Story Review: Figures by Rachel Caine from Unfettered II

Story Review: Figures by Rachel Caine from Unfettered II

 

 

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Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Figures by Rachel Caine is the ninth story in the Unfettered II AnthologyA woman narrates what it’s like to be a duelist for higher (or at least that’s how my mind converts the plot). But the person she’s talking to has a plan, and the big surprise is that person’s identity. 

Character:  This might be one of the shortest stories I ever listened to (eight minutes on the dot). There really wasn’t much time to do much of anything. This story is an interesting character study. It reads like something I might do if I were trying to develop a character, but there’s not enough here for me to connect with in my opinion. 

Exposition: This is probably why the story didn’t work for me. Like I said above, this is all just seven or so minutes of a person describing her job. Sure, it’s an interesting job, but it’s still just someone talking about it. Then the last minute throws a curve ball out of nowhere that only left me more confused.

Worldbuilding: This is probably the best of the story. We’re in this world where people with beef higher gunmen to duel over the issue in question (at least from what I remember). That’s a really cool idea, like lethal Pokemon for grown ups. I’d be interested in reading an actual story from this world, but listening to someone describe what is essentially a plot idea as a story itself didn’t work for me.

author Roxanne Carson at home
Photo by Robert Hart taken from the author’s website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Dialogue: I’ll have to give this an N/A. Sure, the narrator is talking to someone, but they’re not conversing. 

Description: Even I think this was too little. I don’t know what the guns look like. I don’t know how they dress. I don’t even know if they wear any sort of body armor or plate. I don’t know what the characters look like. I get no sensory data whatsoever. 

Overall: I’m not going to argue one can’t make a thrilling eight-minute story. However, I think if I were to take a challenge to write an eight-minute script, the last thing I’d do is choose to have one person talk for seven of those minutes. The concept is cool in terms of the premise of what the character does, but everything else either dragged the story down or confused me.

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Story Review: The King’s Despatcher by David Farland from Unfettered II

 

 

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Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  The King’s Despatcher by David Farland is the eighth story in the Unfettered II AnthologyDeval is hated by all the boys he trains with. He was found by the princess of the country, but all he’s received after being placed in training is scorn and distain. The story begins with the most important question, how can a man be true to a country he hates? The answer may lie in a very specific set of skills. 

Character:  I liked these characters. They were sympathetic and believable. I like Deval the most (I may be spelling that wrong. I listened to the audio book, so I only have sound to go on). The author did a fantastic job of showing the pain he was going through while still giving him a way to endure without corruption. 

Exposition: This was nearly flawless. Yeah, there was a tad of exposition hidden in some dialogue, but I do that myself, so I didn’t mind it at all. This story is very clean. There isn’t any part that drags down the story. My problem with the story is actually that I wanted more. I didn’t get the sense of closure I wanted. I’d be happy to hear if there is a direct continuation of this story out there. So as a teaser tale, it works, but I’m frustrated by the tease. 

Worldbuilding: The worldbuilding for this story is focused narrowly on the characters involved, but it teases a wider world. This is a nice mix in which the reader gains glimpses into a wider world, but remains rooted in the scene and events of the smaller story.

FarlandDialogue: This was solid. There wasn’t a ton of it, but the conversation between the princess and her father is great. It reveals character while providing context to the events. It’s quite masterful. 

Description: The description in this story wasn’t as visceral as I’d like. I can’t really picture much about the characters or the scene. If I’m reading a book, and you’re going to lack something, this is the one I’d pick. 

Overall: This is actually a great short story. It fell out of my top three because I didn’t get that sense of finality I like in a story, but it’s a powerful tale that has great characters. I really do recommend it.  

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Story Review: The Decoy by Janny Wurts from Unfettered II

Story Review: The Decoy by Janny Wurts from Unfettered II

 

 

Cover
Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  The Decoy by Janny Wurts is the seventh story in the Unfettered II AnthologyA young distant descendent of the throne is tasked with reaching the castle, where the entire royal family has reportedly been murdered. What role will this young man play in a rebellion that may change the inheritance for generations?

Character:  While they didn’t capture me completely, I did enjoy this character in the moment. Most stories are like this one was, a fun adventure that held your attention until the story was over. These characters were a lot like that. I remembered this story a bit better because of these characters and their deep backgrounds and interesting motivations. It’s a credit to the author. 

Exposition: This story is taken from a larger world I’m not familiar with. So there was a bit more exposition here than maybe someone would like, but it’s at least necessary for the reader to truly know the world. I think anyone reading a part of a story is either going to want that background or want to read the story because they’re fans of the universe. That means that even though we might have to suffer through a bit more exposition than we want, we go into this story with open eyes, knowing it has to happen so we know what’s going on. 

Worldbuilding: To me this was the weakest part of the story. This felt like an old sword and knights tale, which is fine for fans of the genre, but I was hoping for a bit more fantasy. This isn’t truly a discredit to the author, just a difference in taste of style. The author does a good job (requiring the aforementioned exposition) of setting the scene and the tone of the world, but I wasn’t very clear how this world fit into this or another universe. What I mean is I don’t know if I was reading fantasy taking place in the bronze age of earth or in a similar period on another planet. To defend the author, and hour-long story doesn’t give anyone much time to give depth to the world. The other defense is that this is truly part of a larger series, so if anyone really wanted to see more about this world, they could just go find book one.

JannyPortrait
Image of Wurts was taken from the biography page on the author’s website. 

Dialogue: This was pretty middle-of-the-road in my opinion. It wasn’t thinly veiled exposition, but I don’t know that I could say each character had a distinct voice. Still, the dialogue had a few moments that were touching, and that’s all I think a story hast to have. 

Description: Like most stories, I measure my feelings in this category by a question: Can I picture the story without feeling like I’m being beaten down by description. This story met that criterion. The author probably did a better job using the sense of sight than the others, but as I tend to rely on that most, I don’t realize the others are lacking until I go back and look for it.  

Overall: This is a nice sort of adventure fantasy. It bases its value of entertainment on the suspense of the riots and revolt that are happening. If you like horse-riding and cat and mouse drama, you’ll probably enjoy the story. I need a bit more magic and fighting in my entertainment, personally, but don’t let that turn you away from a well-written story. 

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Story Review: Aokigahara by John A. Pitts from Unfettered II

Story Review: Aokigahara by John A. Pitts from Unfettered II

 

 

Cover
Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Aokigahara by John A. Pitts is the sixth story in the Unfettered II Anthology.  A math genius spends her days working to earn an income via social media when she receives a strange encoded message that begins unweaving a mystery that will end in a development no one could ever imagine.

Character:  The characters in this story were sympathetic. There’s actually an interesting arc that connects closely to the to the plot. This piece (speculative in nature) does a nice job investigating the nature of conscience and thought. 

Exposition: Like a lot of speculative scifi, there is a lot of author musing here hidden behind the mind of the character. However, one should honestly expect that sort of thing in a story like this. While I noticed it, I don’t think the exposition dragged the story down. The whole thing only takes about 30 minutes to read, and it’s a fast pace despite the introspective nature of the story. 

Worldbuilding: This is deceptively good. The story opens, and each line and event opens up the futuristic world. Each time something happens, we understand the world better, and it feels natural. This was the strongest part of this story. Again, several of the stories in this anthology really do an amazing job of maximizing worldbuilding in short fiction. This story is no different.

Dialogue: There’s just not a lot of it in this story. What is there would probably lead to spoilers, which I work very hard to avoid. This is probably why the story didn’t resonate so much with me. I need some dialogue in my stories. It speeds the pace and gives me another way to connect with characters. However, that’s just a personal preference. This story is still well told. It’s just hyper focused on one character and doesn’t use dialogue.

Description: I’d say this is exactly where it needed to be. The scenes were the most vivid. I don’t quite remember the physical descriptions of the characters. I think the author was wise to minimize this since there was already a lot of detail invested in the speculative nature of the story. To add another 1,000 words or so of description would probably have only served slow the story down more. 

Overall: This is an interesting piece of speculative science fiction. It doesn’t have the charm most stories I like have. However, this story is really more about provoking thought and introspection, which this story does. If you’re looking for a quick story to get your brain going, give this story a shot.    

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Story Review: Brightwine in the Garden of Tsitsian Village by Bradley P. Beaulieu from Unfettered II

Story Review: Brightwine in the Garden of Tsitsian Village by Bradley P. Beaulieu from Unfettered II

 

 

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Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Brightwine in the Garden of Tsitsian Village by Bradley P. Beaulieu is the fourth story in the Unfettered II Anthology.  An apothecary is visited by his abusive brother, who has come with a demand from the king to investigate the disappearance of a nobel’s son. There were several other missing children, but the king took interest when a nobel boy disappeared. The apothecary’s brother, uses his position as a member of the king’s personal unit manipulate the apothecary into submission. What will the reason for these kidnappings turn out to be?

Character:  I had to listen to this story for another couple of minutes before I could recall the story. Then I was surprised I didn’t. From a professional viewpoint, this was a very well told story. So why didn’t I even remember it? The answer, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the main character. (I could say it, but I can’t type it. I listened to the audible version.) I can’t honestly tell you why he didn’t resonate, but my impression is I was never worried about him. He’s too proactive and proficient. The answer must then lie in the character’s sympathy levels. I never connected to him on an emotional level. He wasn’t like Holmes, who’s a jerk, and that keeps your emotions up. Neither is he like Dresden, who’s just so lovable. The author made efforts to connect the reader, but it just didn’t click with me. If what you like is a good mystery, then you’ll probably enjoy this story. 

Exposition: This was well done. The story moved, and I never felt bogged down by details or meaningless back story.  

Worldbuilding: I feel like this might be part of a larger series, but I don’t actually know (a big risk in anthologies). However, the lack I felt was more a positive. I feel like there’s more to learn about this world, but I didn’t miss any of those details. Rather than try and tell the readers everything they missed about this land’s history, the author just politely gave us the details we needed to understand this story.

Beaulieu
This image was taken from the author’s Twitter profile for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Dialogue: Here may be another place where the story fell short for me. A well told tale with wooden characters can really diminish the story’s quality. The lines felt over scripted.   It felt as if the lines were just there for anyone to speak, and the characters weren’t portrayed in the dialogue. I wouldn’t say it was “bad” just not unique.

Description: While I didn’t mind the streamlined description, I couldn’t give you a single detail about any character. I can remember some scenes and locations, but nothing else. I’m very forgiving with this area. I don’t actually care what people look like so much because I just cast whoever I feel fits my imagination best in my mind anyway. I’d leave it to an individual reader to decide if this is a problem or not. 

Overall: A great mystery story lacking memorable characters. If following the clues is your flavor, you’ll love it. Even with the unsympathetic character, it’s still an enjoyable story because of the quality of the mystery and the world in which it unfolds.    

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Story Review: Day One by Jim Butcher from Unfettered II

Story Review: Day One by Jim Butcher from Unfettered II

 

 

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Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Day One by Jim Butcher is the fourth story in the Unfettered II Anthology. Waldo Butters is about to embark on his first mission as a Knight of the Cross. Not too long ago, he was a somewhat reluctant associate of Harry Dresden. Waldo loves Harry, it’s just that Waldo is a bit of a scardy cat (understatement).  Now he’s a Night of the Cross fresh out of training. Can he truly step up to be a hero in his own right?

Character:  I probably would have paid for the whole anthology to get me a piece of the Dresden world. In a way, I sort of did. Waldo is a fun character, and I’ve liked seeing his growth through the books. He’s earnest, and that makes me want to root for him even before you add the fact that he wields one of the three blades. He’s proactive, but the interesting thing is  he’s still not quite a star on his own, and this story shows that. 

Exposition: This is wonderful when you consider the first person narrative. Waldo’s an interesting character, so it stands to reason that he’s a fun guy to listen to. Having read all of the Dresden books, I have a bit of trouble separating this book as a stand alone. I worry that those who don’t know the story will feel a bit lost. It’s self contained well enough, but this is clearly for fans of the series and not what I’d use to introduce someone to the series. 

Worldbuilding: As a part of a series, we have what we need in the Dresden world. We get a new spooky villain, and we can move on. As a stand alone, we get what we absolutely must know in regard to the Knights and Waldo. It doesn’t have the same skillful world building the last story had, but it’s a much better story overall because the characters move and grow. I feel that sort of comparison is important. If writers are trying to pick which is more important, aim for characters that connect to readers and grow rather than meticulous worldbuilding. Sure, it’s great to have it all, but doing so is usually pretty hard to do in shorter fiction.

Butcher
This photo by Karen Hacker with The Portrait Gallery was taken from the author’s website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Dialogue: This has all the clever banter and wit I like in dialogue. Note: I’m a pretty simple guy to please in that regard. Butters has a unique voice, and it felt good to see him. If any were to accuse Butcher of aiming for too much snark, I couldn’t argue, but I also wouldn’t care. You get what you get, and I wanted more Dresden. 

Description: Butcher is probably underrated in this. There’s an art form to providing description that is detailed enough to activate the senses but vague enough to challenge the imagination. Butcher has a mastery of this. The challenge is greater when you have a suspenseful or horror angle. In those genre’s what you leave out is every bit as important as what you put in. I always get the right mix of both with Butcher, and this story is no different. 

Overall: Given my bias for Butcher’s work, this was easily my favorite story, and as a fan of Dresden, it was worth the price alone. I don’t know that I could say the same is true for people who don’t love Dresden. I can objectively say it is one of the most entertaining stories in the collection. It also gets me excited for the new release coming out July 14. So get that TBR shelf cleared and ready!   

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Story Review: And Men Will Mine the Mountain for Our Souls by Seanan McGuire from Unfettered II

Story Review: And Men Will Mine the Mountain for Our Souls by Seanan McGuire from Unfettered II

 

 

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Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  And Men Will Mine the Mountain for Our Souls by Seanan McGuire is the third story in the Unfettered II Anthology. The princess and prince of dragons have seen the end of their world. The humans are coming, and there is no foretelling of how to prevent it. How will they face the end?

Character:  First off, I love dragons. I’m always attracted to tales of dragons, and the more human they seem, the better. The dragons here are absolutely sympathetic. I want to call them proactive, but that’s what bugged me about the story. This inevitable thing is coming, and it just, well, comes. I wanted there to be something to come of it, and I don’t feel I got that.   

Exposition: This was good. The point of view and the exposition did a great job of connecting me to the characters. That’s actually what made the ending so anticlimactic for me. 

Worldbuilding: I want to mention how impressive this was given the short nature of the story. The author crafts unique characters and lore into tight prose and structure. I was impressed by the author’s ability to do that. Usually, people sort of gloss over worldbuilding to account for short fiction. This story proves you don’t have to do that.

McGuire
Image of the author was taken from her bio on her website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Dialogue: The dialogue here was solid if not impressive. It was realistic and helped connect to the characters.

Description: This was good enough on my end if not what some people look for in fantasy. I could see the dragons and the scene. There could have been more senses activated, especially considering dragons were the viewpoint. 

Overall: This story sort of disappointed me. You see, it had a lot of great elements, but those elements lead to an unsurprising and, ultimately, unsatisfying conclusion.  If the characters gained something, or we had a pleasantly surprising ending where the characters found a clever answer, this would be an amazing story, but to see characters just sort of lament something and then watch it arrive made great elements a disappointing story.     

Thanks for reading

Matt

 

Story Review: A Slow Kill by Peter Orullian from Unfettered II

Story Review: A Slow Kill by Peter Orullian from Unfettered II

 

 

Cover
Cover for Unfettered II taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  A Slow Kill by Peter Orullian is the second story in the Unfettered II Anthology. What seems like the story of a pair of famers working becomes a tale of an assassin’s work. However, each tale told reveals a deeper plan to the final target.

Character:  I like stories where the characters have a deeper agenda. I can’t name the characters after this long, but I remembered this story when I reviewed the title, and that’s a good sign. The protagonist has a lot of cool moments that sort of (on a very small level) remind me of Man on Fire. 

Exposition: This was strong. The plot moved well, and I didn’t get bogged down with back story. 

Worldbuilding: There isn’t much here in that regard. The story is pretty self contained. It doesn’t degrade the quality of this story since it’s so character driven. Those who want deep worldbuilding and intricate magic systems probably won’t get what they’re looking for here, but if you like clever stories, this is pretty good.

Orullian
Image of Mr. Orullian was taken from his about page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Dialogue: This story did right what the previous story didn’t do so well. It still didn’t have the banter or wit I typically love in dialogue, but it was genuine and natural. The conversation ebbed and flowed naturally and really made the end pay off. 

Description: I actually really appreciated this description. Obviously, a story told by an assassin is going to have some elements that could be overly graphic, and that’s not my jam. Orullian does a great job of giving the readers what they need to feel and sense the scene requires without being gruesome or lewd.  Now, there may be arguments that Caught is gruesome. That may be, again, people have different sensibilities. So I need you to understand that, as an author and creator, I  feel Orullian did a good job of being descriptive without being distasteful.

Overall: This is probably my third-favorite story in the anthology. It’s a good little tale with a nice twist that was satisfying if not surprising. 

Thanks for reading

Matt