Sword and Sorceress XVII by Marion Zimmer Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The tradition of the Sword & Sorceress anthologies is evident here, a mix of stories that deal with the deeply personal conflicts of female characters in fantasy. Many of the tales have a strong emotional component, and a few hit me hard. The quality is generally high: there is only one real miss, though there are a few of what I would call "beginner" stories - they hit you over the head with their plot points, resolution, description, etc. The two flash fiction pieces are easily among the best, though I really wanted a full-length tale from the humorous one (“Weapons at War” by Charles Laing). Length does a few of these tales a disservice: they would have been much stronger if allowed to breathe. On the converse side, “Memories Traced In Snow” by Dave Smeds would probably be better served by being about a third shorter.
Far and and away my favorite story here is “Luz” by Patricia Duffy Novak, a tale I simply could not put down until its conclusion … and it takes the ending a step further into something thought-provoking and a little unsettling. I also really liked “Nor Iron Bars a Cage” by Deborah Wheeler for the ‘magic’ used within and the development of its narrator. The opening and closing stories are both well-chosen; they’re shorter, deceptively simple, and with emotional impact.
On the flip side, I simply didn’t get “Caelqua’s Spring” by Vera Nazarian. It just felt like flowery, opaque language for the sake of it. “Demon Calling” by ElizaBeth Gilligan has the opposite problem – there’s not enough specificity to the story to be that compelling.
One thing I loved about the collection, too, was how many of the stories were inspired by history and mythology. And it was obvious that the authors loved their source material, more than just a casual encounter: it came through vividly. I’d definitely recommend this volume.
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