Cover Image: Unbound II: New Tales By Masters of Fantasy

Unbound II: New Tales By Masters of Fantasy

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I received an ecopy of this title from the publisher through NetGalley.

There's a little of something for everyone here, I think. As with most collections, it's a bit of a mixed bag, but the quality of the writing is top notch throughout this one.

Favorites by far include stories by Tamora Pierce, Django Wexler, and Shawn Speakman. These three easily gained the overall experience a star rating bump by their inclusion.

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With stories from a wonderful selection of SFF writers, Unbound II: New Tales By Masters of Fantasy also offers a short story by editor Shawn Speakman in memory of his father. Out of the seventeen authors, I had only previously read work from five of them, although I was familiar with quite a few of them by name. This anthology was a great chance for me to finally read some of their work.

Despite featuring so many well known SFF authors, Unbound II: New Tales By Masters of Fantasy was only a three-star read for me. That isn’t to say that the stories were not good quality, just that this anthology includes such a wide variety of genres, content and styles. While some of them were interesting, others just did not catch my attention at all.

The ones that stood out above the rest for me are:

The second story, ‘A Poor Reflection’ by Peter Orullian, is a dense read due to the scientific jargon, but it is one that is worth sticking with for the clever conclusion. I tipped my hat to Orullian when I finished this one, very well done. It’s followed by an equally clever tale by Saara El-Arifi, an author whose name I’m familiar, although I’ve yet to read any of her books yet. If ‘The Shadhavar’ is anything to go by, I need to remedy that pronto. El-Arifi’s story is a slick, enticing tale of hunters trying to find a legendary beast.

Kevin Hearne’s story was one of my most anticipated, as it promised to tell the origin story of the mysterious Gladys, a character from his Ink and Sigil series. While this story can be read alone, it is one that readers of that series will enjoy infinitely more. The story did not disappoint, and is Hearne at his absolute best. It’s a must-read for anyone who is reading the Ink and Sigil series.

‘Moonflower Alchemy’ by Jordan Ross is a gorgeously gothic fantasy story filled with dark magic. I loved everything about this and would love to see this world explored further in a book. Anna Stephens also delivers an incredible and heart-warming story in ‘Heart-Eater’. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Tamora Pierce that I’ve never loved, and the ‘The Sheriff’s Daughter’ is no different. It was particularly interesting to see her write urban fantasy instead of fantasy, and I hope she writes more in the future!

The final story of the anthology is ‘The Last Arrow of the Autumn Huntsman’ by editor Shawn Speakman and is a beautiful tribute to his father that reflects his father’s struggle with PTSD. It’s linked to a previous story Speakman wrote in Unfettered II to commemorate his mother. I loved that he wrote the first story for his son to learn about his grandmother through his eyes, and reading this story with that in mind just makes it even more beautiful. It is also a brilliant fantasy short story in its own right, and I’m very excited to read Speakman’s upcoming novel, The King-Killing Queen.

The full list of stories in Unbound II: New Tales By Masters of Fantasy is:

‘Imperial Court’ by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson
‘A Poor Reflection’ by Peter Orullian
‘The Shadhavar’ by Saara El-Arifi
‘Gladys and the Whale’ by Kevin Hearne
‘Business in Great Waters’ by Ken Scholes
‘Moonflower Alchemy’ by Jordan Ross
‘The True Adventures of Gilgamesh and Enkidu’ by Dyrk Ashton
‘Samantha vs. the Shadows in the Basement of the Captain Riddle House’ by Kristen Britain
‘Last of the Red Riders’ by Django Wexler
‘Heart-Eater’ by Anna Stephens
‘Sandra and Me’ by Adrian Tchaikovsky
‘Shadow’s Daughter’ by Jon Sprunk
‘Homecoming’ by Patrick Swenson
‘The Sheriff’s Daughter’ by Tamora Pierce
‘Solomon’ by Mark Lawrence
‘A Knight Was Once Sent on a Quest by Her Master’ by Anna Smith Spark
‘The Last Arrow of the Autumn Huntsman’ by Shawn Speakman

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Every collection that Shawn Speakman has put out has been full of awesome tales and this is no exception. Both the Unfettered and the Unbound collections are full of stories that grip you and leave you wanting more. If there are authors in here that you aren't sure about diving into their larger works this is a great opportunity to get a taste of their writing styles.

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4/5 stars.

I enjoyed the few stories that I picked at. I was most interested in Mark Lawrence and Dyrk Ashton's works and they did not disappoint. I kept meaning to return to finish off the remaining stories but was never drawn back into it. It's an incredible collection of authors that I'd highly recommend for those who enjoy short stories.

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This is a neat anthology with a pleasantly wide range of subjects and writing styles, which I enjoyed. I particularly liked knowing that the editor (and contributor), Shawn Speakman, placed no thematic restrictions on the authors and let them contribute whatever they wanted to write. As with any anthology, there were hits as well as stories that landed as so-so for this particular reader. Adrian Tchaikovsky's sneaky, unsettling weird fiction contribution, Sandra and Me, was a standout story for me, as were Tamora Pierce's The Sheriff's Daughter and Gladys and the Whale by Kevin Hearne.. I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review; my opinions are my own. Many thanks to Grim Oak Press and Netgalley for the opportunity.

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I wanted to read this story specifically for the Tamora Pierce short story, but I very much enjoyed the collection as a whole. Sometimes I will pick up a collection of short stories because I know the authors. Other times, I like to pick up a collection based on title or theme. This collection is new stories by authors who are long-standing masters of the craft of fantasy. Despite reading a lot of fantasy, I only knew a few names, and those mostly from the shelves at the bookstore and the library.

Like most collections, I didn't love every story, but I did really enjoy all of them. The anthology is a tribute to the author's late father, which adds a heartfelt element to the collection as a whole.

The collection ranges from classic retellings (the Gilgamesh myth makes an appearance) to more modern influences (like PTSD from the modern theatre of war) and the themes run the gamut which allows readers to find the stories and characters they'll most personally connect to. Although you may not feel every story resonate in the same way, the writing is impeccable and each story proves that the author deserves the title of master of fantasy. Highly recommended.

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Unbound II is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the second fantasy anthology in Shawn Speakman's Unbound series. The first was filled with innovative, impressive work from writers more-and-less familair, so I had some high hopes for this one. And I tell you what, it delivers. There's an impressive breadth of talent on display here. And that talent is put in across a variety of stories, united, somewhat in their theme of freedom, authorial and character. I'm going to avoid delving in on a story by story basis, simply because there were so many stories, and so much content, and frankly, it would be easy to get lost in the weeds.
But for me, looking at an anthology, the first question is going to be, is there anything here I know I'm going to like? And you know what, in this case, there is. Shawn writes a story from his own universe. Mark Lawrence gives us a Jorg Ancrath story of all things. There's Jon Sprunk, running a tale in the same universe as his Shadow Son series. And there's a new Dune story from Herbert and Anderson. Thats a wealth of heavy hitters, in different spaces, and they'll probably delight with a new variant on their greatest hits.

As an aside, I thought Lawrence's story, Solomon, which included a sharply edged Ancrath, a baby, and a chest full of gold, was wonderful. Twined through with fraught emotional beats, hard choices, and more than a little of the old ultraviolence. Worth the price of admission on its own/ But I digress.

There's also stories from some fantastic writers trying out something new, rather than revisiting what they're known for. I particularly enjoyed Anna Smith-Spark's exploration of a knight who was reliant on her horse to get around, who lived the reality of the honourable knight-errant of the mind, while refusing to conform to the expectation of what a knight should look like. It was heartfelt, emotional, and, again, rather lethal. The same could be said of Anna Stephen's Heart-Eater, which packs so much depth of setting and emotional content into such a small space; both stories were an absolute joy, and cement the anthology as one which has some serious chops.

It also steps away from the sprawling epics common in SF&F to look at the personal; part of that comes across in the stories above. Even the Dune one is, at heart, character-driven. Adrian Tchaikovsky gives us Sandra, a story which is about relationships and technology and the way in which the future slowly builds out, though whether to a crescendo or a whimper is for you to decide. In any case it, and indeed the other stories in this collection, have a feeling of intimacy. Of looking at the constraints of a short story, and trying to bring an honesty to their stories within that space. Of saying, look here, there's power in emotion, there's pwoer in how we think of ourselves and why and in the way we let ourselves be or refuse to be defined. So lets talk about that. And lets do it with fae and lets do it with Harkonnen and lets do it with mermaids, of sorts, and lets do it with high tech and lets do it with magic, and you know what, lets wrap that bundle of stories up and say this is important.

Because you know what, there's a lot of stories here, and I mentioned a handful. There were some that didn't really hit for me, and some that were, you know, fine. But they were all trying to be free, to show us people and who they are and why and do it with the quiet stiletto of narrative truth. The stories feel real because they are true, and vice versa - even the ones I wasn't sold on.

So anyway. There's a lot here. Some of it will work for you. Some won't. But all of it will be trying to reach you, to make you understand, to make you feel, and feel free. And that's worth a lot.

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LOVE LOVE LOVE. SO many fantastic authors bundled up in this book. There is bound to be something for everyone. Like with all collections, some will be better for you (depending on what you like) but I guarantee you will like something from this collection.

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“Imperial Court” (Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson) - This is set in the Dune universe, nine years after the novel Navigators of Dune, in which the Spacing Guild was formed. Now Willem Atreides must interview for the position of Chamberlain for the new Emperor, proving his worth against that of all the other candidates, including one from House Harkonnen. It turns out none of the hopefuls are really up to snuff. As much as I love getting glimpses into this universe, I think it’s really a shame that Harkonnens are apparently genetically predisposed to treachery and villainy even over the course of millennia.

“A Poor Reflection” (Peter Orullian) - An unsuccessful chemistry lecturer is accosted by a fellow scientist who wants his assistance in constructing a very special telescope that can not only view the heavens, but Heaven - if such exists. Or at least that’s what he’s led to believe. It’s not really an engaging piece, but I rarely find Orullian’s writing particularly so.

“The Shadhavar” (Saara El-Arifi) - Bursha is hunting a Shadhavar as part of a royal competition. The Shadhavar’s perspective is interspersed with Bursha’s narrative. Majeed and Ayman also hunt the unicorn-like beast. I did not see the finale coming at all.

“Gladys and the Whale” (Kevin Hearne) - This story exists to work out the origins of a supporting character in Hearne’s Ink & Sigil series, which I have not read. She seems tremendously overpowered for the job she currently holds. It doesn’t really go anywhere or do anything, but it’s not supposed to; what it’s supposed to do, it does: it explains the origin of Gladys’s moniker.

“Business in Great Waters” (Ken Scholes) - A mother-daughter post-graduation road trip reveals some unexpected family secrets. It’s a cozy story, I suppose, and ends on a hopeful note, but it also doesn’t really feel like it goes anywhere or does anything.

“Moonflower Alchemy” (Jordan Ross) - This is really, really long. In my epub version it takes up 60 pages. It is a novella, not a short story. In it a struggling alchemist endures a pair of visits, one from his debtor and another from a dead alchemist who was, in life, the daughter of the protagonist’s captain and now needs his help to avoid becoming what amounts to a zombie. This is a solid fantasy adventure made perhaps to seem like a better piece than it really is because it comes on the heels of two much tamer tales.

“The True Adventures of Gilgamesh and Enkidu” (Dyrk Ashton) - This is an episode in the epic of Gilgamesh that bounces along the timeline and I think is supposed to be funny, though the humor didn’t quite land correctly with me. It’s also written in the third-person present, which is a weird narrative voice.

“Samantha vs. the Shadows in the Basement of the Captain Riddle House” (Kristen Britain) - Samantha is house sitting and it seems like a cushy job, even the Captain Riddle House is a property sensible servicemen won’t service. When one of the non-sensible ones goes missing in the middle of a repair, Samantha and the repairman’s son have to rescue him. In the basement, it’s not so much the things in the dark they have to worry about, as the dark itself. There are some Lovecraftian echoes in here.

“Last of the Red Riders” (Django Wexler) - Nellie’s part of a military “irregulars” unit on the losing side of a war. The unit may be disbanding soon, much to her dismay, but first there’s a confrontation with their captain’s nemesis and everyone’s plans are thrown awry.

“Heart-Eater” (Anna Stephens) - Chen wants to become the governor’s envoy but he does not have enough truth in his heart, so he seeks out an unsavory contact for assistance. His are a winged people with snakes in their hearts that they can release when they choose to and their chests gape open when they have sex, apparently? I had a harder time following this story than I care to admit.

“Sandra and Me” (Adrian Tchaikovsky) - This is a very short piece that reads like a couple seeking a third for a threesome, but it’s actually about a different kind of commitment and relationship that takes a bit for the reader to parse, but is fascinating. I would happily read a whole book set in this world. Easily my favorite story in the anthology so far.

“Shadow’s Daughter” (Jon Sprunk) - This is a short “what came next” story set in the aftermath of Sprunk’s Shadow Saga trilogy about the child of Empress Josephine and a character named Caim. I’ve not read his trilogy, so I don’t really know much about that. This story is about a young woman figuring out her place in the world by experimenting with vigilantism. It’s nothing new, but it’s not badly written.

“Homecoming” (Patrick Swenson) - Okay, I did not expect a marching band story in this anthology. The band instructor has a special stone that makes the band better in the weeks leading up to Homecoming, but then everything begins to go catastrophically wrong and an alien arrives and it all ends abruptly. I was disappointed by this one.

“The Sheriff’s Daughter” (Tamora Pierce) - This story is not from any of Pierce’s famous fantasy worlds, sadly. Instead it is set in Appalachia, whence comes her family. In it, a young man named Duane comes from a family of gifted people. He and his dog, Sarge, come across a badly beaten young woman he knows from school and together with Sarge and his reluctant older brother he works on figuring out who’s responsible for the crime. It’s a well-told story, and just as long as it needs to be.

“Solomon” (Mark Lawrence) - A Jorg Ancrath story! Hurray! He’s pragmatic and violent and clever and I have missed reading about him as he was before all the beforetime adventures. There’s a baby, so if you combine that with the title, you should have some idea of what happens here.

“A Knight Was Once Sent on a Quest by Her Master” (Anna Smith Spark) - This is the start of a new world Smith is creating. It has deliberate inclusion of a main character with a disability who has a very well-trained horse that allows her to be a knight despite the weakness in her legs. Her legs are not the trouble, though, when it comes to completing her quest. I don’t think I’d bother seeking out any more stories in this world, but this one wasn’t bad.

“The Last Arrow of the Autumn Huntsman” (Shawn Speakman) - I feel bad saying this, considering all the loss he’s experienced and the beautiful idea of writing commemorative stories, but Speakman’s stories are usually not the high point of his anthologies and this one is no exception. It’s not a bad story, but it’s not really strong enough to be the anthology’s closing story, either.

The printed table of contents lists the stories out of order. Just so no one is surprised, as I was, to read “A Poor Reflection” directly after “Imperial Court” and “Gladys and the Whale” after “The Shadhavar.” I like the chapter art done, I believe, by Todd Lockwood (who also did the more fantastic cover art as well). It is minimalist, but does well at representing the stories that follow.

Ultimately, the authors I expected to have good stories (Pierce, Tchaikovsky, Lawrence, and Herbert/Anderson) did, and the rest weren’t bad stories at all (though, in keeping with the idea behind the anthology, the tend toward authorial self-indulgence rather than reader enjoyment). I’m not sure whether I liked “Sandra and Me” and “Solomon” well enough to want to purchase a copy of the book at Subterranean Press prices, but I think folks who enjoy short story anthologies and fantasy will not come away disappointed.

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It feels a little churlish to be less than glowing in my praise of this book, given it comes from both personal and worthy aims. Editor, Shawn Speakman, intends this to be a companion piece to both Unbound, and Unfettered II. As well as profits going to help pay medical bills for authors in need, these commemorate his late parents, and indeed the cover image is of his father in fantasy settings.

That concept is the core of Speakman's own short story in this collection, The Last Arrow of the Autumn Huntsman, which rounds out this anthology. It's also one of the weaker entries and I feel I have to apologise for that statement. I feel like a terrible person for taking something so poignant, and labelling it 'a bit mawkish', but there you go. If I hadn't read the book's introduction, I might have just dismissed it as so-so fantasy fare, but those personal elements made me cringe just a little. Sorry :(

It's unfortunate that we top and tail the book with - in my opinion - weak stories. The opening is a Dune prequel short, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson. In fairness, the story isn't much worse than the books the duo have added to the Dune universe, so ymmv. It's a gleefully nasty tale of the Harkonnens and Atreides back in the early days of the Empire. I found some of it rather pointless and the characters flat, which detracted from what could have been a fun little tale with better editing.

However, it's not all bad! My favourite of the selection was the longest, Moonflower Alchemy, by Jordan Ross. The slightly longer form really allows for better world-building, as we enter a tale of alchemy and soul-bound soldiers, and the power of loving.

I also really liked Adrian Tchaikovsky's contribution, Sandra and Me. This is a really imaginative 'what if' sliver of story, not connected to anything else. It's a perfect little short with just enough to build to that final punch.

Other stories tie in to the relevant author's more established series, and perhaps I would have liked them more if I'd read those. Mark Lawrence's Solomon, for example, was a fun story even with no background knowledge, but I imagine it would have meant more if I even knew who Jorg was, let alone followed many of his adventures already!

Likewise, Kevin Hearne's introduction to his Gladys and the Whale made the series, Ink & Sigil, sound like a lot of fun. However, without any reference, I was less impressed with the story than I felt I could have been learning where "Gladys Who Has Seen Some Shite" got that unique moniker.

I don't want to talk about every story, but as a whole there just wasn't enough here to really grab me. Most of it was a bit forgettable for me, if I'm honest. Part of that is the short-story format, which is always going to bring limitations. It's a rare skill to be able to conjure a whole world in the reader's imagination in so few pages, and then even if that is achieved to have a story that feels complete, and on top of THAT that the reader actually enjoys?! It's a miracle that ever works! And any one of those elements not quite hitting makes the whole thing a bit of a 'shrug' for me. Kristen Britain's tale of an impossibly large basement full of horror, for instance, in the house sitter's summer gig, had a lot going for it - but, it just didn't have enough (something) to lift it from 'yup, okay' for me.

So, yes. I appreciate the good intentions behind this volume, but overall more of the stories did nothing for me - or, I outright disliked (Anna Smith Spark's penultimate tale, for example, was very well crafted but I just took an instant 'nope' to her writing style) - than the few I enjoyed. There were some seeds of intriguing ideas - Peter Orullian's take on devilish machinations, for example - that just didn't quite hit the mark for me overall. So, not one I'd go out of my way to recommend as a whole, with all due apologies again for all of those worthy intentions behind it.

Each story comes with an introduction by the author, adding a bit of background - I do like that a lot.

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Fantastic series of short stories.
I didn’t read every story yet but I did enjoy what I have read so far.
This is a great way to read stories from new to you authors.

I do recommend if you enjoy fantasy .

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Received arc from Grim Oak Press and Netgalley for honest read and review,this review is my own.
I liked the look of this book as it had some of my favourite author's in it, Shawn Speakman;Mark Lawrence and Kevin Hearne.
These are all short stories and the ones I read were brilliant. Especially Kevin's story about Gladys.One of the best characters ever.And Marks one with Jorg, the best anti hero ever.
Worth a read.

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This is a series of short stories and novellas from various fantasy authors. I especially enjoyed the short story by Kevin Hearne, which revolves around one of the characters from his Iron Druid series. I also enjoyed the short stories by Jordan Ross, Ken Scholes and some of the other writers. After reading the book in its entirety, there are a few authors who I was unfamiliar with previously whose books I will probably check out as it appeared that the characters in their short stories were part of a storyline in a larger series.

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Thank you to Kristen Britain; Saara El-Arifi; Kevin Hearne; Brian Herbert; Kevin J. Anderson; Mark Lawrence; Tamora Pierce; Ken Scholes; Jon Sprunk; Adrian Tchaikovsky; Django Wexler; Dyrk Ashton; Peter Orullian; Anna Smith Spark; Anna Stephens; Patrick Swenson; Jordan Ross; Grim Oak Press, and Netgalley for an advanced reader copy of "Unbound II: New Tales By Masters of Fantasy" for an honest review.

While I definitely checked into this one because it has a new (non-Green Rider) short story by the magnificent Kristain Britain, I really had a great time reading through all the others stories in the text. Not all of them worked out for me—though, of course, I did madly love Britain's—but that's a lot of how anthologies go. I was tickled pink to find a new retelling of Gilgamesh inside, as well as more prequel Dune work.

I hope to come across more collections like this in the future!

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Unbound II is Shawn Speakman’s collection of seventeen all-original short stories from eighteen of the most exciting authors in contemporary fantasy and speculative fiction. Speakman plays several roles here, serving as the editor and publisher, as well as the author of the final story in the collection.

Unbound IIUnbound II is clearly a labor of love for Shawn Speakman, who created this book as a tribute to his late father, Richard Speakman, after his untimely passing in 2018 at the age of 72. That’s an image of Richard Speakman on the beautifully illustrated cover by Todd Lockwood. Unbound II serves as a companion volume to Shawn Speakman’s previous anthology, Unfettered II, which is dedicated to his late mother, Kathy Speakman, likewise featuring her on the cover.

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire Unbound II anthology. For the purposes of this review, I’d like to highlight several of my favorite stories to give you a taste for what’s inside this collection.

Let us begin at the end, with Shawn Speakman’s own contribution, “The Last Arrow of the Autumn Huntsman.” Speakman wrote this story to commemorate his father, who suffered from severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving in the Vietnam War. One of the protagonists of this haunting story, Ryk Oldten, shares this same dark affliction, unable to shake away terrible memories from his past. Speakman provides an authentic representation of PTSD and its impact on family members, who are trying to do their best to understand this affliction and help their loved one. “The Last Arrow of the Autumn Huntsman” is a magnificently heartfelt story that will linger with me for years to come.

The reigning queen of grimdark, Anna Smith Spark, has contributed “A Knight was Once Sent on a Quest by her Master” to Unbound II. Anna Smith Spark has crafted a touching fantasy about a knight, Erenan, with a physical disability that limits the use of her legs. I especially appreciated the loving relationship between Erenan and her horse: as she mounts the horse, they come together to make one unified being. Anna Smith Spark writes with a melancholic beauty and ends on a hopeful note that left me craving more.

As someone who has thoroughly enjoyed watching Mark Lawrence’s new video series on YouTube, “Perfecting the First Page,” it is a joy to see the master at work with his new story, “Solomon.” This is only the fourth short story that Mark Lawrence has published from the point of view of Jorg Ancrath from his Broken Empire series. “Solomon” takes place between the events of Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns. Jorg’s dark humor is in peak form as he is presented with a baby purported to be his own illegitimate child. As usual for Mark Lawrence, “Solomon” is a perfectly crafted story, poetic in its style with a balance between levity and darkness. It is always a thrill to return to the Broken Empire, and I hope Mark Lawrence will follow up with more Jorg stories in the future.

Another standout story is “Shadow’s Daughter” by Jon Sprunk. “Shadow’s Daughter” is set in the same world as his Shadow Saga trilogy and tells the story of Cassie, the daughter of Caim and the Empress Josephine. Cassie loves to sneak out at night to run across the rooftops of the city. As a reader, it is a lot of fun to follow her nighttime adventures. Jon Sprunk has created a great character with Cassie, and I feel like this could be the start of a new series building upon his Shadow Saga trilogy.

Relationships take center stage in “Sandra and Me,” a delightfully weird story by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky considers the personal and social impact of relationships if they became more inclusive rather than exclusive. “Sandra and Me” is a charmingly quirky and thought-provoking story.

Anna Stephens teaches us a lesson in moral relativism with “Heart-Eater.” I love the world that Anna Stephens has created here in such a small space. But her character work truly stands out, particularly in the relationship between the two main characters, Chen and K’un. “Heart-Eater” is a unique and masterfully crafted short story that will keep you guessing until the end.

On a lighter note, Dyrk Ashton’s contribution, “The True Adventures of Gilgamesh and Enkidu,” is a comedic retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Ashton’s story is fast-paced with many laugh- out-loud moments. My favorite part was his introduction of the Tuckerization Brothers. You’ll need to read the story to find out who has been tuckerized in this fractured version of the ancient Mesopotamian epic.

To my delight, the first story of Unbound II, “Imperial Court” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, takes place in the world of Dune, a favorite series of Richard Speakman. It is especially touching that this story is cowritten by Brian Herbert, the son of Frank Herbert, who carries on his father’s legacy the same way that Shawn Speakman carries on his own father’s legacy with Unbound II. “Imperial Court” focuses on the age-old feud between House Atreides and House Harkonnen, here represented by Willem Atreides and Danvis Harkonnen. The story takes place well before the events of Frank Herbert’s original Dune novel, shortly after the forming of the Spacing Guild as humanity attempts to establish a stable government. There is much to love for Dune fans with the publication of this new short story.

All of the stories in Unbound II are excellent. The other contributors include Saara El-Arifi (“The Shadhavar”), Ken Scholes (“Business in Great Waters”), Jordan Ross (“Moonflower Alchemy”), Peter Orullian (“A Poor Reflection”), Kristen Britain (“Samantha vs. the Shadows in the Basement of the Captain Riddle House”), Kevin Hearne (“Gladys and the Whale”), Django Wexler (“Last of the Red Riders”), Patrick Swenson (“Homecoming”), and Tamora Pierce (“The Sheriff’s Daughter”). Every story here is a winner.

Taken as a whole, Unbound II is both a heartfelt tribute to Shawn Speakman’s father and a showcase for some of the finest talent working in fantasy and speculative fiction today.


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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This was a great book of fantasy stories. It was a quick and engaging read. The compilation of short stories is always a great form of book.

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Short stories by fantasy greats collected into one volume. Odds are good that as a fantasy fan, you've read at least two of the authors included in this collection, and most likely more. None of the stories are surprising, just big name writers doing what they do best. A good choice if you are looking for something comforting and familiar, but not if you want anything groundbreaking. With as much diversity and innovation as fantasy has been going through, there are other volumes that are a better entry into the genre or place to expand, but if what you're looking for is old favorites, this is a good choice.

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Trust me when I say there is a science-fiction story for whatever type of sci-fi you like there’s a story from dune, Astoria about alchemist, Astoria about knights, there’s even a new spin on the old classic Gilgamesh and friends. I truly enjoyed the story and I’m so glad I got to read it ahead of time. I don’t think there was not one moment I felt bored while reading this book every story seems to be thrilling and even the ones that aren’t stellar or still pretty good. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to any science-fiction saying you would love this book. I do want to say I was sorry to hear about the aditus father dying and know how tough that can be my condolences. I received this book from NetGalley and the book whisperer but I am leaving this review voluntarily please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review.

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I received this free ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest, unbiased review.

I love anthology books, and I've read all previous Unfettered and Unbound, and have added a few new authors to my shelves after reading these. As with all anthologies, there are great stories, good stories and not-so-good stories, but I guess this just depends on the reader and their opinions (as with everything I suppose). Overall, this was a lovely set of stories, and there were none that I DNF'd. I've given each a score out of 5, and have put a few notes for some of them that piqued my interest more than others:

Imperial Court by Brian Herbert & Kevin J Anderson (3/5) - Pre-Dune politics (not really my thing, but interesting to see where some of the power-play came from)
A Poor Reflection by Peter Orullian (3/5) - More science than science fiction, but I've added Orullian to my TBR shelf
The Shadhavar by Saara El-Arifi (4/5)
Gladys and the Whale by Kevin Hearne (4/5) - Love Gladys WHSSS. More please!
Business in Great Waters by Ken Scholes (3/5) - Not bad, if a little predictable
Moonflower Academy by Jordan Ross (4/5)
The True Adventures of Gilgamesh and Enkidu by Dirk Ashton (2/5) - Sorry, it just seemed like Ashton was trying a little too hard with this one
Samantha vs. the Shadows in the Basement of the Captain Riddle House by Kristen Britain (4/5) - Deliciously dark and creepy with a humerous edge that makes me hope this becomes part of a larger series
Last of the Red Riders by Django Wexler (3/5)
Heart-Eater by Anna Stephens (4/5) - Not usually my cup of tea, but I really liked the sinister undertones (and overtones) of this story
Sandra and Me by Adrian Tchaikovsky (4/5)
Shadow's Daughter by Jon Sprunk (4/5) - Another author added to my TBR shelf; will be reading his Shadow Saga trilogy shortly as I really liked this tale of Sprunk's
Homecoming by Patrick Swenson (3/5)
The Sheriff's Daughter by Tamora Pierce (4/5)
Solomon by Mark Lawrence (3/5)
A Knight Was Once Sent on a Quest by Her Master by Anna Smith Spark (2/5) - This was a little too gory for my taste, although if you're into that then give it a try
The Last Arrow of the Autumn Huntsman by Shawn Speakman (3/5)

Overall, 3.4/5

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Shawn Speakman’s Unbound II contains 17 new stories by a variety of authors. Some choose to explore worlds they’re currently working in; some wrote in areas different than their current works. All wrote brand new stories for this can’t miss anthology. If you’re an SFF fan, Shawn Speakman’s Unbound II is for you.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Any and all opinions that follow are mine alone.

Review: Unbound II by Shawn Speakman

I’m not as well versed in science fiction and fantasy (SFF) short fiction as I’d like to be. It’s a field full of innovative young – in career terms – writers who are honing their craft in real time. As I’ve said before, we are living in a golden age of SFF. Novels, TV shows, movies, podcasts, and, yes, short fiction, all have offerings of such high quality and such interesting stories that one cannot keep up. Well, maybe just me, I don’t know. There is one series of short fiction anthologies with which I try to stay current. Shawn Speakman’s anthologies are automatic additions to the ‘to be read’ pile. I first heard of Speakman when SFF authors came together to help him pay off some insurance bills by donating stories to his anthology Unfettered. It was, of course, a good cause; so, I bought the book. (And which sadly I can’t find anymore. This is why eBooks are better for me.) Since then, Speakman has released Unfettered 2, Unfettered 3, and Unbound. When I saw the chance to review the latest addition Unbound 2, I jumped at the opportunity. As always, this was a solid anthology with excellent stories.

Caution: Anthologies are difficult to review because with so many stories by different authors, the level of subjectivity increases geometrically. In a novel, there is one writing style with one major plotline, and thus the reviewer is subjective about one author. Even in collections of short stories from one author, the subjectivity is more than a novel yet less than an anthology because authors don’t vary wildly in style. So, as you read my review, please, remember that my personal stance on reviewing is to highlight what I enjoy and irks me. Your mileage will, of course, vary. With anthologies, there’s an added layer in that my review is of the anthology as a whole – not individual stories. I may highlight individual stories; I may not. If I don’t mention a story, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I’m just trying to capture the overall effect of the project more than to evaluate the pieces of it.

Let’s dispense with the suspense. I loved this anthology. Of course, not all the stories worked for me, but overall I was entertained and enjoyed the time I spent reading this. At the end of the day, that’s all we can ask for, right?

Speakman’s anthologies are fun because authors will set short stories in the worlds in which they’re writing novels. I use these as an opportunity to test drive new series out. For example, because of Speakman’s anthologies, I want to read Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire Trilogy, and Unbound II features a new Jorg story that I loved. It’s brutal; it’s borderline cringey; yet it’s also got a lovely and unexpected ending. Kevin Hearne, whose Iron Druid Chronicles entertained me for years, has a story set in his Ink & Sigil series, which is set in the world of the Iron Druid Chronicles. This story, “Gladys and the Whale,” was what I’ve come to expect from Hearne. It’s a solid story that’s not pushing boundaries yet is very entertaining.

I hate to rank individuals stories because that rank is meaningless to any reader who isn’t me. It’s subjective and really only truly reflective of me in this moment and my knowledge, or in this case lock of it, that makes this rank work. That said, the best story in the collection was “The Shadhavar” by Saara El-Arifi. El-Arifi is the author of The Ending Fire trilogy. I had never heard of her or her work until this, and that’s a true shame. “The Shadhavar” was surprising, complex, and fresh. She does excellent character work with three people in such a short time. Purchasing Unbound II just for this story would be worth it to me.The Ending Fire trilogy is now on my TBR pile.


One of the things I enjoyed about Unbound II is the introduction paragraphs prior to each story. Speakman lets the author talk about the story however they see fit, and for me, it adds to each story. While author intent shouldn’t affect a story, it does for me. It adds something a little extra that makes the story enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, each story has to stand on its own, but that little bit in the beginning is a nice addition.

This is an anthology without a theme; so, there’s no connection between the stories. That’s one of the strengths of Speakman’s anthologies because it means there’s something here for everyone. If you like Dune, there’s a story for that. If you like historical fantasy, Peter Orullian has you covered. Want a story that you’re unsure how to interpret yet still enjoy, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “Sandra and Me” won’t disappoint. (Also, if you read it, send me an email what you think about it. Because I have questions.)


Shawn Speakman’s Unbound II is yet another excellent addition to the string of anthologies he’s already curated it. There’s a story in it for each and every science fiction/fantasy fan. Unbound II contains some of SFF’s best authors demonstrating why the genre is in a golden age. Highly recommended.

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