Second collection in a revived fantasy series of magical malcontents, scheming underlings, and charming criminal lowlifes in the lawless, pseudo-medieval town of Sanctuary.
Could what began as a subversive, pun-filled, street-smart sendup of the solemn heroics—and Swinburnean language—of high fantasy be getting a bit desperate? About half of these 13 linked stories show the series’ returning characters, with a few new ones, in grim situations that neither end in cliffhangers nor have enough loose threads to demand continuation. “Widowmaker” and “Legacies,” by C.J. Cherryh and Jane Fancher, respectively, set up the premise: a ship that’s filled with magical cargo, has a dead but still animate wizard and a captain whose luck has run out, sinks just outside Sanctuary’s harbor. In “Good Neighbors,” editor Abbey uses a magical wand stolen from the ship to inspire another get-rich-quick dream for Changing House denizen Perrez. An intricately locked box found on the ship is used as part of a plot to kill a highly placed vizier, in Dennis L. McKeirnan’s “Pricks and Afflictions.” Jody Lynn Nye’s “Consequences” draws the ethical, dignified Pel the Healer into treacherous palace intrigue when he attempts to cure Sanctuary’s ruler, Arizak, of a gangrenous leg. Linguistic detective Heliz Yunz learns why a fiery hell has been swallowing employees of the Vulgar Unicorn tavern, in Jeff Grubb’s “Malediction.” The effeminate Kaytin and his sword-wielding girlfriend Kadasah fail to win the love of Kadasah’s scheming father, in Salin Rosen’s “Gathering Strength,” but they learn to get along when the Thieves’ World equivalent of Viagra saves their relationship. A song and “Dark of Moon” is Andrew Offutt’s wry but overdone account of the orphan thief Lone, who falls in love with Janithe after saving her from hoodlums—only to discover, given his lover’s feeding habits, that he rescued the wrong person.
The references to earlier stories may cause newcomers to stumble, as may unexplained aspects of the setting, but the recurring characters here work a winning charm.