Epic: Legends of Fantasy by John Joseph Adams

(8.5/10)

We all love our epic fantasy. Hundreds of pages, hundreds of thousands of words, multi-volume series. Epic: Legends of Fantasy was put together by acclaimed anthology editor John Joseph Adams, and is his attempt to try and capture as many facets of epic fantasy as possible. This is the biggest anthology I have ever read, almost twice the size of any other anthologies I read, and I think it is also one of the best epic fantasy anthologies I have ever read.

Epic: Legends of Fantasy contains an insightful foreword by Brent Weeks, and seventeen "short" stories, ranging from 10 to 100 pages in length, from some of the biggest names in modern epic fantasy. These names and their contributions are:

  • Robin Hobb - Homecoming
  • Ursula K. Le Guin - The Word of Unbinding
  • Tad Williams - The Burning Man
  • Aliette de Bodard - As The Wheel Turns
  • Paolo Bacigalupi - The Alchemist
  • Orson Scott Card - Sandmagic
  • Patrick Rothfuss - The Road to Levinshir
  • Brandon Sanderson - Rysn
  • Michael Moorcock - While the Gods Laugh
  • Melanie Rawn - Mother of All Russia
  • Kate Elliott - Riding the Shore of the River of Death
  • Mary Robinette Kowal - Bound Man
  • N. K. Jemisin - The Narcomancer
  • Carrie Vaughn - Strife Lingers in Memory
  • Trudi Canavan - The Mad Apprentice
  • Juliet Marillier - Otherling
  • George R. R. Martin - The Mystery Knight

If you are looking through this list and thinking that some of these stories sound familiar, then you would be right. This collection is made up entirely of reprinted stories, most being from this decade, but some going back as far as the 60's (Moorcock and Le Guin). Other stories are lifted directly from the novel (Rysn by Sanderson is an interlude from The Way of Kings, while The Road to Levinshir by Rothfuss is the version that appeared in The Wise Man's Fear, not the version that appeared in Writers of the Future). Some of these stories are set in the same universes created by these authors, and some are just great stories in no way connected to any other works the authors have produced. The result is a fantastic mix of new and old, familiar and unfamiliar, but all falling under that overarching title of epic fantasy.

Homecoming by Robin Hobb is an excellent start to this anthology and one of my favourite stories. The story is set in the Rain Wilds and is a story of survival as told through the pages of a diary. I was very disappointed with the offerings from Le Guin, Williams, and Elliott - these stories are not great stories, and are not a reflection of how good these writers actually are. I was disappointed in the offerings from Sanderson and Rothfuss, not because they were bad but because they were lifted directly from their novels - they are great samples of how good these guys can write, but as stories they struggle to stand alone from the main novel. Card, Moorcock, Rawn, Vaughn and Marillier all submitted solid, entertaining stories that also showcase their writing ability, and the anthology closes with the very classy The Mystery Knight by George R. R. Martin - the third tale from his Dunk and Egg series (set 89 years before the events of A Game of Thrones).

There were some stories in this anthology that stand out far above the rest of the pack. Aliette de Bodard is the only author in this anthology I had never heard of before, but her story As The Wheel Turns is a brilliant retelling of a Taoist legend and has really made me interested in finding more of her work. The Narcomancer by N. K. Jemisin and Bound Man by Mary Robinette Kowal are equally brilliant in developing such rich characters in a small space of time and really making you feel for them before shoving them straight into the meat grinder, turning the handle, and seeing what comes out. But the stand out story in this anthology is The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi, a highly acclaimed novella about a young man trying to develop a machine to fight the deadly poisonous bramble that is slowly taking over his world and grows bigger every time someone uses magic.

Epic: Legends of Fantasy is an anthology that would fit nicely upon the shelf of any fantasy reader. John Joseph Adams should definitely be congratulated for managing to get the rights to all of these fantastic stories. If you haven't read some or any of these authors before, then this anthology (with the exception of Le Guin, Williams and Elliott) will definitely help you to decide whether or not you should pick up other works by these authors.

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