Review No.123 – The Wicked Wood

Tales from the Tower Volume Two: The Wicked Wood – Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab (ed.)

Allen&Unwin, 2011

In this collection, fairy tales grow between cracks in the mundane surface of a city, a suburb, a small town. From the sinister presence of a wildly ambitious artist to the wolf hidden in plain sight, the mermaid who would trade anything for another life to the uncontrollable craving of two sisters to get theirs back, these are stories of hunger and betrayal, longing and hope.

This anthology is a companion volume to The Wilful Eye, which I read as a part of last year’s AWW Challenge, but has a noticeably different approach. All of these retellings take place in contemporary settings and the fantasy elements tend to be more understated – in a few, there are none at all. There is a similar tone to many of these stories that I personally would have preferred broken up by a wider range settings, but the slants each writer chose to take were interesting and for the most part effective. I particularly appreciated ‘Seventy-Two Derwents’ by Cate Kennedy and ‘The Ugly Sisters’ by Maureen McCarthy. Some of the original sources for this anthology are also slightly more obscure, such as ‘The Wolf and the Seven Kids’ and ‘The Fairy’s Midwife’. It’s good to see retellings that explore beyond familiar ground.

Review No.130 – Naked City

Naked City – Ellen Datlow (ed.)

St. Martin’s Press, 2011

The old stories have followed their tellers out of the dark woods and into the city. In New York, real estate agents struggle to shift a cursed apartment. In Israel, a boy tracks the mystery of a magician’s assistant. In cities across time, across worlds, a vampire returns home to pay his debts, a woman drinks ghosts, and a photographer of the dead finds his way into the house of Death herself. Anything can be found in the naked city‚Ķ

Urban fantasy is a favourite genre of mine, in part because it’s so incredibly flexible. Several of the stories in this anthology, however, would be better classified as horror, some were so obscure and incomplete I’m not sure what they were, and a concerning number see their female characters only through the male gaze. There are some excellent reads in Naked City – Naomi Novak’s ‘Priced to Sell’ was delightfully casual, ‘Fairy Gifts’ by Patricia Briggs was intelligent and different, Lavie Tidhar’s ‘The Projected Girl’ was beautifully enigmatical, and Holly Black was at her usual high standard in ‘Noble Rot’ – but I did not warm to this anthology as a whole.

Review No.97 – Wonders of the Invisible World

Wonders of the Invisible World – Patricia A. McKillip

Tachyon, 2012

A woman whose anger calls down storms. A wizard returning a stolen treasure before it destroys him. A girl so obsessed with magic that she reaches into the dreams of a city. This anthology ranges from the far future to the distant past, from forests to cityscapes to places that are entirely elsewhere. All are wreathed in ethereal fantasy that makes even the stolidly familiar seem strange, extraordinary and unexpected.

This collection of sixteen previously published short stories spans almost thirty years of McKillip’s career, closing with her 2004 speech on fantasy and inspiration. Given that McKillip is an author I personally sort of worship, it was a particular delight to get my hands on this, her latest publication. It is every bit as magical as I could have hoped, with some stories familiar and others brand new to me. I can only agree with Charles de Lint when he says in his introduction to the anthology that, ‘she’s one of the few writers I’ve read who hasn’t witten a bad book. I don’t think she has it in her.’