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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
An immense anthology collecting 11 short novels -- each of which takes place in the author's respective well-known series -- from bestselling authors, Legends is a diverse mix of warriors, sorcerers, dragons, castles, and enigmatic towers full of secrets, doom, and consummate love. For anyone with an appetite for high-fantasy fiction, Legends will take you forward into familiar worlds of powerful magic as well as introduce you to new lands that will enthrall and lead you on to further mystical adventures. No matter what your taste, there is enough flavor here to satisfy any discriminating literary palate.
Stephen King's "The Little Sisters of Eluria" is a tale of Roland of Gilead that takes place before the first of King's four Dark Tower novels, the most recent of which was 1997's Wizard and Glass. This novella finds the Gunslinger entering the strange ruined town of Eluria. Roland has been chasing the Dark Man across the wastelands of his world for many years, often battling supernatural creatures and high-tech sentient weapons gone mad. Here in Eluria, no sooner does he find the corpse of a young man than he must again battle mutants, the "green folk" who attack anything human without reason or provocation. After being viciously assaulted, he awakens to find himself in a convent, being tended to by a bizarre sisterhood, who use unnatural insects as "doctors" to heal him. However, the purpose for which he's being healed is definitely unhealthy, and Roland must once more fight for his life and freedom. No matter how eerie or creepy the sceneshe creates, King always manages to lend a particularly playful quality to his craftsmanship.
In "Debt of Bones" we return to Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series and follow our heroine, Abby, as she petitions the First Wizard, Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander, to save the captured people of her small village. Zorander is powerful enough that he can listen to dozens of appeals at once, holding multiple conversations about the battles going on with the evil Darken Rahl. Although he listens to her plea, Zorander must forego Abby's request in order to fight a more important conflict elsewhere. After she is turned away, Abby rages while the Mother Confessor tells her a story of Zorander's own heartbreaks and horrors during the war. Though she can understand how he must weigh the lives of the few against the many, still Abby possesses a bone of debt, handed down from her sorceress mother, which is supposed to hold Zorander to promises made long ago. Goodkind breathes fresh life into the wars of wizards, his enticing prose always focused on human foibles and tragedy rather than on the dynamic sorcery at hand.
Wandering an alternate earth in "The Grinning Man" is Orson Scott Card's Alvin the Maker, who meets the Grinning Man while roaming through Kenituck. The Grinning Man turns out to be none other than Davy Crockett, who has a magical knack for charming bears. He does little, though, to charm Alvin and Alvin's ward, Arthur Stuart, when he spreads lies to his neighbors that the pair are burglars. While in town, Alvin and Arthur have a run-in with a cheating miller, who first hires them in an effort to take advantage of their good natures but soon learns that he is being taught a lesson in honesty. Alvin also manages to get even with the Grinning Man by trading a bit of Crockett's "heartfire" with that of a bear. Card continues his exemplary fusion of American magic, folklore, and history, and manages to creates a dialect and language reminiscent of Manly Wade Wellman's cherished Silver John character.
"Dragonfly," set in Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea world, is a highly gratifying return to one of the most famous and adored series ever created. The young lady Dragonfly, whose true name is Iria, wishes only to leave her bitter, brutish father. When a youthful mage comes to town, she welcomes his tales of the Wizard Isle of Roke, and together they form a scheme that will allow Dragonfly to enter the school of wizards, even though women are strictly forbidden there. Upon arrival at the school, though, Dragonfly cannot lie to the masters, and the great wizards themselves find that they need her more than they ever believed. The author does well to introduce us to a new protagonist even while exploring her well-known setting of the Isle of Roke even further. In recent years, Le Guin has visited her Earthsea series too infrequently, and any return is one that should be met with great anticipation and delight.
Tad Williams's "The Burning Man," set in his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, entices the reader into a marvelously readable and engaging eerie story. The tale centers on Beva, the stepdaughter of Lord Sulis, a stony but not cruel exiled lord known as the Heron King, who comes to the Lake People of Erkynland in order to rebuild the ruins of Hayholt Keep. Hayholt is known for its haunted passageways and vast, ancient secrets. As Beva grows to adolescence and falls in love with the young soldier Tellarin, she sees her stepfather growing more and more infatuated with certain unspoken questions, until finally he imprisons a witch in order to have her help him contact the spirits of the keep. This wonderfully lyrical, intoxicating, but earthy piece is written in Williams's always haunting, beautiful narrative voice, and will draw the reader into mysteries that one cannot help but find as consuming as Lord Sulis does.
Revisiting his Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan brings us "New Spring," a novella set before the first book of the series, The Eye of the World. Here a young warrior king, Lan, returns to his lands after a distant war only to discover that his first love may be seeking his death. Also involved are the Aes Sedai, women capable of using the One Power, which spins the Wheel of Time and drives the universe. Moriane appears to be an Aes Sedai, but one with her own particular agenda, which may go against all of her sisterhood. Jordan is immensely capable of creating a plot full of secret affairs and adventure, with an underpinning of political intrigue and further assassination attempts. "New Spring" is a sword-wielding romp but with much deeper and complex issues at its core, especially where the war between the sexes is concerned.
Besides these fabulous, affecting works of high fantasy, Legends also offers top-notch novellas from other beloved series, including Robert Silverberg's Majipoor series, Terry Pratchett's deliciously humorous Discworld tales, Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern, Raymond E. Feist's The Riftwar Saga, and George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Legends comes highly recommended.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of the critically acclaimed supernatural novel Pentacle, as well as the dark suspense mysteries Shards and The Dead Past. His short fiction has appeared in many anthologies, including The Conspiracy Filesand Hot Blood: Fear the Fever.