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I dove into this one with extremely high expectations and a little trepidation. After all, the companion volume, Return of the Sword, had been really good, balancing action and characterization in a near-perfect mix. I needn't have worried. Rage of the Behemoth delivers on its promise and is a very entertaining read in its own right.
The book is divided into five sections, each of them holding four stories, and each in a different setting: Depthless Seas, Frozen Wastes, Scalding Sands, Mysterious Jungles and Ageless mountains. In each setting, and each story, some kind of gigantic monster awaits each of our heroes: also noteworthy is that some of the stories are written by very well-known writers invited to submit, including Andrew Offut and Mary Rosenblum.
The stories themselves are not related to one another, and are all fast-paced and action-packed. The monsters span the range from standard mythological fare to the exotic beasts seen only in the authors' imaginations, but they are all large, seemingly insurmountable, and very powerful. The struggle to best them makes for compelling reading, and the stories in which they are allied to the hero make for some impressive power trips.
There were some stories that I found to be truly excellent: "Black Water" by Sean T.M. Stiennon is the tale of a very unusual father and son combination and the monster that stalks them while Bruce Durham's "Yaggoth Voor" tells the tale of some sailors who come upon the wrong set of mischievous twins in a marvelous first-person narrative. And, last but not least, there's a story set in Michael Ehart's Manthycore universe that is, like all the rest, extremely good.
There are two things that I would criticize about this collection, and I believe they are both intimately related to one another. The first is that it isn't the best book to be read in one sitting or all in one go. Why? Well, the plots, while varying wildly, are centered around the effects caused by some huge monster or another. The reader knows what's coming, and falls into a rut.
The second issue has to do with the one big monster after another as well, and that is character motivation. When the monsters are as big as the ones in this anthology, the most frequent motivation is survival, which is less compelling to me than the motivations in Return of the Sword. The best stories are the ones where the character has goals that exist before the monster comes on stage, and either uses the monster's irruption to further those goals or has his or her character strengthened by the encounter.
Of course, the survival instinct triggers some really impressive action scenes, often on an immense scale, so there's some compensation.
This one is an ideal companion for when you're in the mood for action in leviathan-sized chunks.
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