Rogues (1/2)

Rogues is a collection short stories commissioned by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois with a cover similar enough to the Ice and Fire saga (Game of Thrones) novels to pique the interest of the casual shopper. The ploy certainly worked on me especially when it was selling for £3.50 in Tescos as opposed to the theoretical cover price of £9.99.

I will try and avoid spoilers as I put forward my thoughts on each story. The stories are not all fantasy by the way, despite the impression given by the style of the cover. It’s a big book and so I’m going to have to split the blogging, and potentially the reading, in two.

‘Tough Times All Over’ by Joe Abercrombie is a fantasy tale following the path of a package from one rogue to another. The package is an unopened McGuffin and the story is more a character study than anything else. The featured city of Sipani where it is detailed is reminiscent of medieval Venice and the short adventure of an Assassins Creed mission. This is no bad thing to my mind and I enjoyed the story as far as it went.

‘What Do You Do’ by Gillian Flynn (who wrote Gone Girl – I’ve seen the movie so knew what to expect) appears at first to be a contemporary haunted house tale told from the point of view of a sex-worker/con-artist ‘clairvoyant’. The story as expected took several twists and turns to become something far more interesting, entertaining and psychological with a character reminiscent of the boy in The Omen. Both the boy and the woman could be described as rogues in the end.

‘The Inn Of The Seven Blessings’ by Matthew Hughes is a fantasy tale of a thief who comes across a figurine of an almost forgotten god. It reminded me thematically of Gaiman’s American Gods and Pratchett’s Small Gods. The title of the story seems unconnected to the tale until the final line. It managed to paint a detailed picture of a magical realm in a small number of pages. As short stories go it was quite entertaining.

‘Bent Twig’ by Joe R. Lansdale is a contemporary hard-boiled crime fiction style story featuring two regular characters Hap and Leonard. The bent twig of the title refers to a modern damsel in distress Tillie who is the druggy daughter of Hap’s ‘redhead’ girlfriend Brett (unfortunately I associate this name with the Flight of the Conchords) who needs rescuing from a dire situation. The dialogue is sassy and the violence full-on – reading it was rather like seeing a Tarantino film rendered in words. I was surprised and pleased to see a TV show called Hap and Leonard’ arrive on Amazon Video this week and look forward to enjoying more of there adventures. The first episode was pretty solid and had a really ‘out-there’ ending.

‘Tawny Petticoats’ by Michael Swanwick is another fantasy tale featuring the titular femme fatale and two con men Darger and Surplus (actually an anthropomorphised dog). The team of three set out to rip off a merchant, madame and a slave master. Again the world in which this tale is based is fascinating with lots of odd imaginative quirks and genome based invention not least of which is a society in which chemically induced zombies are used as slaves. I could have quite happily carried on reading and felt that the story came to an end too soon.

David W. Ball‘s ‘Provenance’ is a contemporary real world tale about a discovered masterpiece and an art dealer’s explanation of its history as he sells it to an American religious TV presenter. However as you would expect from a short story in a collection entitled ‘Rogues’ nothing is as it seems. I found the story rather predicable if I am honest. Without being smug about it there’s only so many ways the tale could pan out for it to be entertaining and I had figured all the variations out ahead of time, so it was just case of seeing which one the writer plumped for.

‘Roaring Twenties’ by Carrie Vaughn is one of those stories that Gaiman or Clive Barker are so good at where a fantasy world of witches, werewolves, sirens, zombies and vampires coexists with the real world. In this case these creatures are denizens of a shady club in a 1920s American city. The story is atmospheric, thought provoking and certainly a good advert for Vaughn’s writing which I guess is one of the functions of taking part in a big collection like this. There are certainly a number of authors which I will be looking into once I have got the end of ‘Rogues’.

‘A Year And A Day In Old Theradane’ by Scott Lynch is a fantasy tale not dissimilar to the work of Terry Pratchett in terms of inventiveness but a lot more sassy and a lot less folksy. The main character Amarelle is part of a gang who is allowed to live inside Theradane as long as they stay retired from their magical rougery. They are forced out of retirement when Amarelle is made an offer she can’t refuse by one of two warring wizards from among the ruling ‘Parliament of Strife’. It was one of the more imaginative tales in the collection so far.

Bradley Denton‘s ‘Bad Brass’ is a contemporary first person account of a dodgy supply teacher’s attempt to rip off some amateur school kid thieves of the money they earn from selling stolen brass instruments to a Mexican chap who wants them for his band. There are twists and turns along the way and the teacher comes out no better off than when he started but having learned a few lessons from a pupil along the way.

I would describe ‘Heavy Metal’ by Cherie Priest as a Constantine short story. The main character despite being fat has many similarities to the Vertigo Comics character. There are also tones of the X Files in there (and in fact a little nod the show in the story) and so I really enjoyed it. You know I’m just enjoying every gosh darned one of these stories tbh, but I have stop this post somewhere so just one more then I’ll give it a break…

Finally, for this post at least since I’m only halfway through the collection, we have ‘The Meaning of Love’ by Daniel Abraham. This another fantasy tale based around a river, which is kind of where we came in isn’t it? This I think, at least in my imagination, was more like medieval London with a shanty town running along a two mile stretch of river. The rogue is a young woman, Asa, who is in love with a prince in hiding who is in turn in love with a strafe he has spotted in a slave pen. The rogue, because she loves the Prince, helps him out through a nefarious scheme. Enough said. It’s a good if fairly predictable tale.

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