Sunday, May 25, 2014

Review of "Sword and Sorceress #28"

Have just finished "Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress 28," a well-edited collection of short stories featuring strong
heroines in magical fantasy settings. Elisabeth Waters has done a
great job of anthologizing tales by both former contributors and
writers new to the field of high fantasy.

 1. In Jonathan Shipley's "Dead Salt," sorceress Jenna works with army
buddy Trayn to keep the peace, but she doesn't get much respect.
When they lay their lives on the line, we again appreciate how public
servants sacrifice on our behalf, even when we don't deserve it.

2. In Catherine Soto's "The Rolang of Taiyung," we meet dagger-wielding
Lin Mei and her cat familiars, called upon to investigate the
mysterious appearance of a Rolang, a zombie assassin. The lovely world
Soto creates is reminiscent of Lian Hearn's "Tales of the Otori"
trilogy, but it seems the heroine solves the mystery a bit too easily.

3. Jessie D. Eaker's "Tear-Stained Sword," is a tale of a royal family
both graced and cursed with magic. In spite of sororicide, regicide,
and fraticide, the family comes out on top.

4. Rebecca G. Eaker's "A Variation in Silence" follows a deaf and blind
girl's discovery of the power of music when a magical Troubador comes
to town.

5. Taverns have been overused settings for fantasies ever since Frodo and
Strider fled the Prancing Pony in LotR, but Dave Smed's "The Tavern at
the Ford" is a fun variation on tried-and-true tropes. Coil and Azure
are descendants of a disembodied goddess, who wants their bodies to
restore herself (sort of a Voldemort-style predicament, yes?) and
sends a giant spider in pursuit.

6. By far the best of the bunch, Pauline J. Alama's "The Damsel in
the Garden" recites a medieval-style tale of a knight in shining armor
braving magical perils to save three brothers. But this knight is a
girl, who not only prevails in this exciting quest but finds true love.

7. "Ghost Spike" by Jonathan Moeller reprises his heroine Caina, a Ghost
spy for the imperial army who hopes to marry Lucan, whose wife was
killed by a necromancer 10 years earlier. The couple is shocked to
discover Lucan's wife may still be alive and a hostage. Although Caina
believes she may have lost Lucan, her trickery defeats the kidnapper, and
she wins at love as well.

8. Ah, a funny one. "Ru's Bad Day" by Lorie Calkins gives us a glimpse of
what it's like to be "befriended" by a dragon. Most agreeable and
definitely not boring.

9. In "The Vine Princess" by Steve Chapman, a princess meets her
doppelganger in the bowels below the castle. It's such a good copy,
she's not even sure she's herself.

10. "Trading Gifts" by Rabia Gale is a lovely fantasy of a kitemaker
who trades gifts with street urchins in return for kites. At last she
finds an urchin who has a most precious gift to trade.

11. Sorceress Laurel of Albion is apparently on loan to the Imperial
Court of China in "A Drink of Deadly Wine" by Michael Spence and
Elisabeth Waters. Unfortunately, using the golem spell on the clay
soldiers of Chin Shih Huang Ti is not a particularly surprising plot,
though the setting is well drawn.

12. "Promises and Pastry" by Melissa Mead shows what might have
happened had Cinderella turned down her fairy godmother's offer of
help. Could I interest you in a salmon puff?

13. "Where There's Smoke" is another of Michael H. Payne's series about
Cluny the cat and her two familiars, a human and a firedrake. This time
she's summoned by the Queen of the Realms of Fire to account for past
actions. Weren't light refreshments supposed to be served afterward?

14. "Justice" by Suzan Harden takes us on an adventure with an
unwilling justice of the peace and executioner. She finds justice,
mercy, and love are all inextricably intwined.

15. "Pearl of Tears" by Deborah J. Ross gives us a girl who devotes
her life to avenging her brother's death at the hands of a sorceress
wielding a powerful talisman. But revenge is not the answer. The evil
talisman was a bit derivative of the One Ring in LoTR.

16. "What's in a Name?" by Katharina Schuschke. Mufke, God of Despair,
that's what.

The book's available from Amazon.