Dangerous Women

Gardner Dozois, George R. R. Martin
Dangerous Women Cover

Dangerous Women


*Some minor overview of premise in the stories & role of women in them (probably not spoilers but...)*


3 stars for a book review typically feels like, 'well it was alright but I wouldn't read anymore by 'x'...'.  In this case it feels like it is a bit of a cheat of a review because some of this anthology is very good indeed and some of it is just awful, to the point of being REALLY awful.  I've tried to be fair because there are some stories I really liked but my overall impression after getting through the anthology is that this is closer to a 2 star book rather than a 3.


'Dangerous Women' is a short story anthology around the theme of well, Dangerous Women.  The introduction to the book promised femme fatales, women of daring, women of power, strong women, women who were not shrinking violets, women whose motives were not always 'good' or nurturing.  My overall impression after reading the anthology is that despite the brilliant premise the stories do not come close to meeting the stated purpose and that is a big fail.  There is part of me that things the editors just got their mates to throw together an anthology and sell it with another 'Song Of Ice and Fire' novellete to cash in.  And this of course is a shame, because I've read 'The Book of Swords' and 'Rogues' anthologies by the same authors and been really impressed, generally enjoying most of the stories and buying into the premise.  It is notable for me that I thought 'Rogues' was mostly very good indeed, and there were far stronger 'Dangerous Women' in that anthology than this one.  That anthology contained memorable female characters who had spirit, who had fire, who were strong in their own setting.  Here, it is a harder claim to justify.


There are examples of women being completely passive and 'off camera' for most of the story, sometimes not having a voice at all ('Wrestling Jesus' being an example in an okay story where two old men wrestle over a woman but it doesn't fit with this theme).   'Nora's Song' about the children of Eleanor of Aquitaine has all the women and girls being totally passive who let everything happen to them.


Quite often the stories are not really about women and are just about men and we only see the story through their eyes (often an awful male gaze).  I get that it isn't a crime for the book to consider a range of perspectives but it felt like most of the book where short stories about men where a woman was an incidental character.  And please....I like salaciousness, and to an extent sleaze in books but there were a few to many 'hot woman walks into a bar / look at this hot stripper' stories to me - they may as well have said 'attractive women are dangerous and, or, women are there to be sex workers (and you still can't trust them).  To put into context I think sexual violence is present in at least eight of the twenty-one stories too.  


A number of stories are set in established universes, one of which I was familiar with and two have been on my 'to watch out for' lists.  I was delighted with one, the other was a big 'meh'.


So let's do a bit of a bit of the good, the bad and the 'not sure'... (I won't cover every story, just those that provoked a reaction)




'My Heart Is Either Broken' by Megan Abbot - this story is from the perspective of a husband whose wife is suspected of involvement in the disappearance of their daughter.  I felt this had quite a dark, sinister feel to it where you wanted to root for the parents but you always felt something was 'off'.  Pushed some buttons for me and I liked it.  Perhaps had a 'Gone Girl' vibe.


'Bombshells' by Jim Butcher - my first foray into the Dresden Files universe and after this I will definitely be reading more.  I absolutely loved this and it was just so much FUN.  The main characters are all women, they kick ass, there is a wonderful sense of chemistry between them and they feel rounded and fun.  Part of me fell in love with apprentice wizard Molly Carpenter and I just adored everything about this urban fantasy story with fairies, werewolves, vampires, wizards and dark elves in modern Chicago - it was just a blast with a fair bit of peril, flair and lots of explosive action.  The best story in the book by far.


'Raisa Stepanova' by Carrie Vaughn - a story about the 'Night Witches' who were Russian female fighter pilots in WWII.  It's a simple tale about wanting to succeed in a man's world, about the importance of friendships and family all with a coat of aerial dogfights and the brutality of Stalinist Russia - really liked this one.


'Neighbors' by Meghan Lindholm aka Robin Hobb and 'Caretakers' by Pat Cadigan - two stories in one anthology that centre around a woman living with dementia and her family's reaction to it.  I enjoyed them both and these stories seem to really divide opinion but I felt the humanity strong in them.  One would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the events in 'Neighbors'.  This one stayed with me.


'The Princess and The Queen' by George R.R. Martin.  I liked this and had fun with it but I am familiar with the universe (through the TV series).  If you like the series or the TV show you'll like this but it is written as a 'historical record'.  If you're not interested this will be a massive turn off and probably quite boring because it is largely, 'he went and did this and then she did that, then they all went here and had a fight there but then this happened, and by the way, this is a list of all the people who were involved and the places they went in this order'.  I enjoyed it because I love the setting and you know, there are battles, dragons, more battles, more dragons, a few people deciding they are kings and queens and the usual families lopping each other's heads off and their kids, friends, the person who happened to walk past.  Everything you'd want to read is in here and I did have fun with it but it isn't going to be for everyone.




'Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell' by Brandon Sanderson - On another day I suspect I would have loved this.  A female assassin looks after family in an inn near a dangerous forest.  It has brilliant world building that makes sense in the context of the story, the characters are really strong (and definitely dangerous women), there is a really strong plot.  So much to like but I didn't feel like it was the 'sum of it's parts'.


'Wrestling Jesus' by Joe. R. Lansdale - this story would be great in an anthology about fathers or just 'bro's'.  I liked the interplay between the main characters but the role of a woman in the book left a slightly misogynistic taste in the mouth I didn't care for.


'Second Arabesque, Very Slowly' by  Nancy Kress - an okay riff on the post-apocalyptic setting I have seen many times and once again girls and women are there to be raped (repeatedly) in order to breed (but it's okay because in this world girls hitting their first period and having all the men take their turn is an 'honour'....).  The story flowed okay and I liked the search for beauty in it but it felt quite horrible at times and a lazy portrayal of the role of women in the 'future'.


'Pronouncing Doom' by S.M. Stirling is another take on a post-apocalyptic world.  This time, there are communities which are quasi anarchistic (or at least mutual / socialised), however there is a strong influence of 'leadership' (I know, not anarchistic at all).  I quite liked the blend of paganism, Wicca and the strong woman at the heart of it.   Without getting into spoiler territory there are a number of ethical considerations here that really interested me along the lines of, 'how does a community without law respond to harm'.  Some good ideas in here and I thought I would like it more but it's another story where it didn't quite come together for me.


'Lies My Mother Told Me' by Caroline Spector - a superhero story set in the Wild Cards universe.  Definitely gets points for strong women and I got quite into the world building and the characterisation.  What stopped it from landing in the 'good' category is that I felt it was quite long and was building up to something special but then the last few pages had a 'I don't know how to end this so I'll end this now' vibe (that's present in another story too where I think the author intends it to be open ended but it just reads as 'unfinished')




'The Hands That Are Not There' by Melinda Snodgrass - Military dude meets a stripper in sci-fi setting.  I don't know who we are supposed to root for here, but I really hated the central character and I think we were supposed to feel sorry for him.  I pretty much hated everything about this story and I know it has a message of 'colonialism is bad' but I struggled to have any sympathy with the main character at all.  I felt the author was pointing out all this shitty stuff the man represented but somehow expected us to feel sorry for him.  Really hated the representation of the stripper too...


'I Know How To Pick 'Em' by Lawrence Block - a disgusting incel rape fantasy.  Hated this on every level.  Just horrible.


'Nora's Song' by Cecilia Holland and 'A Queen in Exile' by Sharon Kay Penman - both stories are historical fiction about queens who generally do nothing whilst their king husbands do other stuff.  Passive women, rather than dangerous ones.


'The Girl in the Mirror' by Leve Grossman - I really wanted to like this as a friend of mine loves 'The Magicians' both on TV and the books.  Along with the 'Dresden Files' story I was most looking forward to this one but really it did nothing for me.  I thought I'd get a kick out of a 'school for magic' that is YA rather than for children but it didn't hit the spot.  Won't bother with the series now but at least I found out through a short story rather than starting a novel.


'Name The Beast' by Sam Sykes - really struggled to follow this and engage with on any level.


'City Lazarus' by Diana Rowland - gosh I hated this one too.  Bent cop gets the hots for a stripper.  She's clearly the 'dangerous woman' of the story but doesn't really feature as a character at all.  I don't care for the theme of 'strippers will date you, because of course, that's what they are like, but you can't trust them' which is present in a few stories here.  The main character is just a reprehensible character.  It's alright to write horrible characters but I want to at least connect with them on a level, even if it is dislike but I just thought, 'this guy is horrible, I don't care what happens to him'.


'Virgins' by Diana Gabaldon - the characters in this book are part of an established series (Outlander) featuring two Scottish travellers in the late 18th century (I think) who are acting as mercenaries in France.  How much did I hate this???  100%.  It's really a story about two men bonding and the so called Dangerous Woman BARELY features, and even when she does, she's alright - she just wants to live on her own terms.  Judging by the reviews a lot of fans were drawn to this anthology because they are fans of this series but really it does not fit the premise at all.  This is another story with a casual rape thrown in (which no one does anything about) and once again, the best way for a woman to get her own way is to YET AGAIN seduce a man.  I am sure that the editors didn't intend this but quite a lot of this whole anthology sends a message 'beware of pretty women'.