Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress XXI (2004). 308 Pages. DAW Books. $6.99
I really do love anthologies. They make you feel accomplished every time you reach the end of a story. Unfortunately, such bite-sized pieces mean that I’m much more easily distracted and have difficulty pacing myself properly to be able to review daily (or at least every-other day). Diana L Paxson is the editor of this anthology, which still bears Ms Bradley’s name because it was her creation.
There are 23 stories in this one, each and every one featuring a strong heroine. As with the last Sword & Sorceress I reviewed, we’re going to pick a few hilights, because there is so much to say about every single story in here.
“Growing up, I had imagined my life would be full of danger, excitement, and fabulous riches. I wound up with two out of the three…” (21) begins “The Spell of the Sparrow” by Jim C. Hines. It’s a lovely, funny story about family acceptance and magical sparrows. It isn’t what you expect, and that’s what makes it such a good story.
Esther M. Friesner’s “Child’s Play” is from the point-of-view of a child, which gives it a certain charm which it would otherwise lack. Mira’s father married That Woman after her mother’s death, and it has changed her life for the worse. When the King learns of her magical abilities he sends people to get her, but they want her father’s permission (they’ve learned something about taking seers against their will in the past). I can’t say much more without ruining the story, but it was really a very good one.
“Necessity and The Mother” by Lee Martindale was another gem. Donta has followed her family’s legacy in more than one way; like her ancestors before her, she was a mercenary until she lost a limb, and like those ancestors, too, she retired to run The Mercenary’s Mother, an Inn and Tavern built by her family. Things go a bit crazy when the town decides to ban all metal, causing all of the mercenaries in town to uproot and move to Donta’s family farm. The end is hardly unexpected, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining.
“Plowshares” by Rebecca Maines is another good story which is not exactly surprising. It involves Canterbury*, bandits, and a not-so-surprising-if-you’re-familiar-with-fantasy-tropes twist. Or maybe because I read this before, I knew where it was going. Either way, it was fun, but not surprising.
Lynn Morgan Rosser’s “Favor of the Goddess” was a solid story, with a lot of lovely prose. Again, it plays with familiar themes, but it’s not exactly surprising. A beggar with amnesia finds out that she is much more important than she knows and learns an important lesson.
“Rose in Winter” by Marie M Loughin was not what I expected at all. Rosabel is the daughter of a lesser lord, and is more than a little overwhelmed by her first winter in the King’s court. She attracts the attention of the court Jester, as well as the King’s nephew, and is faced with a life-altering choice she is not prepared to make. The ending was surprising**.
“Kazhe’s Blade” by Terry McGarry is another mercenary tale; this time about one who’s lost herself in alcohol and doesn’t want to find a way out. Unfortunately, she’s not going to be able to wallow and lose herself in the bottom of any more glasses. She had a destiny once, and had thought herself a failure, only to learn that it is not as over as she thought.
“Oulu” by Aimee Kratts follows a very dark storyline which is not at all what you expected. Small towns can twist people, make them darker than anyone would expect. I don’t think I liked it, but it stands out in my memory.
The Quick Version:
I really did enjoy this volume a lot. Short stories are perfect for riding on trains, or for breaks at work. This collection especially tends to have good stories which follow familiar (but often re-thought) themes. It, like most volumes in the series, gets a 5 out of 5.
* My college had a Great Books program which involved reading The Canterbury Tales so many times that I know some of the stories by heart. Every time I hear someone say “The Canterbury Tales” (especially my mother when she does it in her silly voice) my PTSD kicks in and I giggle like an idiot. When I read about a pilgrimage to Canterbury, it’s doubly so. I giggled like an idiot and was at a loss to explain it to anyone.
** Spoilers: It was sad, and I even found myself crying a little. Highlight to read.
This book is part of the Short Story Reading Challenge!