I’ve been waiting for my pre-order of Unfettered II to arrive for weeks, so I was pretty excited when it finally got here last week. Unfettered II is an anthology of mostly fantasy stories, with no underlying theme at all. Editor Shawn Speakman created the first Unfettered to help with his medical debt, and I originally bought it because it contained a story that was deleted from the final book of Wheel of Time. Unfettered II was created to help other authors get out of medical debt, and contains stories from many authors that I like – Michael J. Sullivan, Django Wexler, Seanan McGuire, Jim Butcher, and of course, Brandon Sanderson (the impetus for me ordering this collection – a chance to read a little bit of Oathbringer ahead of its release in November.)
Overall, I thought it was a solid collection of stories. There aren’t really any total clunkers, which was surprising, I usually at least dislike two or three stories in any anthology I read. Since there’s no theme, there are a wide variety of tones and themes, and I thought that helped keep the book from getting too repetitive or boring.
Some of my favorite stories:
And Men Will Mine the Mountain for Our Souls by Seanan McGuire: This is a lyrical and tragic story about the last stand of dragons who know they are about to be destroyed by humans and can’t do anything about it. The imagery in this story is just stunning.
Day One by Jim Butcher: A Dresden Files story featuring a side character. I’ve only read the first Dresden Files book, but I’ve read a handful of stories set in the world in various anthologies, and they’re all great and just make me want to read the series. Considering I own the first eight or so books, I should really get around to it. Anyway, back to the story – it’s a nice story about a nerdy medical examiner going on his first mission as a knight and building his confidence, and it was fun and heartwarming.
Magic Beans by Django Wexler: This story was originally written for a coffee shop erotica anthology, and so it has lots of sex in a coffee shop. It’s fun and weird and has a ton of heart. I don’t have much else to say about it.
The Hedgewitch by Sarah Beth Durst: I thought the world of this story was really cool – the people live in huge trees and are constantly under threat of attack by sprites. The protagonist, Hanna, has the magic to control the sprites, but is terrified of them after they killed her family, and has to learn to accept her place in the world. There’s nothing better than a well done coming of age story! Based on this story, I think I’m going to read the author’s novel set in the same world (bonus: it also features Hanna in some capacity.)
A Duel of Evils by Anthony Ryan: This is another story that made me want to go out and get the author’s work set in the same world (although in this case, Blood Song has been on my wishlist forever.) It’s written in the form of a historical document, and I love in-universe writing. The author of the document is chronicling the fall of a city, and he’s trying to be objective and academic about an event that clearly had crazy magical stuff happening. That kind of writing can fail horribly, but in this case, it works really well.
The Raven by Erin Lindsey: I love a villain that you can empathize with, and that’s the intent of this story. We follow Tom, a prince who is trying to do the right thing for his kingdom, but is blocked at every turn by the king (his brother), who has the best of intentions. You understand and agree with every single choice he makes, even though you can see why it’s wrong. Apparently Tom is the antagonist of Lindsey’s novel The Bloodbound, and I’m definitely going to seek it out.
The Gunnie by Charlaine Harris: I liked this alternate history gritty western type story featuring young mercenary Lizbeth. Lizbeth works as part of a crew that protects traveling families from bandits. When her latest job goes horribly wrong, she has to singlehandedly complete her mission. I liked that this story wasn’t just about Lizbeth being a hero, it also follows what happens to her and how she feels once she’s back home.
I would have expected The Thrill by Brandon Sanderson to be on my favorites too, but I wasn’t that impressed by it. We don’t learn much about the world or any secrets about Dalinar’s life (unlike Edgedancer, the awesome Stormlight novella that was in Arcanum Unbounded.) The bigger disappointment was that I felt like Dalinar’s voice was too generic – he’s young and quippy like a lot of other Sanderson characters, and he didn’t have any of the gravitas that characterizes present day Dalinar. I know part of the point is that Dalinar is very different than he used to be, but he didn’t even seem like the same person. I still enjoyed reading it though, and I have enough faith in Brandon Sanderson that the complete story will make more sense – I just didn’t love the excerpt as its own story.
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