September 27, 2013

A Game of Tropes: a review of George R.R. Martin's and Gardner Dozois' "Down These Strange Streets

Down These Strange Streets: All-New Stories of Urban Fantasy

edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Ace (2011)

479 pages

ISBN 0441020747 

For an anthology with so many high profile names, particularly George R.R. Martin, I don't think I heard a peep about this book. I just happened to spot it sitting on a shelf at my local library during the winter and decided to check it out. Mr. Martin doesn't include a story of his own, nor Dozois, simply collecting a bunch of stories from other authors and providing an informative introduction.

Despite my affinity for urban fantasy, my familiarity with many of the authors included in this anthology is rather limited. So, this book wound up as much a sampler of each author's work as it was an excursion into one of my favorite genres.

Now, the whole UF genre is given a lot of leeway in this anthology. Most folks probably picture sexy ladies in the city thwarting villains while snogging some supernatural hunk of man candy. This is not that kind of anthology. Well, there is a little of that in this anthology, but there's way more to it than the stereotypes would lead you to believe. Charlaine Harris's story "Death of Dahlia" kicks things off with a vampire investigating a murder inside a house with a bunch of other vampires. I read the very first Sookie Stackhouse book, didn't care for it a whole lot, but I enjoyed this vamp mystery.

A couple of the names that caught my eye when first perusing the table of contents were Joe R. Lansdale, whose story "The Bleeding Shadow" definitely stepped away from the conventional idea of urban fantasy. Set in the late 40s with a sometimes P.I. helping out a friend find her brother after she receives a strange record from him that has an otherworldly hold to it, only for the guy to find the brother and a whole lot more trouble than he'd figured on. I'm a sucker for Lansdale's stories, and this one didn't disappoint. The other name I noticed was Patricia Briggs. I haven't read her Mercy Thompson books yet, but I've got one on my bookshelf waiting to be read, and she's been recommended to me enough times that this was my first real chance to sample her work. "In Red, with Pearls" wound up being a standout story for me, too. It involves Warren, a werewolf, and his lover Kyle trying to figure out who sent a zombie to kill Kyle. With the help of a couple witches, Warren sets off to hunt down who's responsible. The story played out in a bit of a predictable fashion in the end, but it was told in such an entertaining fashion that I didn't mind one bit. I'm definitely making that Briggs novel on my shelf, Cry Wolf, a priority to read this year.

Along with a few other enjoyable tales like Simon R. Green's "The Hungry Heart" and Carrie Vaughn's "It's Still the Same Old Story," this anthology wound up a pleasant surprise in my wandering my local library's shelves. After reading it, I think I'll need to look up a few of these authors' UF novels and give 'em a go. In that sense, I suppose this book accomplished what it set out to do.


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