A Fantasy Medley 3

April 28, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

medleyA Fantasy Medley 3, edited by Yanni Kuznia

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Last year, I splurged on a Subterranean Press mystery box, where I paid a flat price and received several books from their back catalog. It was a fun experiment, and I received a number of odd books, some from authors I knew and liked, others from authors I knew but hadn’t read, and then others like A Fantasy Medley 3, where I only had a passing interest in them. I’m knocking out the novellas in my collection, though, and this one, at just 151 pages, qualified, so I spent much of a Sunday afternoon reading it. And it was … okay.

The first story, “Goddess at the Crossroads”, is a story set in the world of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, which means nothing to me. I know Hearne’s name because he’s written a book in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, but that’s about it. The story is serviceable enough; it’s engaging, and it’s well told. It didn’t wow me, and I felt a disconnect with the outside characters. It’s a story told around a campfire, and the characters around said campfire are probably familiar to readers of the rest of Hearne’s series, but for me, they’re just a wrapping device. They seem lively enough, but they aren’t particularly defined. Plus, the narrator seems to be long-lived, since the story he’s telling is about how he saved Shakespeare from bandits and witches. There are more questions than answers at the end of this story, though I expect readers of the series would know the answers to those questions.

Laura Bickle’s “Ashes” follows, and it, too, is part of a larger series (Anya Kalinczyk), though it does a better job of showing the characters. You still get the feeling that Bickle is relying on her existing series to carry the bulk of the characterization and exposition, but the story feels more engaging because she still gives us the bare bones of her character and what she means to the world she’s created. In the story, Anya is racing to catch the Red Dwarf, a fire elemental that’s wreaking havoc in modern-day Detroit. She’s joined by her familiar, a salamander named Sparky (oh, I forgot to mention there’s a strong vein of irreverence running throughout the story), and Charon, from Hell. Again, it feels like this is a small part of a larger story that readers of the series would already know, and it feels most apparent in the ending. I feel like it should have been more emotional, and it likely is, for those who know the rest of the story. As it is, I feel like the ending is rushed and unemotional, and raises more questions that readers familiar with her other books already understand.

The third story, “The Death of Aiguillon”, by Aliette de Bodard, is yet another story that’s part of a larger arc. In this case, the story is a prequel to The House of Shattered Wings. Again, this is a book (and author) with which I’m unfamiliar, so I’m going into an established story without any point of reference. Compared to the other two stories, this one feels the most self-contained. It’s about a young woman who has survived a magical battle, and how she continues to survive in the battle-ravaged city of Paris. de Bodard spends more time on character and setting here, though she seems to sacrifice plot in their favor. The language is lyrical and provoking, but it doesn’t feel as much like a story as the preceding two stories. Honestly, it feels like the prologue to a novel, which is exactly what it is. It’s also intriguing enough to make me look into de Bodard’s novel.

“One Hundred Ablutions” is Jacqueline Carey’s contribution to the collection, and is the one stand-alone story out of all four. I haven’t read anything by Carey yet, but I do have Kushiel’s Dart in my to-read stack, and this was the one story I was looking forward to reading. It’s a short, fantasy version of The Handmaid’s Tale, where lower-class citizens serve as religious handmaids for the higher-class families. It captures the helplessness and despair of Atwood’s tale, but redefines the roles of the handmaids in the tale. It’s a powerful, effective story, and touches on themes of independence, responsibility, and rebellion. It’s the best story of the collection.

As the title of the collection suggests, this is a medley of different kinds of fantasy, from urban fantasy to alternate worlds, and like most collections, it’s uneven. The volume is a mixed bag, with the first two stories being the least interesting of them all, but the last two stand out, with Carey’s story making it worthwhile. I won’t be seeking out the previous volumes in this series, but I don’t regret reading this one.

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