Baker's diversity and creativity are on full display. While there doesn't seem to be a setting she is not comfortable with, there certainly are some that play to her strengths more than others. Much like another collection of hers from Night Shade Books, Dark Mondays, there is a lot of great quality writing here, it is unfortunately surrounded by other quality writing that isn't particularly great.
There are two stories that happen in the world of Baker's novel The Anvil of the World; 'Desolation Rose' and 'Leaving his Cares Behind Him.' In both the characters are well defined and exist in a simple fantasy world that readers have encountered before; except the world's "Dark Lord" is married to the "Saint of Light" and the exploits of their children take center stage. While 'Leaving his Cares Behind Him' feels like an introduction where a magical prodigal returns home with nothing to the reprimand of his parents, 'Desolation Rose' was more fleshed out and showed the anti-hero, Lord Ermenwyr, taking advantage of a family in ruin for his own benefit and how he is forced to atone. There were layers of depth in this story that made me think the novel could be something worth checking out.
'The Briscian Saint' showed three soldiers on the run contemplating the rational mind versus faith and superstition; people and gods; and the reality of people's work juxtaposed with god's supposed intentions. The story itself is strong, but secondary to the thoughts and ideas represented. One facilitated the other and the narrative didn't suffer in any way.
'Miss Yahoo Has Her Say,' a story set in the world of Gulliver's Travels was strong enough to hold my interest despite the presentation of speech that I find so irritating in all fiction: slave speech, for want of a better term. 'Her Father's Eyes' had a complex setting and the most potential for development, yet it seemed that Baker didn't want to go anywhere with the material established. The whole story took place on a train where the world is shown through the eyes of two children: a world in a dome, people that can't be seen by others, and so much intrigue to make me want to keep reading yet when the train ride is over; nothing continued. Rather everyone just packed up and went home. There was a great deal of set up that went into so modest a payoff.
'What the Tyger Told Her' and 'Nightmare Mountain' were the two stories that I would make someone read if I put the book in their hands. 'What the Tyger Told Her' dealt with a child's observations of family conflict and political maneuvering in Victorian England. We see that a little girl is able to learn and infer what will happen next with the help of her friend, a caged tiger, and the fact that she--as a child--is invisible in the eyes of adults and her intelligence is written off due to her age. 'Nightmare Mountain' was a fairy tale replete with a woman who was cursed to never touch the earth, her son who would die if ever seen by another person, plenty of evil spirits, and house that was nothing short of Gormenghast (Technically, that link goes to Titus Groan but I plan on reading Gormenghast shortly) that they all lived in. The son's marriage and the drama that ensues has "Hollywood" all over it and was a great joy to read.
While I feel this collection was much stronger than Dark Mondays with a few standout stories and a strong supporting cast, fans that have come across Baker's name in best of anthologies and themed collections may be best advised to wait and check out the table of contents from 'The Best of Kage Baker' collections I hope we'll be seeing in the near future following the authors untimely passing.