I received a review copy of Art of War: Anthology for Charity in exchange for an honest review. I’d like to thank Petros Triantafyllou for this opportunity but also for his amazing efforts in putting this exquisite anthology together. All the proceeds will go to Medecins San Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). Having already compiled 40 of the finest fantasy authors currently writing, John Anthony Di Giovanni and Shawn King, arguably the best cover artists around also contribute. The editing is by Tim Marquitz and Petros himself and the internal artwork by Jason Deem is beautiful. I was excited to receive this anthology and couldn’t wait to get started. Note:- I was a proofreader of ML Spencer’s story but this has not influenced my review at all.
Before reading Art of War: Anthology for Charity I knew 28 of the authors and approximately a third of these stories are from their already crafted fantasy worlds. Knowledge of these stories could be beneficial however it only adds approximately an extra 10% enjoyment. For example, Ed McDonald’s The Breaking of the Sky is set before the events of Blackwing and John Gwynne’s The Greatest Battle is set 7 years after the conclusion of Wrath. They all standalone if you’re new to the individual authors and they are still highly engaging. The anthology seems a perfect mix of famous names intertwined with top quality independent authors whose output is often just as credible and enjoyable.
Out of the 40 stories, the following 10 truly stood out to me. It has been difficult to limit it to that number. In no order, my favourites were…
Anna Stephens – Flesh and Coin. Anna proves why she is one of the finest grimdark writers around. Expertly unpredictable, brutal, exciting, and intoxicating.
Mark Lawrence – The Hero of Aral Pass. Jalan, after the events of the Red Queen’s War talking about his legendary antics at Aral Pass. The Red Queen’s War is one of my favourite fantasy series and this story doesn’t disappoint. This is worth buying the book for in isolation.
Andrew Rowe – Misplaced Heroism. Bite-size LitRPG tale. It’s startling how deep a magic system Rowe created in these few pages. A gentleman who is scrolling through Reddit gets sucked into a world-defining yet slightly comical battle of the ages. This story portrays amazing wit, and enthusiasm, whilst being pleasantly complex.
Thomas R. Gaskin – The Waving of the Flag. This was a pleasant surprise. I’d not heard of the author yet this story is the one I keep going back to re-read. Amazingly well written, very emotional, quite gritty, and essentially it’s just a very good brief narrative.
Michael R. Fletcher’s Doppels – The Undying Lands. Fletcher, or his Doppels, are the masters of madness. He’s grimdark royalty for a reason and this tale of severed heads, gladiatory battles, and poisoned lands has a sinister comic flavour.
Dyrk Ashton – Valkyrie Rain. Dyrk’s a walking mythological encyclopedia. Everything he writes highlights the many hours he’s put into research and that obtained knowledge and influence leaks from the page. Valkyrie Rain depicts a battle of the most epic proportions at Valhalla. Dyrk’s one of the finest self-published authors around.
Sebastien De Castell – The Fox and The Bowman. This is probably one of the finest short stories I’ve ever read. From afar and for vengeance, a young gentleman wants to shoot an arrow through the heart of a Knight who has previously wronged his family. A mysterious stranger approaches and talks to him about the whole scenario. It’s a simple sounding premise yet this story has depth and quality not normally associated with tales of this length. It’s loosely based on history from French/English wars around the 14th century and the following generations.
ML Spencer – The Bravest and the Best. This story is about an argument between houses, a battle is on the horizon yet when it happens, the Dead are watching. Haunting and poetic, perhaps confusing for parts but this reflects what’s going through the young protagonist’s mind. It has an excellent finale that will leave people wanting more.
Benedict Patrick – The Feather and the Paw.The King of the Lions decides to invade neighbouring kingdoms but to achieve this his army has to venture through a forest. Unfortunately, the forest inhabitants do not wish to be disturbed. Patrick writes perfect, intoxicatingly haunting short stories.
Nicholas Eames – Sacred Semantics. This tale is about a spider war. 8-legged verses 6-legged variations. This story was dark, emotional, had moments of clarity and a brief potential love angle, but war is hell. There is also a giant spider tank! This story shows Eames’ tongue in cheek humour and I’m sure he’ll find many new fans from this.
Other notable mentions for quality stories go to Laura M Hughes, Brian Stavely, Ed McDonald, DM Murray, Michael R. Miller, JP Ashman, Rob Hayes, Timandra Whitecastle, and John Gwynne.
Out of 40 stories with the setting being war it’s guaranteed some of them are going to be similar. Perhaps if this was limited to 20 stories it could have been even more enjoyable, however, if I personally wasn’t engaged by, or didn’t enjoy a certain tale that isn’t to say it will not be someone else’s favourite. Arguably it could have been streamlined yet, I’d have given this book 4 or 5 stars after only reading 20 of the stories, therefore, it would be unfair to penalise this anthology for presenting me with more stories for the same value. This could be the finest fantasy anthology around and I believe it will be a long time before I see one that is as complete, well-produced and brimming with as many quality tales. Petros deserves a lot of credit for what he has composed with Art of War: Anthology for Charity.