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BOOK REVIEW: When the Hero Comes Home II edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: A collection of fantasy stories from voices familiar and unfamiliar that explores the titular theme in diverse ways.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Some relatively strong stories; an anthology theme that despite previous volume still has a lot of story potential; extremely character-focused fiction; a good collection of authors both familiar and unfamiliar.
CONS: A fair proportion of the stories did not work for me; the collection might be overlong.
BOTTOM LINE: A an overall good collection of fantasy short stories.

The epic battle to save the world has been won. The ancient evil has been defeated. The cursed artifact has been thrown into the elemental pole of fire. The enemy army has been vanquished. The opposing horde has been fought to a stalemate, and an status quo ante bellum has been reached. Or perhaps, for all of their heroism, the hero has failed and has to live with the personal and public consequences of that failure.

What happens now? Can a hero really go home again? With the transformative experience of their adventure, their heroism, their act of bravery or sacrifice, their success, draw or defeat, do they even fit at home anymore? And what happens when those worlds collide?

When the Hero Comes Home II is a follow up to When the Hero Comes Home, and When the Villain Comes Home, from Dragon Moon Press. The strength of the anthology is its diversity of stories, heroes — and most importantly — authors. Given the size of the anthology, and a commitment to an open, blind submission process, the final product has a rather surprising and pleasing level of diversity to it. While authors like James Sutter and Ed Greenwood himself are very familiar to me, there are a number much lower profile authors as well. This has had the concordant result of a wide variety of types of heroes and situations on offer: androids in the far future, body-swapped princes, a teenager who stands up to a bully, a would-be suicide bomber, and much more.

The editorial focus on the stories, too, seems to be strongly character focused. None of the stories approach even the size of a novelette (~7,500 words) and so the stories are relatively lean and uninterested in extensive and large-scale world building. Instead, the emotional lives and situations of the heroes appears to be the guiding principle and thread that connects what are otherwise very different stories and heroes.

A few notes of the stories that worked best:

  • In “Waiting for You”, the opening story in the collection, Leah Petersen has an android return to Earth after centuries to report her success…and to find everyone on the planet of her origin uninterested in her original mission. Or are they?
  • Chaz Brenchley’s “Bringing Back Raby” is a neat little fantasy tale that looks at what happens where Heroes can cheat even Death…unless precautions are taken, and the type of men to take such precautions.
  • While I might have expected something set within Valdemar, Mercedes Lackey’s “Safe Within You” instead looks at a superhero facing not only the inescapable end of her home, but her entire world.
  • Finally, Willow Perez, armed with Girl Scout cookies and determination, was told she has to be a heroine and save a magical kingdom by getting an artifact from an old man to help her on the journey. However, the titular “Jack Crochety”, in a story by Larry C. Kay, knows a thing or two about leaving the modern world to save fantasy ones.

I do think that the diversity and number of stories is a double edged sword. I think that any anthology or collection can, for some readers, lead to fatigue. Even with a topic as wide as heroes returning home, I found myself somewhat fatigued by the end of a collection that, in paper form, has over twenty stories. (The eBook has 8 additional stories exclusive to that edition.) Before I read the last story, I was ready for a topic change. While reading something else and returning to the collection is always an option, of course, I feel that a book should not overstay a serial reader’s welcoming of the topic, however enthusiastic they might be going in. A slightly tighter focus and a little more discrimination in the number of stories might have made a good collection such as this stronger still.

And, I applaud the collection’s dedication to Jay Lake. Well done.

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!
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