the Little Red Reviewer

Epic: Legends of Fantasy (anthology) edited by John Joseph Adams

Posted on: November 12, 2012

Epic: Legends of Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams

published November 2012

where I got it: Received ARC from the publisher











Epic Fantasy requires the story to be bigger, the dragons be faster, the warriors be stronger, and everything generally be more. And Epic: Legends of Fantasy offers up just that – more mythos,  higher stakes, more of simply everything.

Many of the entries are part of the author’s larger work, taking place in an epic fantasy world that the author has already written hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages about. Randomly, the stories I read first happened to be part of larger works, and at first, the lack of stand alone works bothered me, but I quickly came to appreciate it, and to learn the collection had plenty of stand alone stories as well. An anthology like this is a brilliant method of introducing readers to these larger fantasy worlds created by famous authors such as Robin Hobb, George R R Martin, Michael Moorcock, Melanie Rawn, Tad Williams, and many others, and serves as an excellent introduction to the writings of newer authors  as well.

Some works were fairly new, but others were older than I am. the Moorcock for example was originally written in 1961. A pure classic sword and sorcery, complete with sexualized and helpless female, it might be offensive to today’s readers, but I’m happy Adams included it, as what’s the point of talking about Epic Fantasy if we’re not going to touch on the journey the genre has taken?

Clocking in at over 600 pages, Epic: Legends of Fantasy is itself a bit of a doorstopper.  We eat clunksters like this for breakfast, so I was surprised at how long it took me to plow through it. ahh, but spending 600+ pages in one fantasy world is one thing. Try spending that quantity of pages in over a dozen fantasy worlds. More often than not, my brain needed a little break in between.   This isn’t the kind of anthology to gorge on, this is the kind you savor, over many winter evenings.

Here’s my thoughts a handful of the entries:

Homecoming, by Robin Hobb (2003) – the perfect entry to start out the collection, Homecoming is the story of the first foreigners to colonize the Rain Wilds region; it’s a prequel of sorts to Hobb’s interwoven trilogies. The story is told through the diary entries of an unwilling colonist, and her emotional reaction to what’s happening around her draws the reader in right away.  Once the surviving colonists find an area to start building a village, the plot takes a sharp left turn towards the fantastical.

While The Gods Laugh, by Michael Moorcock (1961) – Epic Fantasy today wouldn’t exist without the foundations laid by authors such as Michael Moorcock, who took the heroes journey and stomped all over it with filthy boots. Moorcock’s eternal champion, Elric Melnibone, is the original antihero.  Wielder of Stormbringer, every time Elric uses the magic sword in defense of the weak, the Chaos lord Arioch grows stronger on the blood and souls of the dead. Every decision Elric makes has dark consequences, and often there is no good option, only the less terrible one, some option that will keep Chaos from gaining a hold in our world. In this tale of Elric, he learns the location of a famed mythical book that could free him of his servitude. Along with his guide, the Lady Shaarilla, they travel through a barren land, facing monsters, beasts, and finally the guardian of the stronghold of Entropy. This may not be the most politically correct of stories (cue entrance of overly sexualized useless and half-dressed female), but I was cheering Elric on through every page.  Old school Moorcock puts a smile on my face every time.

The Mother of All Russiya by Melanie Rawn (2012) -  I’m a sucker for historical fiction, for stories of what might have happened based on what we know happened, and the further back we go, the less we know and the more we guess. This story is about the strength of a mother. Grand Princess Olga of Kiev, married off as a child and now widowed, and fearing for the life of her own son, must woo and seduce those who might take her throne from her. She has no army to fight, no weapons to bear.  The only tools she has are her wits. But how to manipulate your foes into believing they have you exactly where they want you? A stand alone, The Mother of All Russiya doesn’t need a many thousand page epic series to stand with, it has the glory of all of Russian history.

The Mystery Knight, by George R R Martin (2010) – set seventy years before A Song of Ice and Fire, The Mystery Knight is the newest  “Dunk ‘n Egg” novella, starring Ser Duncan and his squire, Egg. For fame and money, Ser Duncan enters the lists at a tournament at a wedding. The things he overhears go to show that political intrigue and backstabbing has been happening for ages in the seven kingdoms. It was also nice to be reminded of his squire’s true identity.

As the Wheel Turns, by Aliette deBodard (2010) – I adored this story, and if you enjoy mythology, you will too.  Dai-Yu has been chased through many lifetimes by two opposing spirits. They demand that she choose between them, and when she refuses, all that she loves is taken from her.  Reincarnated again and again, but unable to forget her past lives or all the ways the spirits tortured her. The prose flows beautifully, not unlike her tears.

The Bound Man by Mary Robinette Kowal (2006) – another stunning entry, this one takes the trope of the village in need calling on a warrior ancestor on its head. We do have a village in need, and they are able to pull their ancestor warrior spirit out of the ether to help them fight off invaders. The warrior’s name is Li Reiko, and wow is she pissed off. One day she was playing with her children, playing in the fountain in the yard, and suddenly she was torn through time, to a place where she’s worshiped as a near demi-god.  It was so very refreshing to see this kind of story through the eyes of the supposed savior, who never asked to be called. Li Reiko has no choice  but to fulfill her destiny, but what an awful price to pay for it.

The Alchemist, by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010) – The Bramble is a terrible, thorny, poisonious plant that is slowing taking over the city. It’s cut back daily, and everyone is working hard to figure out a way to kill it, or stop it’s growth. Our narrator has spent every penny, sold off all his family’s belongings, and broken his daughters heart to fund his scientific attempts to kill the Bramble. The cause of the Bramble?  The use of magic.  in a world where magic works, what a horrible price to pay for it.  A little bit, no big deal. But it’s so easy to use a little, and then a little more, and then a little more, and before you know it, you’re surrounded by thorns. In a world obsessed with magic, how can our narrator convince the powers that be that his invention works on science, on alchemy, and not magic? Politicians, it is known, see what they want to see, and will do anything to keep their tenuous hold on power.

There are another half dozen stories I could go on and on about, really, this was 600 pages of epically undiluted awesomesauce. But wait, there’s more!  To learn more about Epic Legends of Fantasy, author interviews and a few excerpts, visit editor John Joseph Adams’ website.

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15 Responses to "Epic: Legends of Fantasy (anthology) edited by John Joseph Adams"

Sounds like a winner :) I need a bit more epic fantasy on my pile, and I think this could do it :)


Jamie, you will love this. seriously. oh, except it’s gonna get you addicted to like 20 more fantasy authors. ;)

This does look pretty goof. Moorcock isn’t one of my favorites, I could never “get into” his work. There was plenty of large-canvas fantasy – a term I prefer to “epic fantasy” – written before you were born, young one. :-)

By the way, I put up my review of Agatha H. today.

and i am desperately trying to catch up. I was born too late! Moorcock seems to be a love ‘em or hate ‘em kind of writer, but for me, it was love at first read. The only book of his that didn’t do anything for me was Gloriana, that’s not the one you started with, was it?

i commented on your Agatha H. review, I’m happy you liked it!

Thanks a bunch for the info on the 2nd novel, it’s on the way as I write this.

[...] Blog The Little Red Reviewer has an enthusiastic review of EPIC, which discusses several of the stories in depth, and culminates by calling the anthology “600 pages of epically undiluted awesomesauce.” [review] [...]

Sounds like a one stop shop! I would have to savor this one over time so my brain won’t freeze up.

I really want to read this. I have it on my wish list. :)

Holly mother of God, Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin IN THE SAME BOOK? I.must.have.this!!!!!!!!!!

I know!!! is that epic, or what? AND it’s the two of them PLUS Robin freakin’ Hobb!!!! Plus like 15 other amazing people. You are seriously going to love this. :D

I thought this anthology was fantastic. I’m really not a big anthology reader but I really enjoyed every story here. This was probably partially because the stories were long enough that I really able to get in to them and get a feel for the world and characters. Though I was disappointed to discover that the Sanderson and Rothfuss stories were just excerpts from their books.

When I cracked it open the first time, I went right for the Rothfuss. . .and I kept thinking to myself that this story sounded really, really familiar, to the point where I could predict the ending. Yup, it was a straight excerpt, what a disappointment! ,what a frustration!!!! srsly, I was pissed. I did finally get over it for a couple reasons – the editor didn’t solicit authors for new, original stories when he put this together, he was purchasing stuff that had already been published in books, in short story mags, as part of writing contents (Rothfuss had originally submitted a version of that story for a contest), etc. And, well, then I just eventually got over it.

[...] Epic: Legends of Fantasy (anthology) edited by John Joseph Adams [...]

[...] Epic: Legends of Fantasy (anthology) edited by John Joseph Adams [...]

[...] Epic: Legends of Fantasy (anthology) edited by John Joseph Adams ( [...]

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