Friday, May 9, 2014

Magic City: Recent Spells Anthology

Street Wizard by Simon R Green; Paranormal Romance by Christopher Barzak; Grand Central Park by Delia Sharman; Spellcaster  2.0 by Jonathon Maberry; Wallamellon by Nisi Shawl; -30- by Caitlin R Kiernan; Seeing Eye by Patricia Briggs; Stone Man by Nancy Kress; In the Stacks by Scott Lynch; A Voice Like a Hole by Catherynne M Valente; The Arcane Art of Misdirection by Carrie Vaughn; The Thief of Precious Things by A. C. Wise; The Land of Heart’s Desire by Holly Black; Snake Charmer by Amanda Downum; The Slaughtered Lamb by Elizabeth Bear; The Woman Who Walked with Dogs by Mary Rosenblum; Words by Angela Slatter; Dog Boys by Charles de Lint; Alchemy by Lucy Sussex, Curses by Jim Butcher, De La Tierra by Emma Bull, Stray Magic by Diana Peterfreund; Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor; Pearlywhite by Marc Laidlaw & John Shirley

The first thing I’d advise on reading this book is not to read it like I did – in one sitting. You get a big bumper 24 stories in this book – and 24 stories in one stretch where none of them are connected directly made for a long read. And I don’t think they were well connected – “magic” and “city” are particularly specific enough themes, especially in the Urban Fantasy genre, to make an anthology out of. Especially if you’re going to throw “fae” in there as well

I think the first story, Street Wizard by Simon R Green is definitely the story I want to turn into a full book or series. Just the idea of low level magical functionaries patrolling London and trying to keep all kinds of magical chaos under control, all with a heavy taste of grittiness, fascinates me. It’s really well written and an intriguing concept. I would really love to see an entire series based around this concept.

I also really liked Wallamellon by Nisi Shawl bringing in elements of a Yoruba or Yoruba derived religion (I don’t know which one, exactly, but they worship Yamaya) as well as a very strong look at race and race relations. It has some excellently compelling characters, a really powerful feel and atmosphere of the story as well as the strength and maturity of protagonist. It was definitely an excellent story

Both The Thief of Precious Things by A. C. Wise and A Voice Like a Hole by A.C Wise were powerful stories. Both were the most beautifully written, The Thief of Precious Things created a stark, impactful setting with almost abstract, alien characters in a truly different dystopia. While A Voice Like a Hole was pretty savage in its language, painting a picture of bleakness and despair really vividly and with an incredible description of broken, beautiful singing I’ve come across.

Alchemy by Lucy Sussex was the most intriguing story, taking place in Ancient Bablyon. There was a real sense of research, I felt the author either really knew their stuff or had spent a long time hitting the books (this assessment, of course, comes from someone whose knowledge of Ancient Babylon would not cover a reasonably large beer bottle). There was an excellent sense of time and place, a really fascinating main character – and an ending and process that went completely against what I would have expected. I particularly liked the different definition of “black magic”.
Curses by Jim Butcher, Seeing Eye by Patricia Briggs and The Arcane Art of Misdirection by Carrie Vaughn were all part of larger series (Curses also appeared in Side Jobs. Nnedi Okorafor’s Kabu Kabu also appeared in, unsurprisingly, Kabu Kabu). In one of those twists, I thought Curses, a fun story about Harry Dresden and the cursed Cubs, far more amusing and entertaining – but that Seeing Eye, a story of a witch and a werewolf facing a coven of dark practitioners was more useful.                 Didn’t add anything particularly to Harry’s story, same as The Arcane Art of Misdirection didn’t add an awful lot to the Kitty Norville world, while Seeing Eye added some very solid world building to Patricia Brigg’s world.

I also give credit to Paranormal Romance by Christopher Barzak for having a truly novel take on love spells (spouses buying love spells to re-kindle their relationships) and Grand Central Park by Delia Sharman for having a genuinely mundane, intelligent protagonist who is actually overweight and gets by on her knowledge and smarts. And a nod to both Words by Angela Slatter and The Woman Who Walked With Dogs by Mary Rosenblum for bringing some disturbing, snap shot, fairy tale imagery

I wasn’t a big fan of Spellcaster  2.0 by Jonathon Maberry since it wasn’t so much a story but a long rant about the folly of disbelief and the arrogance of atheism. I think In the Stacks by Scott Lynch needed more to it – one encounter out of such a big world wasn’t enough.

What did surprise me is that this anthology had some solid inclusion – even for short stories.

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor and Wallamellon by Niski Shawl had entire Black or Latino casts – and drew heavily on POC traditions, legends and beliefs. The Thief of Precious Things by A.C. Wise is predominantly east-Asian and, again, draws heavily on East Asian legends. Alchemy by Lucy Sussex is set in Babylon, with Babylonian beliefs and a full POC cast. De La Tierra by Emma Bull has a Latino protagonist and The Woman Who Walked with Dogs by Mary Rosenblum heavily implies a Black protagonist. Dog Boys by Charles de Lint has a white protagonist and a lot of Latino and Native American characters. It draws heavily on Native American traditions – but it also comes off a little as Native American woo-woo versus Latino gangbangers.

Additionaly, Paranormal Romance by Christopher Barzak, Stone Man by Nancy Cress, In the Stacks by Scott Lynch and Pearlywhite by Marc Laidlaw & John Shirley all have minor POC characers and Grand Central Park by Delia Sharman has a brown skinned Queen of the Fae.

Paranormal Romance also has a bisexual protagonist and a background gay couple. Spellcaster 2.0 by Jonathon Maberry has a gay protagonist – but he’s a little of a “spiteful queen” stereotype. -30- by Caitlin R Kiernan has a lesbian protagonist (in the 2nd person) but also has her prostitute herself to a man. The Land of Heart’s Desire by Holly Black has a gay almost-protagonist – most of it is from another character’s POV and he’s largely a sounding board. The Slaughtered Lamb by Elizabther Bear has a trans werewolf that adds a really wonderful new twist to the endless “all werewolves must be men RAWR!” trope and is definitely one I would love to see developed

On top of that, Stone Man, A Voice Like a Hole and Pearlywhite all touch on homelessness, poverty and class divides

Out of 24 short stories, that’s not too bad a ratio, compared to many

I think my end take on this anthology is… good, consistently good, but not great. Looking back after having read the whole thing I can’t think of a single story I didn’t like or didn’t care for. But nor can I think of any that stood out in my mind that was awesome or excellent – though there were definitely some really good ones. It’s a good read and well worth having on your shelf, but it’s not a must read or one I would yell for you to go out and buy now