author previously unknown to me. I didn’t expect much from this post-apocalyptic story – that is really not my genre – but it was intriguing and thought-provoking. It’s set in a brutal world where most women have become infertile, and those who haven’t are little more than precious commodities. It is told by an older woman, no longer capable of bearing children and therefore a burden to her ”tribe”. I loved the theme of contrasting the need and will of survival with the love of beauty and art. Is it enough to simply survive from one day to the next, or is it part of human nature to crave more – and risk everything for that? I liked this story so much that I later read Kress' science fiction novel ”Probability Moon”.
All in all, ”Dangerous Women” is a collection of widely different stories. If you’re a fan of just one or two genres, this might not be for you, but if you like switching between genres or want to experiment without committing to entire novels, you might want to take a look at this one.