I'm not normally a huge fan of short fiction anthologies. I tend to think to myself that reading short stories is easy because it's such a small investment emotionally (and of time) that I should be able to sit down and just bang them out quickly. These stories seem to average no more than twenty five to thirty pages each, and frankly, I can read one of them in about half an hour, maybe less. Despite what I tell myself, though, I find reading them difficult. The investment is small, but so is the payoff, and I find myself singularly unmotivated to make progress through short-story anthologies.
I actually only bought this one because it was attached to the Twilight War trilogy (by Paul S. Kemp) which I read and reviewed earlier. This ended up being a bit of a bait and switch; while the first story was indeed by Paul S. Kemp, and involved a minor loose end from the trilogy, none of the other stories had anything whatsoever to do with that series at all, and were instead simply war stories of various sorts told in the Forgotten Realms. I have to admit that this bait and switch threw me off for a long time, and I found myself completely uninterested for a long time in returning to the anthology and reading about a bunch of unrelated characters and situations. However, after giving myself enough time to get over that disappointment, I found that the anthology itself isn't that bad, and about half of the stories here were actually fairly enjoyable. The rest of them... eh. They weren't terrible, but I could have passed and been perfectly happy.
One interesting theme that ran through a lot of them was war against humanoids. Goblins, orcs, and the like. This is not unusual given that it's D&D fiction, Forgotten Realms in particular which is like Lord of the Rings for horny, hippy nerds. I actually found this reduced the impact of many of the stories, which were trying to build up a "horror of war" vibe. By reducing the antagonists to cartoon characters (in essence), there wasn't really any horror of war. Of course, some of the stories were more on the noble sacrifices or even the glory aspects of war, in which case that wasn't as much of a liability. A few standout stories include:
"Mercy's Reward" by Mark Sehestedt. Not really a war story per se, but one that takes place with the background of a guy traveling through occupied territory, taken prisoner by the Forgotten Realms' equivalent of the Mongols, and finding more in common with them than he expected when a supernatural horror tries to claim him. Echoes of Enemy Mine here (which of course is a sci-fi rewriting of the 1968 film Hell in the Pacific, lest you mistake me for a Philistine).
"Changing Tides" by Mel Odom which was sufficiently good swashbuckling pseudo-Lovecraftian horror that it felt a tiny bit like it was a poor fit for this book, maybe, but which was still one of the funnest stories here. In fact, it was good enough that I'm tempted to hunt down some more Mel Odom to see what else he's done.
"Bones and Stones" by R. A. Salvatore, who surprised me, because I tend to think of him as a formulaic hack who's turned the Forgotten Realms in many ways into a parody of itself. This story, though, was fairly emotionally deep and quite good, showing a dwarf and an orc who return to the site of a battlefield to gather fallen loved ones and come to some understanding--after fighting each other in true comic book style first, of course.
Reading this wasn't that bad once I got back into it, but I do have to admit that for the time being I'm a little burned out on the concept of short stories, and I'm also a little burned out on the concept of D&D fiction. This is somewhat unfortunate, since my queue of books that I own but haven't yet read includes a fair bit of short fiction (four Robert E. Howard anthologies, a Year's Best SF anthology, and a Lovecraftian anthology) and an entire trilogy of D&D fiction, plus two trilogies of very similar Warhammer fiction. Sigh.
So, for the time being, I'm actually going to step away from both, and read KOP, a novel I grabbed at my local library because of the awesome noirish Chris McGrath cover art. It looks like it's a totally different vibe altogether--noir detective work combined with hard science fiction on an alien colonial planet. I'll be sure and let you know how it goes.