Editors Mellissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong have assembled a winning collection of nine short stories from best selling authors of dystopian fiction. The worlds in the stories vary greatly from the frontier Wild West of Armstrong’s 'Branded' to the coolly clinical world of Margaret Stohl’s 'Necklace of Raindrops'. That said, all of them are harsh and full of terrors, and elements like the bioterrorists in Veronica Roth’s 'Hearken' are all too believable. There’s a wide variety of foes for our heroes and heroines to overcome including corpse-eating aliens, faceless corporations and faeries; sometimes, though, the threat comes from within as societies struggle to deal with strained circumstances and the actions that serve the greater good pose harm to the individual.
The collection starts and finishes with two perfectly contained stories. Veronica Roth’s 'Hearken' centres around Darya, whose special skills mean her destiny is to become one of the Hearkeners, those musically gifted people who can interpret either people’s life song or death song. The world is beautifully drawn and the story is an original one which reaches a satisfying conclusion. 'Miasma' by Carrie Ryan is a beautifully written tale of a plague-ridden town where ‘doctors’, accompanied by hideous plague-eating beasts acting as bloodhounds, remove the sick… unless they receive payment to ignore the symptoms. Some of the other stories like 'Branded' and 'Necklace of Raindrops' give a fantastic glimpse into a fully realised world that could easily be expanded into a novel, and most of the text should pique readers' interest enough for them to seek out other works by the authors represented here. Nancy Holder’s 'Pale Rider' is perhaps the weakest story in the collection as the plot is a muddled combination of the dystopian and supernatural genres. The standard overall, though, is high, which means Shards & Ashes will act as an entertaining diversion until the next dystopian novel of choice is released.