This anthology was sent to me as an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) from one of the authors. There are a large number of contributors to the work, all who had at some stage a connection with a group of authors who met on the Harper Collins website Authonomy. The group, from a thread called The Alliance of Worldbuilders, shared an interest in speculative fiction and acted as a critique/support/social group before drifting from the aforementioned site into the realm of Facebook and, in a number of cases, publishing.
One of the reasons I rarely read anthology is that I’m not a huge short story fan. Often they feel incomplete, unsatisfactory, undeveloped, or lost in their own literacy—making up for absence of a good yarn with excess description or narrative. Flash fiction especially grates on my nerves, as it is rather tricky to do decently, and can feel pretentious.
So I’m happy to report that this anthology, and its fifteen or so contributors, entertained me immensely. Inevitably there were works that appealed to my tastes more than others, yet there were very few ‘coffee chocolate’ moments where I genuinely thought to skip onto the next story. There are a few that seemed to allude to other works, or to pre-existing fictions, that piqued my curiosity enough to investigate further. Let me bring a few highlights of those, and then note the others:
Will Macmillan Jones’s Dwarfs R Us is a pun-saturated tale of the awesome witch Grizelda returning her broom to the repair shop. I’ve read a few of the author’s books, and for fans of the lighter end of satirical fantasy this is good reading. Be prepared to groan out loud at the gags, though.
David Muir’s They Rise and We Smite is a longer paranormal fantasy along the lines of the Dresden Files and Aaronovitch’s PC Grant series. It’s tale of hidden wizard bloodlines descended from gorillas, and interaction with the world’s established religion, was very entertaining. The OTT battle scene at the end made me chuckle, and made up for the hefty info dump at the start necessary to establish the milieu. Muir returns to the setting in the Night of a Thousand Spells, with a rather unique baby going through dark mages like rusks.
Valerie Willis’s Destiny’s Game also had the feeling of being part of a greater work or setting. It would appeal to those with a taste in paranormal romance, a la City of Bones or Beautiful Creatures. The use of angels was nicely done, and the pace of the work kept me engaged, as did the light dialogue.
Jeremy Rodden’s How to Create a Villain is set in his cartoon world of Toonopolis, a fantasy setting populated by animated creatures. Despite the comical setting the story is quite serious, and a good introduction to Rodden’s style and quirky characters. As a short story it works well, and definitely intrigued me into reading more (or at least waiting for the exclusive Netflix series it probably deserves—LOL).
In amongst the other stories with their speculative fiction feel there were a few clunkers and a few real standouts. Troll by KA Smith was superb—a reflection on urban decay mirrored by the physical and psychological deterioration of a homeless man. The language was skilled and the prose excellent, as was the story conclusion. The Thief Gets Away by TRM was a perfect fantasy short, with quirkiness, spot on dialogue and two cool little creatures living in someone’s hair. Lost Time Memory by Sam Dogra, again, was a perfect short story—great structure and characterisation. A good indicator of a successful short story is when you want the story to be expanded further, that there’s more to tell within the setting—namely it has hooked you into the milieu. Wyrm by AFE Smith was similar to the aforementioned pair in this—a great fantasy short, with solid plot, characters and a suitable twist (even if you guessed it half-way through—LOL).
And finally, given that the anthology is dedicated to her, it would be remiss not to mention Lindsey J Parson’s contributions: Matilda, and Phoenix Feather. Of the pair, Matilda really enticed me—a poignant tale of a witch entering the twilight of her years, and her last adventure, with a companion demon. As an illustration of Lindsey’s talent it sits perfectly in this collection of fantastical tales.
The anthology is raising money for the World Literacy Foundation and for that reason alone it’s worth a purchase—but more than that it’s an excellent collection of diverse speculative fiction stories with some talented contributors. Definitely recommended.
For the kindle US, kindle UK and print editions respectively.