Songs of Love and Death: Tales of star-crossed lovers

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy anthology review George R.R. Martin Gardner Dozois Songs of Love and DeathSongs of Love and Death edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

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 EarthSongs 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.

~Ryan Skardal

fantasy anthology review George R.R. Martin Gardner Dozois Songs of Love and DeathGeorge R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois have collected a nice batch of all-new stories from an all-star cast in Songs of Love and Death. The theme is “star-crossed lovers,” and as you might guess from the title, each tale is a love story, and many are death stories, too. Some are sad, some are sexy, and one or two are slightly sappy. Overall, I enjoyed the collection. Here’s what you’ll find in Songs of Love and Death:

  • “Love Hurts” by Jim Butcher may be the story Harry Dresden’s fans have been waiting for because it looks like Harry and Murphy will finally get together… or will they?
  • In “The Marrying Maid,” historical romance author Jo Beverley provides a Regency romance in which a court fop tries to seduce a practical spinster, but this time there’s a fairy legend that’s spurring him on.
  • In “Rooftops” by Carrie Vaughn, a young playwright who’s nervous about her opening night is rescued by a mysterious masked superhero. She has a boyfriend, but she just can’t get that masked stranger off her mind.fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
  • “Hurt Me” by M.L.N. Hanover is an excellently eerie haunted house story. One of the best in this collection.
  • “Demon Lover” by historical fiction writer Cecelia Holland is an erotic fairy tale. Though it was obvious where this one was going, it was still entertaining.
  • In “The Wayfarer’s Advice” by Melinda M. Snodgrass, the captain of an illicit spaceship rescues the heiress of an empire.
  • I’m always a fan of Robin Hobb, so it’s not surprising that “Blue Boots” was one of my favorites in this collection. It takes place in Buck Town and tells the story of a kitchen maid who falls in love with a wandering minstrel.
  • “The Thing About Cassandra” by Neil Gaiman is a strange story about a man who meets his imaginary girlfriend. This one was kind of mind-blowing, which means I liked it.
  • “After the Blood” by Marjorie M. Liu involves a vampire trying to survive in a zombie-infested backwater Amish farm community. I couldn’t finish it.
  • Jacqueline Carey fans will not want to miss “You, and You Alone” which takes place during that tragic scene in Kushiel’s Dart when Anafiel Delaunay is assassinated. As he lies dying, he reminisces about Edmée, Rolande, Isabel, and Alcuin and gives us a lot of backstory that has only been hinted at until now.
  • In “His Wolf” by Lisa Tuttle, a new college professor falls in love with a drug dealer and his pet wolf. I had a hard time believing in that romance.
  • Linnea Sinclair’s “Courting Trouble” is a fun space romp. The sweet romance in this story particularly touched me, but if I told you why, I’d be spoiling the plot.
  • “The Demon Dancer” by Mary Jo Putney is about a Guardian who needs to stop a succubus who’s running wild in New York City. I didn’t like this one. The romance was icky, and some parts of the plot required a degree of suspension of disbelief that I couldn’t muster.
  • “Under/Above the Water” by Tanith Lee is a beautiful mysterious legend about an ancient king’s unfaithful wife and their underwater kingdom.
  • In “Kaskia” by Peter S. Beagle, an unhappy middle-aged man makes first contact with a beautiful alien on his new laptop computer. This story was fascinating and excellently written and reminds me why I keep thinking “I must read more Peter S. Beagle!”
  • “Man in the Mirror” by Yasmine Galenorn is another haunted house story. I liked the premise, but the romance was hard to swallow.
  • “A Leaf in the Wind of All Hallows” by Diana Gabaldon is a heart-wrenching story that her fans are sure to love since it’s linked to her popular OUTLANDER series. I really can’t wait to read that.

Brilliance Audio has a very good production of Songs of Love and Death which is read by a small cast of narrators. My only complaint is that Phil Gigante has only one female voice and it’s not suitable for the wide variety of women he portrays. He does a great job with male voices, though.

There were a few weak stories in Songs of Love and Death, but some excellent ones, too. Don’t miss the stories by M.L.N. Hanover, Robin Hobb, Neil Gaiman, Jacqueline Carey, Tanith Lee, Peter S. Beagle, and Diana Gabaldon. Fans of the DRESDEN FILES should not miss Butcher’s story.

~Kat Hooper

(2010) Publisher: In this star-studded cross-genre anthology, seventeen of the greatest modern authors of fantasy, science fiction, and romance explore the borderlands of their genres with brand-new tales of ill-fated love. From zombie-infested woods in a postapocalyptic America to faery-haunted rural fields in eighteenth-century England, from the kingdoms of high fantasy to the alien world of a galaxy-spanning empire, these are stories of lovers who must struggle against the forces of magic and fate. Award-winning, bestselling author Neil Gaiman demonstrates why he’s one of the hottest stars in literature today with “The Thing About Cassandra,” a subtle but chilling story of a man who meets an old girlfriend he had never expected to see. International blockbuster bestselling author Diana Gabaldon sends a World War II RAF pilot through a stone circle to the time of her Outlander series in “A Leaf on the Winds of All Hallows.” Torn from all he knows, Jerry MacKenzie determinedly survives hardship and danger, intent on his goal of returning home to his wife and baby — no matter the cost. New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher presents “Love Hurts,” in which Harry Dresden takes on one of his deadliest adversaries and in the process is forced to confront the secret desires of his own heart. Just the smallest sampling promises unearthly delights, but look also for stories by New York Times bestselling romance authors Jo Beverley and Mary Jo Putney, and by such legends of the fantasy genre as Peter S. Beagle and Tanith Lee, as well as many other popular and beloved writers, including Marjorie M. Liu, Jacqueline Carey, Carrie Vaughn, and Robin Hobb. This exquisite anthology, crafted by the peerless editing team of George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is sure to leave you under its spell. Discover the many realms of the heart with this extraordinary cast of acclaimed authors: PETER S. BEAGLE, JO BEVERLEY, JIM BUTCHER, JACQUELINE CAREY, DIANA GABALDON, NEIL GAIMAN, YASMINE GALENORN, M.L.N. HANOVER, ROBIN HOBB, CECELIA HOLLAND, TANITH LEE, MARJORIE M. LIU, MARY JO PUTNEY, LINNEA SINCLAIR, MELINDA SNODGRASS, LISA TUTTLE, CARRIE VAUGHN.

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RYAN SKARDAL, with us since September 2010, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Ooo, I was hoping for high marks on this one. I’ll still give it a shot though. :) I do like many of the authors in here. Thanks for the review.

  2. I’m still chomping at the bit for it myself. I love a lot of the authors in here, and I have a higher paranormal romance tolerance than some. ;)

  3. lol. Great Kelly. Glad to hear you’re looking forward to the book still too. :) But the one nice thing with anthologies is if the romance gets to deep, you can always set the book down and come back later to a new story. You don’t have to read it straight through. :)

  4. I really loved that Hanover story too. All his UF is great. I keep meaning to try Long Price too.

  5. I must read his UF series. I am waiting for it to come out on audio.

  6. Tanmoy /

    I want to read his UF series. I am waiting for it .

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