BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An intriguing collection of stories with a strong lineup of authors both well known and new.
PROS: Some really fresh and interesting stories from both well known and newcomer writers alike. A large selection (over two dozen) of stories with a variety of authors and ideas.
CONS: A fair number of the stories fell flat for me. Some stories aren’t to theme.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting mix of stories with villain protagonists.
Novels and stories with the villain as the lead are not really something new and unprecedented in genre fiction. John Gardner’s Grendel tells the story of Beowulf from the viewpoint of the titular monster, The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell, has a special ops group working for an evil overlord. The movie Midnight Chronicles, set in the titular RPG world deals with a trio of investigators in a town only loosely under control of the world-spanning villain. Sometimes telling the story from the “bad guys” point of view is a way to get at truths, or tell stories that you can’t tell if you focus on the protagonists, or focus on those caught in the conflict between hero and villain. And I have always thought that villains, done right, can make a book or other artistic work come alive. This is doubly so when the villain is the central viewpoint figure.
Oftentimes, though, these works are defined by the villain’s conflict with the hero, or those who oppose him. Much less often do we get to see the domestic side for a villain. What happens to the villain who returns home, defeated and disgraced, or victorious? How do villains deal with the home front? When the Villain Comes Home, an anthology of stories edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood sets out to answer those questions.
The book could be seen as a companion volume to Harbowy and Greenwood’s previous effort, When the Hero Comes Home, which explored the domestic side of heroes and heroism. The two volumes share a number of authors, ranging from Jay Lake and Jim C Hines to Tony Pi and Marie Bilodeau. This volume, however, has more stories and authors versus the previous volume, proving, perhaps, that writers do relish the chance to write the bad guy when given the excuse and opportunity.
My favorite stories in the volume came from authors both familiar and new to me. Tony Pi’s “Miscible Imp” gives us a creature whose physical matrix is embedded in a potion, returning to the site of his creation to engage in a perilous heist. Pi’s typical penchant for dry humor resonates well here. Eugie Foster has a fine story of the relationship between a villain and his twin sister in “Oranges, Lemons and Thou Beside Me.”. Jim C Hines did not disappoint with his story “Daddy’s Little Girl”, featuring a genre savvy villainess intent on finishing her father’s incomplete work. And Rachel Swirsky’s touching story “Broken Clouds” of a woman’s tragic use of dark magic strongly resonated with me. And there are many others.
The stories tend toward secondary world fiction and superhero type contemporary fantasy/SF, for the most part. However, there is plenty of variety to this collection. Jay Lake’s ”The Woman Who Shattered the Moon”, for example, feels very much like a steampunk story to me. The anthologies tone is equally varied, ranging from the straight up comedic to touching and affecting stories that take the theme and explore it in a nuanced and sensitive way. I was surprised and delighted by this mix. Also, there is a good proportion of strong female characters to be found in the stories, both as villain protagonists, and the people they care about.
Some of the stories did not work for me, but given the sheer number of stories in the volume, this perhaps would not surprise anyone, given the nature of most anthologies. Sometimes the story left me flat, other times the writing felt a little clunky and amateurish. I was more disappointed, however, that a few of the stories do not appear to connect to the theme as well as others did.
As a collection, When the Villain Comes Home does have its flaws, but with the large number of stories, the wide variety of authors, and the types of villains, themes and styles, still manages to have an overall strong appeal for me, and likely will for a large swath of other readers as well.