Review: Heroes Wanted: A Fantasy Anthology


Rating: 9/10

Synopsis

“What do you think a hero is? It’s just the right person in the right place making the right choice at the right time. Heroes aren’t born. They’re made.”

**r/Fantasy Stabby Award Winner – Best Anthology 2019**

A demonic assassin. A half-orc boxer. A ratman necromancer. Though they take many different shapes and forms, there are heroes all around us.

Bravery can be found in the most unexpected places: a subterranean dwarven city; the sands of a temple courtyard in Ancient Egypt; a besieged castle, a Victorian brothel, a goblin warren, the post-apocalyptic ruins of a demon-infested village. Heroes dwell in the shadows as well as the light; you just have to look a little harder to find them.

Who do they fight?
Some heroes challenge injustice in all its numerous guises, while others hunt monsters both human and bestial. Others battle inner demons, the ghosts of their past, their deepest nightmares – or even the gods themselves.

Why do they fight?
For glory? Sometimes. For honor? Perhaps. There are those who instinctively strive to protect those weaker than themselves, and there are others emboldened only by a sense of obligation, or the promise of wealth. Whether by the blade or other means, they endeavor to take down all who threaten what is good and right in their world.

By hook or by crook, through cunning or combat, with tooth and claw or iron and steel, they are all united in one goal, willingly or not: to live – and die, if necessary – a hero.

Choose your weapon. Fight for what you believe in. Never give up.

Nineteen fantasy writers gather to bring nineteen tales to life, each one a unique glimpse into a wholly original world.

Review

Heroes Wanted: A Fantasy Anthology is an anthology released in 2019 featuring the likes of some of fantasies best self-published (some of whom have now become traditionally published), including Dyrk Ashton, Will Wight & K.S. Villoso. I picked this up on a whim at the very start of the pandemic, that hellish month of March 2020, as I was finding it hard to escape into book I was reading and thought that maybe a collection of shorter works would, well, work. It’s been over a year now since I finished this anthology and I still often find myself thinking about some of the stories and the messages they held. Simply put, this anthology is absolutely fantastic! It helped put many of these authors onto my radar (of whose work I have since bought, if not read yet… the shame!) and reignited my love for reading at a time when everything was, let’s be honest, sh*t. Full of stories of people standing up and doing what is right, even if those choices are hard ones to make. It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself, and being the catalyst that helps achieve this. It’s about, in short, being a hero!

This anthology has a special place in my heart, and I feel like I owe it to talk about all of the stories in a non-spoiler fashion, giving you a quick insight into each and what makes them so brilliant. So less of a review and more of just a straight up gush. This is why you should read Heroes Wanted!

Half-Breed by Joe Jackson

We kick off Heroes Wanted with Joe Jackson’s Half-Breed, which immediately (and masterfully might I add) weaves both establishing character details and world-building elements that intrigue and hook the reader. An incredibly strong start to the anthology, the action, character work and exciting plot are all top-notch stuff.

The Dwarven Dragon by Jeramy Goble

A story about a tale about the plight of the dwarven people and a dragon, this story reminded me of a Pixar movie, as in it was emotional, impactful and full of heart. A truly warm tale, and not just because of the fire-breathing flying lizards, but because I felt for the characters and the people. It made me smile ear to ear throughout and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I cried a little when I got to the end.

Fresh off The Boat by K.S. Villoso

With a title like Fresh Off The Boat, I was expecting something a little light-hearted akin to the Randall Park led sitcom of the same name. Well, as this is from the author of The Bitch Queen series, I should have really have known better. There is so much to unpack here, and with a lot of social commentary on how marginalised and minority groups are lied to among other themes, this feels very relevant and, excuse the pun, fresh. Not only that, but the characters were wholly real and the tale was not shy about what it wanted to address. If I stop to think about it, I would say that this is my favourite of the collection!

The Death of Osiris by Dyrk Ashton

The title of this one pretty much tells you exactly what it is about. What it doesn’t tell you is that it is Marvel-level spectacle of Egyptian gods having a good old scrap. Twinned with a daring escape and some of the most badass moments in anything I’ve ever read, this will have you on the floor because the edge of you seat simply cannot sustain the action!

Small Teachers by Jeffery Hall

Small Teachers is a masterfully told tale of adversity, of perseverance and motivation. An inspiring story of Liddle, a weak and bullied boy who longs to become a hero. We follow him on journey as he does just that.

Is Dumb by M.D. Presley

Is Dumb is one that I can’t talk about without spoilers. What I will say is that it twists the idea of the hero and shows it from the perspective of the monsters instead to utterly brilliant effect. Once you’ve read this one, drop me a message as I’d love to chat to someone about this more in depth!

Final Word by Mike Shel

A dark fantasy take on what it means to be a hero, Final Word creates a grimdark setting and packs in excellently written flawed characters, all of whom are relatable or justified whether they are good or bad (or a bit in-between). Sprinkle in brutal fight scenes and crunchy hard prose, and Mike Shel has crafted a masterwork of the subgenre in less than a few thousand words.

What Needs to Be Done by David Benem

Feeling almost like a From Software game, we follow a group of hunters in a monster infested city. The monsters are all, basically, Dark Souls bosses. Huge, incredibly lethal and extremely angry, don’t get too attached to anyone because it’s not long before guts are torn open and limbs are flying. This appealed to my love of games like Bloodborne, but it also helped that the writing was stellar!

Hardgrave by Phil Tucker

Phil Tucker can write an interesting and unique voice, and the protagonist of Hardgrave is a perfect example of this. A very character focused look at the last remaining scraps of life clinging onto their war torn home town, this hard-hitting story of the effects of war and hostile conflicts on the people of the fighting lands sucks you in from the very start and does not let you go until it’s over.

Holding Out by Derek Alan Siddoway

We all love animal companions in fantasy don’t we? Well, what’s even better than animals?! How about mythical creature companions! In Holding Out, we are thrown into a world of Gryphon riders who act as badass knights and heroes of the land with their trusty hybrid steeds. All I’m going to say is this; please can a major video game studio pick this up? This world would make for an incredible massive open-world RPG adventure!

The Custodian by Matt Moss

This is fun story of a castle custodian’s son who finds him in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is also faced with a choice; run or stand and fight. Although the conclusion to this might not be to everyone’s liking, I think what this story has to say and its take away message certainly makes up for this. A brilliant story for readers of all ages too!

The Altar by Daniel Potter

Perfect for fans of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy, The Altar thrives in subverting every expectation or pre-determined notion of the meaning of “being a hero”. Again, it’s not something I can really talk too much about without spoilers, so I’ll say this: Read it and prepare to have your mind blown!

All Ends by Quenby Olson

Quenby was an author I knew of just before I started this story and from what I had gathered from Twitter was that she wrote mainly romantic fantasy set in Jane Austen type times, with elegant prose and strong leading ladies. So when I started this one, I was very surprised to find that this was dark as sh*t! A story about control, power and abuse, the lead hero was incredibly relatable but also tragic, and Quenby Olson does a great job of planting you deep in her mind. A chilling, thought-provoking story, one that has kept me awake at night thinking about its every nuance.

The Saviour of Garden’s Gate by Will Wight

Another dark story, set in a world that felt, to me at least, long dead, this story boasts rich worldbuilding that could rival a lot of full length novels. Whilst I felt lost throughout most of this one, from what I’ve heard through chatting to others, fans of Will Wight will slurp this up and devour and delve deep into every word.

Indomitable by Andy Peloquin

This is an underdog tale of a slave toiling away in a deadly mine with hundreds of other captives. Even amongst the slaves, he is the lowest of the low. Everything that happens in this is for the greater good, for things that are bigger than any of the individual characters. Heart-wrenching and devastating throughout (and us readers wouldn’t have it any other way!).

The Ashmoore Affair by Michael J. Sullivan

I’ve not read any of the other main Riyria novels (please don’t burn me at the stake just yet!) so this was my first taste of Hadrian and Royce. I was laughing from start to finish with this one, the characterisation of both is so strong, and I really felt like I understood them in just a short space of time.

False Heirs by J.C. Kang

Acting as part of J.C. Kang’s larger novel series, the Dragon Songs Saga, False Heirs works excellently to hook the reader into its assassination mystery that permeates through it, then teasing the reader into continuing on with the full series. Full of promise and vivid Asian inspired imagery.

Ulroc’s Redemption by Ben Galley

An urban fantasy that reminds me of The Wolf Among Us, in Ulrocs’s Redemption, we follow half-orc boxer Ulroc… and to say much more would be giving it away. I feel like this story is just the prologue to something much bigger. If it is, or is in the works to be, then sign me straight up!

Ratman by Laura M Hughes

For someone who can write something as whimsical and fun as God of Gnomes, Laura M Hughes can sure write some really grotty, grim and gross stories! Full of unpleasant imagery, this is a tale that excels in creating a dark setting and putting you in the mind-set of the one character with any real sense of empathy (to begin with anyway). A brilliant story for grimdark fans!

Heroes Wanted is available as a FREE eBook or in paperback.

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