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Legends of Red Sonja Paperback – August 26, 2014
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These stories have the feel of "legends" and the prose in some of the stories isn't bad, but the stories themselves are undistinguished. This work is the labor of several individuals. The result lacks unity of vision or style.
Apart from an occasional page by Jay Anacleto and some nice Frank Thorne covers, the quality of the art is substandard for the Red Sonja series. It's also wildly inconsistent. Sometimes Sonja's face looks like it was drawn by Picasso after a few too many glasses of wine. Some panels look like they were drawn for an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Fans of the redheaded warrior can find better collections than this one. I would give this 3 stars for the stories and no more than 2 for the art, 2 1/2 overall.
Gail Simone wrote the frame of the story in which a group of mercenaries called the Grey Riders are hunting Sonja for killing a prince. They travel across the land searching for her and they are told tales about her exploits along the way. The guest writers step in for each of these side tales.
These tales are entertaining. None of them stick out to me as being bad, although the artwork can be hit or miss. I like that the guest writers use their own take on the character or tell the story from the perspective of a side character. That perspective can skew the view of Sonja that has been built, but it feels natural to get these extreme views. It speaks to the way that depending on who you ask, you can get a different story of events.
There are times where the book does not transition well between the frame and those other stories. Sonja is also off stage for a lot of the book, even though she is being talked about by these other characters. Things pick up once she gets more involved in the overarching part of the story. Overall, this is a nice tribute to the character.
Recently, her fate has been in the hands of Gail Simone and Simone has done a marvelous job, (see, Red Sonja Volume 1: Queen of the Plagues), of reinterpreting and modernizing the character with a reboot that emphasizes her character strengths without watering down the swordplay or the clever plotting of her stories.
This volume, (which compiles the five issues of the "Legends of Red Sonja" 40th Anniversary mini-series), represents a welcome and successful departure from past form. Rather than a single story arc helmed by a single writer this volume is an anthology of sorts. The larger story framework is that a band of Grey Riders is searching for Red Sonja in order to exact vengeance for a variety of crimes, real and imagined. In the course of their pursuit some of the Riders tell their stories about Red Sonja. In addition, as the Riders track Sonja they run into others who have Red Sonja stories to tell.
The result is that you get a collection of Red Sonja tales, some longer and some briefer. But the extra angle is that each tale has been written by a different writer, these writers having been selected and invited by Simone to contribute their Sonja vision. The writers are all women, but more importantly they are all good and they all have a good handle on Sonja and have something interesting to add to the legend. This variety is complemented by the fact that each story is drawn by a different artist, so you also get a variety of graphic interpretations of Sonja on the page.
There are 11 guest stories, about a third by authors you probably know or recognize, (Tamora Pierce, Mercedes Lackey, Marjorie M. Liu), and the rest by up and comers. Some are heavy on conflict and battle, some are more light hearted, some lean toward magic, some are more like character sketch pieces. Most score, and different readers will probably have different favorites, (I particularly liked both of the stories in Issue 2), but none of them actually disappoint, which is sort of rare for an anthology that has the range this one does. I attribute that success to the writers "getting" Sonja and to Simone keeping a close editorial eye on her baby.
In any event, this is a rousing, entertaining, satisfying, and basically faithful collection of fine Red Sonja tales and a very nice find.
Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.