Evil is a Matter of Perspective

If you are a fan of the grimdark subgenre, at some point you probably heard of a Kickstarter organized by the folks at Grimdark Magazine to raise funds in the hope of putting together an anthology comprised of short fiction pieces featuring new and established fantasy antagonists. Well, 900+ backers later, Evil is a Matter of Perspective: An Anthology of Antagonists, edited by Adrian Collins, the man who runs Grimdark Magazine, has just seen the light.

It features stories by Michael R. Fletcher, Teresa Frohock, Alex Marshall, Mark Alder, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Janny Wurts, Jeff Salyards, Shawn Speakman, Marc Turner, Kaaron Warren, Courtney Schafer, Bradley P. Beaulieu, E. V. Morrigan, Matthew Ward, Deborah A. Wolf, Brian Staveley, Mazarkis Williams, Peter Orullian, and R. Scott Bakker. Many of those names I was familiar with, and others have been on my "books to read" pile for quite some time, while some were totally unknown to me. I have to admit that my curiosity was piqued ever since I found out about the crowdfunding effort. So when Collins got in touch with me to see if I'd be interested in reading and reviewing the anthology, I was happy to oblige.

Here's the blurb:

Experience your favourite fantasy worlds through some of the most fearsome, devious, and brutal antagonists in fantasy.

Villains take centre stage in nineteen dark and magical stories that will have you cheering for all the wrong heroes as they perform savage deeds towards wicked ends. And why not? They are the champions of their own stories—evil is a matter of perspective.

To spare anyone else the disappointment I felt, let me be clear on one point. This is not a grimdark anthology. Although it does feature a few short stories that fit the bill, Evil is a Matter of Perspective isn't grimdark through and through. This disappointment stems from my own stupidity, for in no way were the people involved misleading on that front. The anthology showcases villains in all shapes and sizes, but very few stories have the moral complexity and the shades of gray that have made the grimdark subgenre so appealing to many readers. Which doesn't take anything away from the book. It's just that, coming from the folks from Grimdark Magazine, I was expecting the anthology to have a much darker nature. My bad. If you go into it without that misapprehension, I have a feeling you might appreciate the anthology more than I did.

It doesn't matter if they're edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois and whether or not they feature a cast of all-star contributors, all speculative fiction anthologies pretty much follow the same pattern. They contain a number of solid reads, some okay but forgettable stories, as well as some lackluster and uninspired filler material. In that regard, Evil is a Matter of Perspective is no different. I have a feeling that prior knowledge of some of the authors' universes and/or protagonists could have allowed me to enjoy some stories more than a did, as it sometimes felt as though I was missing some nuances. So your mileage may vary from one short story to the next.

My favorite aspect of this anthology was that it gave me an opportunity me to sample the writing styles of authors who have been siting on my "books to read" pile for ages. I'm glad I was able to get a taste of writers such as Wurts, Fletcher, Marshall, Staveley, Turner, and Williams without having to go through something in novel-length format. It also allowed me to discover authors that were not necessarily on my radar. Such was the case with Teresa Frohock, whose series premise intrigued me. For that alone, Evil is a Matter of Perspective is well worth a read.

My favorites included "The Broken Dead" by Michael Fletcher, "The Syldoon Sun" by Jeff Salyards, "The Greater of Two Evils" by Marc Turner, "Better than Breath" by Brian Staveley, and "A Foundation of Bones" by Mazarkis Williams. Peter Orullian's "The Aging of a Kill" was surprisingly clever and easier and more enjoyable to read than his novels. I was expecting R. Scott Bakker's "The Carathayan" to be the pièce de résistance, so to speak, but the short story is by far the "lightest" tale the author ever published. Not bad, mind you, but clearly not the sort of tale I would have expected from him.

Overall, though it isn't a grimdark anthology, Evil is a Matter of Perspective remains an interesting and compelling read for the most part. As a matter of course, some short stories stand out more than others. But that's the way love goes. Chances are you'll discover new authors and new series to read. Which, in the end, is all that matters.

Kudos to the good folks at Grimdark Magazine, the contributors, and the backers who made this book a reality. May the future bring us more of these crowdfunded SFF projects.

The final verdict: 7.25/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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