From an author best known for his hard SF comes this variable but mostly solid collection of fantasy short stories and novelettes, concentrating heavily on romanticism, an approach which Anderson rightfully feels has been unfairly maligned.
THE QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS
Roland is a distant world with a burgeoning human colony, where both rural and urban cultures have taken root. One small problem exists, though: scattered reports over the years of infant kidnappings in outlying areas are, by some, attributed to the Outlings, an unseen indigenous species, possibly intelligent. The official line on the Outlings is that they are a myth, but when a young woman's baby becomes the latest victim, and she takes her case to P.I. Eric Sherrinford after having been summarily blown off by the proper authorities, the two of them go on a personal trek to see if the Outlings exist once and for all, and if so, what it is they are up to. Are they deliberately keeping themselves, their civilization and artifacts hidden from humans? Are the baby-snatchings part of some campaign of terror, leading up to war itself? Believable and fascinating, though not great, with too much exposition near the end. Still, a Hugo & Nebula winner, which appeared as the title story of a 1973 Signet collection shortly after its Hugo win. It has been recollected many times, among them two other Tor collections from the 80's, Winners and New America.
Beautiful little story set in the Old Phoenix, an "inn beyond all worlds" first introduced by Anderson in A Midsummer Tempest, wherein figures from many different times and universes meet and share stories over a tankard or two. Pure storytelling magic is at work here; may well represent the ne plus ultra of fantasy romanticism. One can see how this scenario has influenced many later writers, such as Neil Gaiman.
THE TALE OF HAUK
Entertaining and well-mounted pastiche on an ancient Icelandic saga, in which viking trader Hauk returns to his homestead after years abroad, only to find he must do battle with the angry, vengeful ghost of his father. Fun reading for those who won't find the archaic, and-it-came-to-pass prose stylings corny.
A young, aspiring adventurer does a favor for some elves, and is paid handsomely in vast sums of gold...or is he? On the surface it seems that this is a very smart satire of "junk-bond" investors, those people who throw their money into something they think is hot, but turns out not. But then, everyone turns out okay in this story, which makes you wonder if that sort of message was on Anderson's mind at all. Still, a good yarn, though Anderson's predictable plot is less impressive than his facility at world-building. For a novelette the setting, its people, culture and politics are as solid as any novel.
THE VALOR OF CAPPEN VARRA
Okay if featherweight little charmer about a minstrel (seemingly the sole civilized man in a nation of barbarian louts) who manages, through no fault of his own, to rescue a princess from a flesh-eating troll.
THE GATE OF THE FLYING KNIVES
Cappen Varra returns in a disappointingly drab and lifeless novelette, in which he sets out to rescue his beloved, who has been abducted by minions of the god Ils, angry that rival gods are about to ascend to prominence in the city of Sanctuary. Talky, cliché-ridden, unimaginative, wonderless, written in a stentorian style that I just cannot enjoy reading. Originally commissioned by Robert Asprin for the first Thieves' World anthology, and strictly for that series' fans. Anderson phoned this one in.
Loving parody of Robert E. Howard's most popular hero is utterly hilarious and delightful.
A FEAST FOR THE GODS (w/ Karen Anderson)
Okay tale set in a world in which all the gods of all the world's religions, past and present, exist, and what happens when a modern-day American woman is visited by Hermes. Imaginative, to be sure, but too talky and even a bit smug.