A hoard of fantasy tales that proves damsels can be as dangerous as dragons.

SWORDS, SORCERY, & SELF-RESCUING DAMSELS

French (Space Angel, 2019, etc.) and debut editor Craft bring 17 fantasy tales with feminist twists in this sword and sorcery anthology.

A spy in the service of the king returns to her old mercenary guild in order to solve the murders of four female warriors…and to confront her own troubled past. A mute slave working in the dungeons of a shadowy keep meets a priest and agrees to take the condemned man’s sword to his lover, though it means risking her life to cross a vast wilderness. A disabled girl is always the last one picked for games, despite the fact that she is the local princess, until some magic intervenes that turns the tables on all. In this collection of fantasy stories, the old archetypes are inverted and the women and girls who normally lack agency are placed center stage. The tone ranges from light to dark, and some entries even lean toward the hard-boiled-detective genre. One standout is “The Princess and the Dragon” by Robyn Bennis, which concerns a princess trapped in a tower who is conspiring with her dragon guard to win back her kingdom. “If one of those knights realizes it’s all a front,” warns the princess, “they could expose the whole operation.” Another is “Aptitude” by Matt Youngmark; the daughter of servants sneaks into the lord of the manor’s library to read his books only to stumble upon an attempt by a magical elf to rob it. The volume includes work by seasoned fantasists like Jody Lynn Nye, Raven Oak, Connie J. Jasperson, and Katie Cross as well as emerging talents like Edward J. Knight. Not every story is a home run, but the diversity of premises and worlds makes for a delightfully unpredictable reading experience. Though each interprets the anthology’s theme a little differently, this sentiment from Jasperson is representative of the volume’s self-assured, spellcasting ebullience: “Three weeks ago, I was a slave, afraid of shadows. Now I am Thorn Girl, friend of minotaurs and mages. Kerk was right. Inside of me is a woman who can do anything.”

A hoard of fantasy tales that proves damsels can be as dangerous as dragons.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-944334-26-0

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Clockwork Dragon

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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