Tag Archives: Marion Zimmer Bradley

Sword & Sorceress (Anthology, #22)

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress XXII (2007). 269 Pages. Norilana Books. $9.95

I don’t know if I mentioned that I come from a town with a one-room library. It was the first floor of an old victorian, and it didn’t really have much in the way of books. My school had a library, and in elementary school, I believe I managed to read their entire collection, and then some. It was my preferred place to spend lunchtime. I’ve never had a library card before. (Small towns, they just write down your name, because they know you.) When I moved to the Bay Area, I had a school-ID library card, and then I got my first non-school card from the San Leandro Public Library, which was very exciting. I discovered that you can put books on Hold, and when you come in, they’re waiting for you.

I have abused this power to no end. I have a 20-book-long hold list, and every time I come in to turn some in, I’ve got more waiting. It makes life more fun, I think. (It also means that when I go to the library, I can limit myself to the holds shelves so I don’t leave with more than I can read in 2 weeks.)

Oh, there was a point to all this. Because I get my books by putting them on hold, I don’t really get to know what format the book is going to be in when I get there. (Or what shape– there have been several books that I’ve wanted to repair quite badly, but when I left the library*, I lost my access to book-repair and book-binding supplies.) Every other Sword & Sorceress novel has been a mass market paperback, but apparently when they switched publishers, they switched formats. Sword & Sorceress XXII is edited by Elizabeth Waters**

Anyway, there are sixteen stories in this volume, so as I’ve done in the past, I’ll choose a few that really stood out.

I’m going to start at the back of the book with Sarah Dozier’s “The Menagerie.” It’s a good story, and it entertained me, except that it is so very, very similar to “Oulu” by Aimee Kratts, which was in volume XXI. It’s forgivable to use similar stories more than once in a series, but to do so in two volumes which are back-to-back is a problem. Yes, they do take very different approaches to a similar twist, but that does not make them sufficiently different from each other.

“Night Watches” by Catherine Soto re-introduces Biao Mei and Lin Mei– a pair of siblings who made their first appearance in Sword & Sorceress XXI (though, in a story I didn’t review). There was a hint of magic last time, but this time it becomes a bit more blatant; there are magical beings mincing around in this story. (And a bit of political intrigue.) In the first story, it was hinted that these siblings were seeking… something. We haven’t learned what by the end of this story, but it’s led us a little deeper into their world. I am very interested to see where they go, and what is going on with their world.

“Vanishing Village” by Margaret L. Carter has a little bit of a twist, and features a story that’s not quite what you expect. I don’t know how to say a whole lot more without saying too much, but there’s an interesting spell which made this town “vanish.”

Kimberly L. Maughan’s “The Ironwood Box” starts with a form of magic I’ve never read about, as well as a unique political system. It’s a little reminiscent of Robin McKinley’s Beauty or Rose Daughter in that there are three sisters living in a cottage in the forest. I suppose that’s not a very strong parallel, but one makes me think of the other. The characters are interesting, and their story intriguing, making this one of the hilights of the volume.

Dave Smeds has one of the more unique stories with “Bearing Shadows,” which I read while on BART. Aerise loses everything when her baby glows in her belly. It is a mark that she is carrying the child of a Cursed One, something which she is cast out of her village for. Not knowing what to do, and afraid for herself (and to a degree, the unwanted child she is carrying), she goes to the Cursed Ones for help. Slowly, she comes to understand why she was chosen, but she never quite forgives. It’s a very emotional story, with what I hesitate to call a happy ending, though it is hopeful.

When I was a kid, I had a book of short stories which included “The Lady, or the Tiger” which I found to be infuriating. When I later found its sequel, I was only more annoyed. To put it simply, “The Decisive Princess” by Catherine Mintz left me far, far more satisfied by the end of the story. I don’t want to say a lot more, because there isn’t a lot to say without spoiling it, but it’s a very good short story.

One of the darker stories in the series is “Tontine” by Robert E. Vardeman– a lone mercenary enters a bar, and proceeds to drink a very special bottle of wine. There are five glasses worth of wine, added to the bottle by herself and her four friends in their youth. With each glass, she not only remembers her fallen comrades, but relives their deaths through their eyes. Then, Jonna drinks her own glass, and without us ever knowing what she saw, she leaves the bar, off on journeys unknown. It’s brilliant, and unique, and like nothing I ever expected.

The Quick Version:

Elizabeth Waters is not Marion Zimmer Bradley, but she manages to continue the series with the same sort of spirit as her mentor. A lot of the stories were very good, though a few fell flat. It scores a 3.5/5, because there were some very, very good ones, but one too many were mediocre or forgettable enough that I don’t remember them today.

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* During College, I worked in the Library, and was a Periodicals and Processing Student Assistant. (Long title, I know.) The very best part about this job was getting to repair the really old books. The coolest one ever was The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in large-format hard-back from the 19th century. It had the etchings in it. We got to re-do the binding, and it was the most amazing, satisfying, and fun thing I’ve ever done. Because when you’re done, you’ve helped preserve history, and while you’re doing it, you’re engaged– your mind, your hands, and all your skills. Ok, I think I should stop dorking out about book repair, because there aren’t a lot of people who share that passion with me.

** Elizabeth Waters was apparently Marion Zimmer Bradley’s editorial assistant from Sword & Sorceress II until she died. Ms Waters is about as close as you can get to MZB’s editorial style, so they chose her to continue the series. It works, I think.

This Book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge! It is part of the Short Story Reading Challenge!

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Sword & Sorceress (Anthology, #21)

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.

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* 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!

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Sword & Sorceress (Anthology, #17)

Marion Zimmer Bradley Presents: Sword & Sorceress XVII (2000). 312 Pages. DAW Books. $6.99

This is the last volume in this anthology series which Marion Zimmer Bradley was alive to compile. Each and every story was hand-picked by her, and featured a strong heroine. The entire concept of a high-fantasy anthology about strong women appeals to me. I was known to read anthologies of stories for strong girls, and that habit has never quite faded. I love the kick-ass heroine, the princess who slays her own dragons (or indentures herself to them) instead of waiting for prince charming.

There are 21 stories in this book, which is a lot to give even the briefest of per-story synopsis about, so I’ll choose a couple favorites. (Book of Enchantments only featured 9 stories, so it was considerably easier to summarize them all).

“The Conjurer’s Light” by Lisa Campos is about a conjurer, a princess, a sword, and destiny. “I have learned to Conjure thousands of images in my life, and of them all, butterflies have always been my favorite” (31). Faced with the impossible task of conjuring a sword from legend, our Conjurer must find a way to triumph.

“The Summons” by Bunnie Bessell is a story with a different flavor. Blaze is a mercenary-of-sorts, charged with guarding the heir to the crown. However, when her Temple gives her an order she never expected, she has to find a way to cope and choose a new path for her life.

“Deep as Rivers” by Cynthia McQuillin is bittersweet. A troll falls in love with an elf, and makes a huge sacrifice (which is unappreciated). It is especially enjoyable because there are so few stories about Trolls. It is very bittersweet because of the way things turn out, but the end is hopeful for a better future.

“Nor Iron Bars a Cage” by Deborah Wheeler is another excellent story, which doesn’t turn out quite how you expect. Alaina has the ability to speak to metal, and metal spirits, something her father has taken advantage of. However, this same skill may one day give her the ability to change her fate.

“Memories Traced in Snow” by Dave Smeds is nothing like what you expect when you begin reading. The town of Cascade Dell has forgotten… something, but nobody knows that they do not remember, nobody realizes that they have forgotten. Should they have a hint that something is wrong, they will have forgotten that by morning. The memory is not what you expect, and the hunt for the missing memories is impressively written.

It’s a very, very good anthology, one which I enjoyed a lot the first time, and I enjoyed nearly as much the second time around.

The Quick Version:

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress is an excellent anthology series, featuring solid stories with a firm unifying theme. It gets a 5/5 for being so excellent. (This is possibly my favorite volume in the series, honestly)

And so opens the Attack of the Anthologies, a solid week of me reading far too many anthologies for my own good.

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