This collection was a mixed bag. I liked about half the stories in it well enough to go out and buy more by the same authors but the other half I could have done without.
It’s a nice idea, and a good sampler of fantasy writers, but not a great anthology.
“Cold Spell” by Donna Andrews is a comic confection so light, I never really got my teeth into it. I suspect it would work better if I’d read some of the novels this twenty-page story of mages and magic was set in.
“The Nightside: Needless To Say” by Simon R Green. I’ve never taken to the whole Nightside idea: it’s too self-consiously noir to be fun – a pastiche on Chandler with a dash the supernatural added to give it some spice. This tale was stylised and glib. The underlying idea was a good one but the storytelling was lazy and the characters were dull. Not for me.
“Lovely” by John Straley was original, when did you last read a story from the point of view of a crow, and well written but more an amuse-bouche than a meal. It did give me the appetite to look him up on GoodReads and I think I’ll give his Cecil Younger series a try: who could resist a mystery, set in Alaska, and called”The Woman Who Married A Bear”?
“The Price” by Anne Bishop was fascinating: an intense and disturbing look into a nasty world. I’m a fan of Anne Bishop’s “The Others” series. This is a LONG way from that. This is much more grown-up than Meg Corbyn will ever be. It tells the story of a witch (with a rich and very dark background) hunting a killer who rips men apart, in a land where men are trained for only two things: to serve women and to fight enemies. It turns out that the main character was from Anne Bishop’s “Black Jewels” series. I’ve just bought the first one, “Daughter of the Blood”.
“Fairy Dust” by Charlaine Harris is a neatly constructed but slightly light on content tale about Sookie using her ability to read minds to discover who killed a fairy. Fun but insubstantial.
“The Judgement” by Anne Perry has the idea of witch trail as catharsis at its centre. It’s cleverly conceived but I felt that there wasn’t enough subtlety in how the tale was told. The authorial voice was too loud, with far more tell than show. Still, the novelty carried me to the end and the idea will stay with me.
“The Sorcerer’s Assassin” by Sharon Shin was about the murder of a magic professor in a school for magic. It didn’t work for me. The plot was a little light, the characterisation more so and the whole thing felt too cosy to generate any sense of thrill or threat.
“The Boy Who Chased Seagulls” by Michael Armstrong,is a classic fairytale, meant to warn as well as entertain. It was very nicely done, full of atmosphere and foreboding, but didn’t really have anything to do with magical detective work that I could see. A nice read though.
“Palimpsest” by Laura Anne Gliman gave me a glimpse into a well-developed magical world, where “Retrievers” use their Talents to find and retrieve objects. regardless of ownership. I was intrigued, so I bought the first book in the Retriever series, “Staying Dead”.
“The Death of Clickclickwhistle” by Mike Doogan lost me after a few pages. It’s the kind of sci-fi comedy that used to be common in the 1970s: stylised, self-consciously amusing, trying for zany and hitting embarrassing. It has its tongue pushed so hard into its cheek, I lost all interest in what it was trying to say.
“Cairene Dawn” by Jay Caselberg is a Chandler meets Cairo with a whiff of ancient magic. Strong on atmosphere but the pace dragged and the noirish parts didn’t quite get there.
“Justice Is A Two-Edged Sword” by Dana Stabenow, is wonderful. I’d read it before in Dana Stabenow’s “The Collected Short Stories” but I read it all the way through again. This is a first-rate sword and sorcery with a good mystery plot. I’m hoping that this will become a series of books one day.