The Book of Swords is an anthology of sixteen “sword and sorcery” (or maybe “epic”) fantasy short stories (novelettes, really) edited by Gardner Dozois. What is “sword and sorcery”? The genre that consists of stories with swords and magic and kingdoms set in an alternative-kind-of-medieval land. That’s pretty much all that the stories of this collection have in common. The book does a terrific job representing the wide variety of styles and types of tales that can be told in that genre. Some are funny. Some are sad. Most of them are violent. Some of the stories are written by hot new writers in the fantasy genre, others are written by seasoned veterans that have been around for decades.
I’ll just cut to the chase – you should buy this book if any of the following applies to you:
1) You liked previous books edited by Gardner Dozois and George RR Martin, books like Rogues, Dangerous Women, and Warriors. Even though Martin did not co-edit this anthology, it has the same style and is of equal (or greater) quality than those collections.
2) You really freaking love fantasy literature and want as much good stuff as possible.
3) You have read Lord of the Rings and Ice and Fire and would like to explore a wider variety of fantasy authors without shelling out big bucks.
4) You couldn’t really get into the Lord of the Rings books because they seemed more like an exercise in language creation, and you couldn’t really get into A Song of Ice and Fire because the style was too “faux-Romantic” for your tastes. But you think you’d like stories about swords and dragons and quests and stuff if they were written in a more straight-forward fashion. You’d like to explore more fantasy authors but you don’t know where to start.
5) You are a fan of any of the authors in the collection.
6) You like complicated, conflicted anti-heroes. And vikings.
If any of the above applies to you, you should buy this book.
The stories do not share a common storyline or universe. They are all independent of one another, so you do not have to read them in any particular order.
For those who might wish to buy this book because it contains a George RR Martin story, be warned that it is another one of Martin’s historical-type stories set in Westeros. If you are thinking of buying this book just to obtain more information of Westeros, don’t bother. Buy a World of Ice and Fire and wait for Fire and Blood. I don’t think very much new information is included that is not already present in World of Ice and Fire. Most of the negative reviews that I’ve seen on amazon or goodreads for the book are because people bought it solely for this Martin story and are disappointed by the lack of new stuff.