Dream Songs – Part 2

This is another random second-hand bookshop purchase.  I’ve been a big fan of the Song of Fire and Ice sequence (or whatever it’s called), but I was convinced that we wouldn’t get another installment after A Feast for Crows (’twas Robert Jordan put the fear into me…).  Of course, A Dance with Dragons did eventually emerge, and I read it (and pretty much loved it).  This book was bought in the middle of that long dry period betwixt Feast and Dance…

This volume of Dream Songs is part 2 of a huge compilation of some of Martin’s short fiction.  I think he’s a very good writer, but I guess the main draw for me was that it contains The Hedge Knight — a short story set in Westeros about two generations before the events of the main books.

The short story itself is excellent, full of the interesting and convincing characterisation that Martin so excels at, set in a fairly realistically miserable cod-mediaeveal world. A young, poor, uneducated knight goes to his first tournament, and picks up a squire along the way.  It’s a beautifully plotted piece of fiction, with great emotional authority, and a deeply satisfying conclusion.

There’s a ton of other stuff in there too, of varying quality.  Much of it is forgettable, but there were a few highlights, including a very elegant story called Unsound Variations, which seemed to be a simple tale of obsession and revenge…and chess, until it emerges that the revenge is being enacted via timetravel.  I felt, at first, that the addition of this timetravel element was pretty random and unnecessary, but Martin manages to pull everything together by the end, making it seem like an indispensable part of the story.

My favourite find in the book is a couple of stories featuring Tuf.  These are set in a fairly generic interplanetary sci-fi land, in which Tuf, a quick-witted trickster character (in charge of a bio-engineering ship of astounding power), manages to cleverly one-up whomever he encounters.  A lovely sense of humour permeates them, and they reminded me rather of Steven Brust/Jack Vance/Fritz Leiber.  I’d like to read more of these.

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