Review: Winter's Dreams by Glen Cook

Sunday, May 10, 2015
Author: Glen Cook
Genre: fantasy
Series: N/A
Pages: 296 (hardcover edition)
Published:  2006
Source: ARC for review
Rating: 5/5

Best known for his Black Company series of fantasy novels, Cook focuses on alternate realities, distant futures, self-sacrifice, and camaraderie born of loneliness in these 12 intimate stories. A black family is destroyed by racial hatred in “Song from a Forgotten Hill.” Diffident, conflicted antiheroes pay the ultimate price for comrades and causes in the six interconnected space-faring narratives of “And Dragons in the Sky,” “In the Wind,” “The Recruiter,” “Quiet Sea,” “Darkwar,” and “Enemy Territory.” An immortal must watch the death of the last city in “Sunrise.” A comic misadventure reverses the protagonist’s success in “The Seventh Fool.” A sword-wielding mercenary seeks the forgotten land of Moon in “The Devil’s Tooth.” And the concluding title story leaves the reader wondering if the preceding stories are but stolen dreams. Close first-person perspectives tug heartstrings in these tragedies of thwarted expectations. 

Winter's Dreams is a short story collection by Glen Cook. These stories are rich and varied. Although several are written in the same universe, they have a different direction; some hopeful, others tragic. In all there is a sense of existentialist philosophy, as Cook's characters struggle with the absurd and a need to find meaning in their own lives. Cook makes his mark as one of the best speculative short story authors out there.

At first, I found the collection jarring. These stories bounce from the purely speculative to science fiction to high fantasy magic. One of the stories, "In The Wind", was written in a pseudo-technical manner that made me put the book down several times. However, the more I read, the more I realized how brilliantly put together these stories are. They paint the universe, and it takes reading to the end to appreciate the whole picture. Also, the endings to each were satisfying in a manner rarely seen in short speculative fiction. I was more and more beholden to the magic of Cook's writing as Winter's Dreams went on.

The most impressive feat Cook pulls off in this collection is the variation in character between each story. All of the narrators feel like they have a unique voice, while still managing to be part of a whole. How is it possible for an author to do that? These main characters have a whole story and you're only reading a small piece of it. The depth is astounding.

It was difficult for me to decide which stories were my favorites, but I'll provide a few notes on those I did pick:
  • Ponce: A family befriends a dog who is somehow a conduit to true understanding. It's possible Cook is commenting on the power of our closeness to the animals we live with. There is certainly an emotional tug to the story. There is also a powerful message of hope in the face of adversity.
  • The Seventh Fool: A con man cons himself. This is a simple idea for a story but it's done with a relishing sense of the ludicrous and a laugh out loud ending.
  • The Recruiter: Possibly the darkest of these tales, a man vies for his freedom by taking that of others. This one was disturbing, more so because as a reader you can really put yourself in the position of the main character.

Glen Cook's short story collection will startle you. It will make you ponder. It might make you cry or laugh. One thing is certain: this collection will touch you in some way. Definitely recommended.


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