Fantastic Reviews - Anthology Book Review
Legends front cover Legends edited by Robert Silverberg

Tor Books - copyright 1998
715 pages

Book reviewed in May 2003

Rating: 8/10  (Highly Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

          Legends is a collection of novella- and novelette-length stories by eleven of the most successful fantasy authors working today.  Each author contributed a new story set in his or her most famous fantasy universe.  Notwithstanding the drab front cover, the hardcover edition is a beautifully packaged collection, beginning with gorgeous color artwork by Darrell Sweet and Michael Whelan, and including excellent black and white illustrations for every story, most by Michael Whelan.  (The trade paperback edition retains only some of the artwork, while the recent three-volume mass market paperback edition has none.)

Nearly every fantasy reader will have read some of the series represented here, but only the most diligent fans will have covered them all.  This anthology thus allows most of us to revisit fantasy universes we already know and love, while at the same time offering the chance to discover even more great storytellers.  For me, Legends was a wonderful opportunity to sample the writing of some celebrated fantasy authors I had ignored for years.  I have avoided many commercially successful "fat fantasy" series, because they had the appearance of tiresome Tolkien retreads and because, as a fairly slow reader, I was intimidated by their sheer bulk.  Legends was a great way for me to finally get a taste of writers such as Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind without making a commitment to plow through thousands of pages of text.

Not all of these authors are for me, but I learned in reading this book that one does not become a best-selling writer of epic fantasy without being able to construct an absorbing story.

Robert Jordan was the most pleasant surprise for me.  I still find it appalling that the man hasn't been able to wrap things up after ten very long volumes in his Wheel of Time series.  But his Wheel of Time story for this collection, "New Spring", is well written and involving, and I can now appreciate why his legions of fans put up with it.  "New Spring", since expanded into a stand-alone novel in the Wheel of Time universe, recounts the initial meeting of Lan Mandragoran, heir to the throne of a kingdom that has been obliterated, and Moiraine, a young Aes Sedai sorceress.  Lan and Moiraine are both strong and likable yet flawed characters.  I assume they are destined to have more adventures together, and for the first time I feel a desire to read The Eye of the World, to see what becomes of them.

Although less a surprise to me, since I have been a fan of George R.R. Martin for years, my personal favorite story in Legends was "The Hedge Knight" by George R.R. Martin.  Set in the universe of Martin's powerful series A Song of Ice and Fire, but well before the main action of the series, this story is a compelling morality play of a humble knight who stands up to his supposed betters.

Two other stories I particularly recommend are Terry Pratchett's "The Sea and Little Fishes", a hilarious Discworld story (Is there any other kind?) in which Granny Weatherwax frightens her neighbors half to death by . . . being nice to them, and Stephen King's "The Little Sisters of Eluria", a tale early in the Dark Tower quest that finds a badly wounded Roland confined in an extremely unwelcoming hospital.

Orson Scott Card's "The Grinning Man", in which Alvin Maker encounters Davy Crockett, and Ursula K. LeGuin's "Dragonfly", an Earthsea story about a woman seeking to study at the males-only School for Wizards on Roke Island, are also quite good, but do not rise to the level of their respective authors' best work.  This is hardly a harsh criticism, since Card and LeGuin are responsible for some of the greatest fiction ever written (and please note that I do not limit that to genre fiction).

The Tad Williams and Terry Goodkind stories are also of interest.  "The Burning Man", set in the early days of Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn universe, starts slowly, but builds toward a memorably heart-wrenching dilemma for its heroine.  Terry Goodkind's "Debt of Bones" is a Sword of Truth story, subsequently published individually, detailing how the boundary between D'Hara and the Midlands came to exist.  Goodkind has an obvious flair for entertaining swords and sorcery, but I was put off a bit by some unnecessarily graphic violence.

Raymond Feist's "The Wood Boy", from his Riftwar universe, was my least favorite story in this collection, far below the level of his best novels.  The story concerns a ghastly crime, the stated motive for which makes no sense, and which occurs only to set up a twist ending you can see coming a mile away.

Finally, "Runner of Pern" by Anne McCaffrey, following a few days in the life of a young woman who carries the mail, and Robert Silverberg's own "The Seventh Shrine", a Majipoor murder mystery, while not bad stories, are the two entries in this anthology transparently designed merely to show us the scenery of the authors' worlds, hoping to tempt us to read more.

It is remarkable that only two of the stories included here feel like advertisements for the main sequences of the authors' work.  Most of the tales feel complete in themselves, not at all like postscripts to other books.  This anthology might easily have ended up seeming like a marketing ploy, but instead Silverberg has assembled an outstanding slate of stories, well worth reading even if one has no intention of continuing on in the authors' respective series.

          A second Legends collection has recently appeared, adding stories by Terry Brooks, Diana Gabaldon, Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Haydon, and Robin Hobb, as well as repeat performances from Orson Scott Card, Raymond E. Feist, George R.R. Martin, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Silverberg, and Tad Williams. If Legends 2 holds to the standard set by Legends, it is most welcome.
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Copyright 2003 Aaron Hughes
Legends back cover

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Links to websites about the Legends anthology:
Robert Silverberg: Legends - an infinity plus review (1)
Legends edited by Robert Silverberg - an infinity plus review (2)
The SF Site Featured Review: Legends: Stories by the Masters of Modern Fantasy

For information on more science fiction and fantasy books:
Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

This page was last updated - 27 December 2010