“Heroes can save the world. But villains can change it, Rachel.”
The above quote is from J.M. Frey's story Maddening Science from the short-story anthology When The Villain Comes Home, and I think it captures the book in a nutshell. This is a collection of stories about people who are the other side of coin, the opposite of those we saw in When The Hero Comes Home. But are they?
To paraphrase another section of Villain, heroes are born of event while villains are born of intent. Any one of the protagonists in this collection could have been a hero, and some of them border on what we would consider as an anti-hero.
It's rare to find an anthology that doesn't have one or two clunker stories in it, stories that you read and go either "meh" or "huh". Like its predecessor, Villain doesn't have a single clunker amongst the bunch. I really enjoyed this collection, and I want to take a moment to highlight some of the stories that elevated this from good to wow!
Let's start with J.M. Frey's story since I've already quoted it. J.M.'s writing has this ability to be funny, sexy, geeky, and heart-wrenching all at the same time. After reading Maddening Science I can only hope my fiction can someday aspire to be half as good. I'm laying the praise on a bit thick but with good reason. The story is just that good.
Next let's talk about a story produced by one of my favorite people, Marie Bilodeau. (Seriously, she's a sweet-heart - if you ever get a chance to see her at one of her story-telling gigs or at a convention then go.) Her story, Happily Ever After, is another gem. It has Marie's classic story-telling voice running throughout it and at the same time I can see the evolution in her from from The Legend of Gluck (her story in When The Hero Comes Home) and her earlier novels. Happily Ever After feels more refined without losing any of the passion or movement of everything else Marie has produced.
Hmmm.... which one to highlight next. Oh, I know! How about Cycle of Revenge by Erik Buchanan? It's an interesting tale about a warlord who travels... oh, wait, can't reveal that as it would spoil things. Let's just say it plays around with some classic fantasy/sci-fi tropes quite well and shows what happens when we obsess about getting revenge on those who've wronged us.
I can't forget to mention Manmade by Leah Petersen. First because it's one of those stories where you can guess where it's gonna go and have a good idea how it's going to end after about half-way through but still enjoy entirely. It's also a story very much about being who you are and how trying to, ahem, compensate for what others perceive as a failing can backfire and then ultimately lead to accepting the truth about oneself. And finally because Leah scares me a bit. I mean, come on; she can knit with her hands and read a book with her feet at the same time. The woman is like a fur-less, skinny version of Beast from X-Men. Who knows what mutant powers she's hiding from us?
The truth is I could say something good about every story in this book, which is rare as most anthologies end up sneaking in a dud or two. As it stands, I recommend you check out When The Villain Comes Home, and indeed anytime Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood get together to edit an anthology you should give picking it up serious consideration.
Here's the Amazon link, but I do recommend hitting your local bookstore to see if they can get it in for you.