Songs of Love and Death is the third anthology that George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois have edited together. Like Warriors and Songs of the Dying Earth, Songs of Love and Death brings together some of the biggest names that SFF has to offer and they set these authors to work on a common theme.
Martin and Dozois offer a cross-genre anthology that ranges from Robin Hobb’s epic fantasy “Blue Boots,” which tells the story of a romance between a young serving girl and a silver-tongued minstrel, to Melinda M. Snodgrass’sspace opera “The Wayfarer’s Advice,” set in an intergalactic empire fully stocked with alien creatures and political strife. There’s a bit of everything here, which is perhaps why Jim Butcher’s hard-boiled urban fantasy detective Harry Dresden offers such a fitting start with “Love Hurts.”
However varied these entries may be, each of them can be loosely tied to “star-crossed lovers,” a theme that Martin and Dozois suggest can be found throughout world literature. If all love stories are somewhat recycled, the best entries here tweak the archetypes just enough to feel new. Here’s a challenge that Neil Gaiman excels at, and his submission, “The Thing About Cassandra,” is a standout tale of love and death. Cassandra is supposedly Stuart’s first love. She’s recently been contacting Stuart’s friends, perhaps trying to get in touch again. The thing is, Stuart made Cassandra up. “The Thing About Cassandra” is a testament to Gaiman’s cleverness, but others — like Cecelia Holland and Jacqueline Carey — take a more explicit approach to love.
Unfortunately, the price for these explicit details may be that many of these stories are surprisingly straightforward, particularly the many paranormal romances that are included. Of the paranormal stories, my favorite was M.L.N. Hanover’s “Hurt Me,” an unusual take on the single woman trapped in a haunted house. However, more stories seem to follow in the footsteps of Lisa Tuttle’s “His Wolf.” Tuttle’s contribution is a story about a man, nicknamed Wolfman, with a mystical connection to his wolf. Wolfman returns from the dead thanks to — well, how many guesses do we need?
Martin and Dozois have once again organized an impressive collection of authors around a compelling theme. These anthologies are rapidly becoming the “who’s who” of those authors writing under the SFF umbrella. If Songs of Love and Death strays a little too often into genre exercises and the realm of paranormal romance for my taste, it doesn’t change the fact that fantasy readers looking to branch out could hardly do better than to check out a Martin and Dozois anthology.