Before I start this, let me say that I do not often read anthologies so I may not be the best judge. With that out of the way, let’s talk about Rogues, the anthology being advertised under George R. R. Martin’s banner. The title of the post should give you a fairly succinct summary of my thoughts. There are some really good stories in Rogues but they are surrounded in some places by mediocrity and in others by disappointment. There are too many stories to talk about all of them, so I am going to talk about a few of the key pieces that might make the collection worth purchasing, and a few that left a bad taste in my mouth. There is, however, an individual scoring list at the end of this post for those of you who need to know about every story.
Let’s start with Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie. There is not a more “Joe Abercrombie” story on the face of the planet than this one. This short story follows a package that will be the salvation of anyone who can hold onto it. The story follows the package as it makes its way from person to person, each trying to save their lives to little avail. I love Joe Abercrombie, but it has been awhile since I read some of his work and I had forgotten how truly incredible he is at writing people. This story is roughly 40 pages long and has something like 15 characters. Given about 3 pages each, Abercrombie brings every single one of these characters to life and makes you care about them, it is uncanny. This story made me want to start The First Law all over again and reaffirmed my love of him as an author.
Then we have A Year and a Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch, which can be found for free here. Where do I even start with this. My first thought when I finished this short story was: I would be ok if Scott never wrote another Gentleman Bastards book and just started a new series on this story. If you haven’t read the Gentleman Bastards (which begins with The Lies of Locke Lamora), stop reading this post and go do it. It is easily in my top 5 series of all time, and might possible be #1. This is why it is no small thing for me to make such a claim of this short. The story follows a group of retired thieves in a whimsical and violently magical world. These thieves have purchased immunity for their past crimes on the condition they never steal again. Unfortunately for our band of criminals, events force them out of retirement for one last job and getting caught will result in a fate worse than death. The new world that Scott builds in just a few pages is one I want to visit badly. His writing continues to be the most funny I have ever read, and his author’s voice charms me better than any rogue could. If you couldn’t read the story for free elsewhere, I would say it was worth getting Rogues just for this.
Next up we have How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman. If you scroll down you will see I only gave this story a 4 out of 5, and might wonder why I would choose it as a key selling point for the book? Gaiman’s short story takes place in the world of his novel Neverwhere, a novel I can’t stand. I found it boring, slow, and unejoyable, so I was ready to burn this short to the ground when I saw the setting. Instead, now I am wondering if maybe I was just in a really bad mood when I read Neverwhere. Gaiman’s short really embodies the essence of being a rogue, with his protagonist the Marquis. The story follows our dapper mysterious gentleman in his quest to get his incredible coat back after a mishap. Using a series of favors and negotiations, the Marquis attempts to barter his way back to his coat while also displaying the full powers of a true rogue. It was a great story that got me into the spirit of the anthology’s theme, and is definitely worth finding if you can.
Finally we have The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss. I wanted to hate this story. I am selfishly mad at Patrick Rothfuss (as many of us are) due to the fact that he hasn’t finished The Kingkiller series yet. As I began this short story about Bast in the same world, I was ready to cast him down and shout “he got lucky, this was terrible” to ease my bitter sad heart. Which is why it was really awkward when someone asked me why I was crying while I was reading it and I replied “because it is so damn good”. The Lightning Tree is a short story about Bast, a character in the Kingkiller Chronicles series. For those who are familiar with the series (so I assume all of you), it takes place in the present at the inn. The story follows Bast on a typical day as he goes to town and sits at the lightning tree. Bast spends the day trading secrets and favors for other secrets and favors with the children of the town. The story was incredible, I will say nothing else. Patrick Rothfuss is unbelievably talented and every day he doesn’t give me more to read makes me sad. The story does not further the plot of the original trilogy at all, but is definitely worth your time.
These four stories, and a few other fairly strong ones, made the anthology feel like a wonderful purchase while reading them. Unfortunately, there are about 14 other stories that felt like nothing special, including a few true duds. While not terrible, I wanted to make note of two personal disappointments starting with The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham. Daniel Abraham is one of my all time favorite authors due to his tendency to tell stories off the beaten path. He is my paragon of new and fresh ideas, which made his rather bland and uninteresting story, about a young rogue in love, disappointing for me. It was well written and well done, but it felt like something I had seen over and over throughout the anthology.
Then there was GRRM himself, who is certainly being used as the selling point of the collection. His story was the final one out of the group and I found it terribly disappointing, which I guess isn’t surprising given how much hype he has these days. It is a 30 page story about one of the targaryens and their life outside the events of Game of Thrones. I am increasingly starting to think that Martin does not know how to escape his masterpiece and write anything else. With only 30 pages, he provides some nice descriptives but not much else, which left me with a bad taste in my mouth as I closed out of the anthology.
At the end of the day, you are paying a hefty price for 4 gems, a few good reads, and a whole lot of filler. My overall average score of the stories came to a solid 3 out of 5, which isn’t terrible. In fact it is above average. However, given how many authors I love are in the lineup it is lower than I hoped for a group of works. I would recommend skipping on this one and trying to find the four aforementioned stories from other (legal) means.
- “Tough Times All Over” by Joe Abercrombie – 4.5/5
- “What Do You Do?” by Gillian Flynn – 2.5/5
- “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” by Matthew Hughes – 4/5
- “Bent Twig” by Joe R. Lansdale – 1/5
- “Tawny Petticoats” by Michael Swanwick – 3.5/5
- “Provenance” by David Ball – 3/5
- “The Roaring Twenties” by Carrie Vaughn – 2/5
- “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” by Scott Lynch – 6/5
- “Bad Brass” by Bradley Denton – 2/5
- “Heavy Metal” by Cherie Priest – 3.5/5
- “The Meaning of Love” by Daniel Abraham – 3.5/5
- “A Better Way to Die” by Paul Cornell – 2.5/5
- “Ill Seen in Tyre” by Steven Saylor – 2/5
- “A Cargo of Ivories” by Garth Nix – 3.5/5
- “Diamonds From Tequila” by Walter Jon Williams – 1/5
- “The Caravan to Nowhere” by Phyllis Eisenstein – 2/5
- “The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives” by Lisa Tuttle – 3/5
- “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back” by Neil Gaiman – 4/5
- “Now Showing” by Connie Willis – 2.5/5
- “The Lightning Tree” by Patrick Rothfuss – 6/5
- “The Rogue Prince, or, the King’s Brother” by George R. R. Martin – 3/5
Overall Rating: 6/10