I was really excited about this anthology! I love anthologies, I love kickass women, and the Martin-Dozois anthologies attract the best fantasy writers. I’ve read and liked one of their anthologies (Songs of Love and Death) before, but this one blew it out of the park!
Dangerous Women doesn’t just feature sci-fi/fantasy stories; there are a variety of genres represented. This makes the collection have an incredibly broad range. The eponymous dangerous women are all pretty different too – physically or magically powerful women, women who flourish despite their circumstances, femme fatales, vengeful ghosts, and more. Sometimes they drive the plot, sometimes they’re the protagonist, and sometimes they’re both.
I enjoyed some stories more than others, but unusually, I didn’t think any fell flat. Some were disturbing or implausible, but I think they still made good additions to the anthology. I’m not going to review every story, but I’ll talk a bit about some standouts.
The Hands That Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass
This story takes place in the same universe as one of my favourites from Songs of Love and Death, and I was immediately pulled into this universe again. Unfortunately there aren’t any full-length books in this universe, but I’m hoping there will be soon! It involves an extraordinary story told in a bar, which if were true, would have incredible repercussions.
Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson
I don’t really like the title of the story, but the story itself was fantastic. It’s set in Sanderson’s Cosmere (although I don’t know what planet) and features a terrifying world and a resourceful woman who makes it a little safer. I’m probably biased by my indefatigable love for Sanderson, but I loved this story.
Bombshells by Jim Butcher
I’ve only read the first book of the Dresden Files, but this story made me really want to catch up with it (it also contains major spoilers for the direction of the series, but I didn’t mind that). It features Molly, Harry Dresden’s apprentice and some other Dresdenverse women on a mission. Molly gets some great character development, and there’s a lot of gratuitous ass-kicking. Some of it was a little cliched, but it was so much fun that I didn’t mind.
A Queen in Exile by Sharon Kay Penman and Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland
Both of these stories were historical fiction and featured women figuring out how to become dangerous in a male-dominated world. Other than that, they were fairly different – in the former, Constance, future Queen of Sicily, takes charge of her unhappy life and in the latter, a young Eleanor of England, Queen of Castile learns how to get her way. I found both fascinating, and I really need to read more historical fiction.
My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott
I don’t want to say very much about this heartbreaking story, but it examines the emotional consequences of knowing a truly dangerous woman. Or thinking you do.
Lies My Mother Told Me by Caroline Spector
This story is set in the shared Wild Cards universe, and involves a superhero that goes from having dangerous powers to being truly dangerous even without her powers. I found it very poignant.
I could keep going, but I’ll just say that I also loved Some Desperado by Joe Abercrombie (I can’t wait to see more of Shy in his latest book, Red Country), The Girl in the Mirror by Lev Grossman, Name The Beast by Sam Sykes, and Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn (I haven’t read anything by Vaughn that I haven’t loved). The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin read like the dry medieval telling that it was meant to be, but was strangely fascinating.
The stories I wasn’t as thrilled about:
I Know How to Pick ‘Em by Lawrence Block
This is an extremely well-written story, but it left me feeling unclean just having read it (which seems intentional). It definitely adds to the diversity of the anthology, but I wish I hadn’t read it. It probably didn’t help that I was envisioning Tricia Helfer as the “dangerous woman” in the story.
Second Arabesque, Very Slowly by Nancy Krees
The idea behind this story was fascinating (discovering beauty in an ugly world), and I was somewhat touched by the ending, but I was distracted by finding the worldbuilding implausible – 99% of women are sterile, and civilisation totally breaks down. I can see how women’s place in society would change significantly, but I don’t think cities and technology would be completely destroyed. I didn’t even mind the world, but the cause of it seemed forced.
Pronouncing Doom by S.M. Stirling
I got the gist of this story, but was thoroughly confused by the world. American society is now heavily influenced by ancient Scottish/Irish tradition, and this all happens within a few years? I found out that this is set in the “Emberverse”, but I don’t think there’s enough of an introduction to this universe for people not already familiar with it.
That ended up being much longer than I anticipated. Summary: this is one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read. Buy it!