Visions of Paradise

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Warriors

Warriors (edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois) was an interesting concept for an original anthology: stories about warriors, but featuring writers from such genres as historical fiction (Cecelia Holland, Steven Saylor), fantasy (Robin Hobb, Peter S. Beagle, Martin), science fiction (Robert Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, Dozois), alt history (Naomi Novik, S.M. Stirling) to contemporary fiction (Lawrence Block, James Rollins). 20 stories in all, 736 pages, all novelettes or novellas.

I decided to begin with novellas from two of my favorite writers of historical fiction, Holland and Saylor. Holland’s “The King of Norway” is set in her recent favorite venue, Viking Europe, and details a group of jomsvikings invading Norway with the intent of overthrowing its king. The point of view character is Conn Corbansson, who is not a jomsviking, but during a drunken party had sworn to accompany them and not return until he himself was king of Norway.

Holland is an excellent writer who does not fall into the trap of instilling modern sensibilities into her characters. Conn is perfectly comfortable fighting and killing, and the story is as much about the culture and ethics of the marauders as anything else. People kill and are killed, and the characters accept it as a regular part of life. So when Conn shows a momentary regret at the death of a young protegee, it is more effective than it would have been in a less cruel setting.

During the story, I wondered what Holland would choose for its ending, seeing two likely outcomes, but she avoided them both and had a third option which fit well with both the violence which preceded it and the sense of honor of the culture being explored. An excellent story (if you can stomach all the violence).

Saylor’s story “The Eagle and the Rabbit” was told from the point of view of a poor Carthaginian farmer who was one of the last survivors of the Roman army’s destruction of the city at the end of the long Punic Wars. He is part of a small group hiding in the hills as Roman slave traders track down the few remaining Carthaginians who will be sold as slaves when they reach the sea. The title refers to a cruel game the Roman commander plays in which one slave is set above the others and favored, while another is routinely abused by them, all part of their intent to break the spirit of the captives to prepare them to be slaves.

This story is much less violent than Holland’s story, although it is no less cruel in the life it portrays, and it is richer in characterization as well (which has always been one of Saylor’s strengths as a writer). Its ending made me wish for a sequel.

So far this book is outstanding reading. I plan to read some of the sf stories next. To be continued...

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