Monday, February 6, 2017

Book Review: Dangerous Women 1 edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Dangerous Women 1Dangerous Women 1 by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first subdivision of the Dangerous Women anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois is a mix bag of both story quality and the interpretation of the phrase ‘dangerous women’. In seven stories across genres around the central theme of women who are dangerous, a reader is treated to see women in various ways only but is also forced to figure out if the women presented or alluded to are actually dangerous.

Of the seven stories featured in Dangerous Women 1 the three best at presenting both a very good story and dangerous women were Carrie Vaugh’s “Raisa Stepanova”, Megan Abbott’s “My Heart Is Either Broken”, and George R.R. Martin’s “The Princess and the Queen”. Just outside these three was Cecelia Holland’s “Nora’s Song” which had a very good story but was seen from the perspective of a little girl finding out how dangerous her mother is. These four stories were at the very beginning and the last three stories of the collection giving the anthology a strong start and finish.

However, the three stories in the middle suffered from a failure of either not being very good or not having a dangerous woman. Both Megan Lindholm’s “Neighbors” and Joe R. Lansdale’s “Wrestling Jesus” were very good stories, but the danger posed by the women either featured or more mentioned then seen was hard to detect. But the weakest story of the entire collection was Lawrence Block’s “I Know How to Pick’em” which went from having potential to falling flat by the end.

Overall Dangerous Women 1 is a mixed bag of very good stories with strong female characters, just very good stories with no danger attached to any female character, and just plain bad all around. The best that could be said is in the end the reader is the ultimate judge.

Individual Story Ratings
Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn (4/5)
I Know How to Pick’em by Lawrence Block (1/5)
Neighbors by Megan Lindholm (2.5/5)
Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale (2/5)
My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott (4/5)
Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland (3.5/5)
The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin (4/5)

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Review: The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin

The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Targaryen civil war known as ‘The Dance of the Dragons’ was mythologized in Westeros by bards for almost two hundred years before the events of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. “The Princess and the Queen” offers the history of first great Targaryen civil war through the death of one of the titular characters, but unlike other Targaryen civil wars or rebellions that threatened the dynasty this one features dragons on both sides.

The titular characters were Rhaenyra Targaryen, eldest child of King Viserys I, and Viserys’ second wife Queen Alicent Hightower, mother of Viserys’ eldest son Aegon. These two dangerous women were rivals for one thing, the succession to the Iron Throne. Through oaths and proclamations Viserys had designated Rhaenyra as his heir but Alicent championed the right of her son Aegon to succeed as was Westerosi custom of sons over daughters. For years this feud was building up as Viserys grew older and everyone awaited his death with unease as it felt like a battle for the Iron Throne was sure to follow, a battle that would pit Targaryen dragons against one another.

Written as a history by an archmaester of the Citadel, Martin gives an account of ‘the Dance’ noting first the political intrigue by Queen Alicent and her father to crown her son as Aegon II, then the war of letters and ravens to gather support by the two claimants from all the great lords of the realm before inevitably blood was shed then gushed from almost every corner of the realm. Yet, while some of the narrative reads like a dry history some others describe the action of battles in such a way as to make your imagination view two or more dragons battling one another over sea and land, fighting to the death.

Although the military actions in “The Princess and the Queen” are dominated for the most part by men, it’s the decisions by Rhaenyra and to a lesser extent by Alicent throughout the conflict that make this civil war unlike any other in Westerosi history. Yet, the biggest result of this civil war wasn’t which line of succession won out but that at the end the Targaryen’s greatest claim to the Iron Throne was lost, the dragons. This factor alone has repercussions down to the time of the events of A Song of Ice and Fire in which dragons return to the world.

“The Princess and the Queen” is not like other ASOIAF related short stories, like Dunk & Egg, this is a vivid retelling of history of events that surprisingly do connect with George R.R. Martin’s main series as well as the novellas of Dunk & Egg. As a fan not only of ASOIAF material, but also an avid reader of history I really enjoyed this piece by Martin, even though it is actually much less than he originally wrote of the events of this time. But because of the heavy lean towards male characters in a collection focused on dangerous women, there is some downside.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Review: Nora's Song by Cecelia Holland

Nora's Song by Cecelia Holland
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Young Eleanor, or Nora to her large family, is enjoying being a little noble born girl exploring little creeks and grass with her little sister Joanna when her big brother Richard founds her so they can greet their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. But this day starts the process of how Nora views her family, from how her parents treat one another and how they scheme behind each other's backs and how they treat her siblings then her. For those how know history, the dangerous woman in this story is well known yet seeing from the pov of a child it's well down.

Review: My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott

My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A husband and father slowly begins looking at his wife's behavior differently than he had previously in their relationship after their daughter goes missing. As newspaper reporters and the police officers begin questioning his wife's story, only ever so slightly does he begin to think she's responsible. Then suddenly one night she remembers details that had slipped her mind and soon they are reunited with their baby daughter. But one night he walks into his daughter's room to find his wife looking at her with an expression that makes him very worried. This is a great story with several twists at the end as to whom is the dangerous woman in this story.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Review: Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale

Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Marvin gets beatin' up by some neighborhood bullies and is saved by an old man, after doing some working out during the summer he confronts them again only to get beatin' up again. Once again the old man saves him and decides to have Marvin for someone to work out again. Over the course of time the old man becomes like a father to Marvin and it's to the old man that he turns when Marvin's mother choices her boyfriend over her son. Throughout the story the old man gives information to Marvin about an upcoming wrestling match he has with an old rival, Jesus, and the reason two old men are fighting. A woman, a seductress, and possibly one with mystical powers. The story is great, but the 'dangerous woman' only appears at the end and sits to watch the match with only one line.

Review: Neighbors by Megan Lindholm

Neighbors by Megan Lindholm
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Sarah Wilkins sees her now crazy neighbor Linda Mason walking out in the middle of the night in her slippers talking about going away and asking Sarah to go with her. After refusing Sarah never sees Linda again and begins thinking about how much their neighborhood had changed while battling her son about her living situation. Soon Sarah starts noticing how different the neighborhood is in the fog and who appears out on the street in the night. Sarah begins battling her children about her own future and decides to head out into the fog to find her own path and surprising Linda. A good story, yet the 'dangerous' of Sarah is questionable.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Review: I Know How to Pick'em by Lawrence Block

I Know How to Pick'em by Lawrence Block
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

This story was a tease from beginning to end and frankly, it does not have a dangerous woman. Although Lawrence Block could argue semantics, I would respectfully disagree. The narrator is a man, the "dangerous woman" turns out to be nothing of the sort.

Review: Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn

Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A female fighter pilot for the Soviet military fights for her country, her family, and herself against the Fascists and the Party. This dangerous woman at first only finds herself fighting against the Nazis and in a quasi-rivalry with another pilot, who beats her to becoming an ace. But Raisa's military career is suddenly in jeopardy when her brother goes missing in action, which to Comrade Stalin means he's a traitor. Suddenly Raisa is desperate to either earn esteem to spare her family or die in combat so her family will be taken care of because of their heroic daughter. Not only is this a "woman in a man's world" situation that is very believable, the action from Raisa's point-of-view in the cockpit gives the reader a glimpse into the action.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Book Review: Centuries of Change by Ian Mortimer

Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to UsCenturies of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to Us by Ian Mortimer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout the later part of 1999, many programs were dedicated to showing the impressive change in the 20th Century over any other time in the previous 1000 years. Author Ian Mortimer thought this was presumptuous and decided to research to find which century of Western civilization in the previous millennium saw the most change. In Centuries of Change Mortimer presents the fruits of over decade worth of research to general audience.

From the outset of the book Mortimer gives the reader the scope and challenge about defining and measuring change, especially when focusing in specific 100 year periods. Avoiding the cliché answers of bright, shiny objects and larger-than-life historical figures from the get go, Mortimer looked for innovations of cultural, political, societal, and technological significance that fundamentally changed the way people lived at the end of a given century than when it began. Throughout the process Mortimer would highlight those inventions or well-known historical individuals that defined those innovations of change which resulted positively or negatively on Western civilization. At the end of each chapter, Mortimer would summarize how the ‘changes’ he highlighted interacted with one another and which was the most profound in a given century and then identify an individual he believe was ‘the principle agent of change’.

The in-depth analysis, yet easily readable language that Mortimer wrote on each topic of change he highlighted was the chief strength of this book. The end of chapter conclusions and identification of an agent of change is built up throughout the entire chapter and shows Mortimer’s dedication to providing evidence for his conclusion. Whether the reader agrees or not with Mortimer, the reader at least knows why he came to those decisions. When coming to a decision about which century of the past millennium saw the most change at the end of the book, Mortimer’s explanation of the process in how he compared different periods of time and then the results of that process were well written and easily understandable to both general readers and those from a more scholarly background, giving the book a perfect flow of knowledge and thought.

Centuries of Change was geared for the general reading audience instead of a more academic one. While I do not think this is a negative for the book, it did allow for those editing the book as well as Mortimer in reexamining his text to miss several incorrect statements on events and personages that while minor do to missing a word or two, just added up over the course of the book.

While looking at the progression and development of Western civilization is always a challenging process, Ian Mortimer’s Centuries of Change gives readers glimpse of how different types of innovations impacted just a 100 year period of time. Very readable for general readers and a nice overall glimpse for more academic readers, this book is a thought-provoking glimpse in how human’s bring about change and responds to change.

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