Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Fantasy Medley 3 - Yanni Kuznia

A Fantasy Medley 3, edited by Yanni Kuznia, is a short anthology published in the last day of 2015 by Subterranean Press. They were kind enough to provide me with an e-arc. While I haven't seen the finished product, I don't doubt it will be as gorgeous as the rest of their publications. Subterranean tends to pay at least as much attention to the design of their books as it does to the content. This anthology contains four original pieces of short fiction. They are all probably at the low end of the novella range in wordcount. Authors Kevin Hearne, Laura Bickle and Aliette de Bodard each contribute works tied to their novels. Jacqueline Carey's story is unrelated to anything she published before. As with all anthologies, I liked some stories more than others but on the whole A Fantasy Medley 3 is a good read.

Kevin Hearne opens the anthology with his story Goddess at the Crossroads. The title is a reference to Hecate, the Greek goddess associated with, among other things, witchcraft and crossroads. It is part of his Iron Druid Chronicles, which consists of seven novels and various pieces of short fiction. An eighth novel will be released in January 2016. The story is set between the fourth novel Tricked (2012) and the novella Two Ravens and One Crow (2012). It is essentially a camp fire tale in which the druid Atticus tells his apprentice the tale of how he met Shakespeare and how that encounter led to the inclusion of witches in Macbeth.

I must admit that his story did very little for me. I guess it could have worked as a comedy, since Atticus got a lot more than he was bargaining for in this story and the poet himself insists on getting them even deeper in trouble. I didn't think the humorous part of the tale worked all that well though. Most of the plot revolves around Atticus being a badass druid, something the witches find out to their regret. There is a lot of interesting source material in this novella. Shakespeare's play and Celtic and Greek mythology for instance. Hearne doesn't really manage to use those to give the story a bit more depth. It is entertaining but little beyond that. This novella didn't inspire me to seek out the novels it is tied to.

Laura Bickle submitted Ashes,  a novella tied to her Anya Kalinczyk series. There are two novels in this series, both published in 2010. I have no idea where this story fits into the series but it is set in contemporary Detroit where fire-fighter/demon hunter Anya Kalinczyk has a run in with the mythical creature Nain Rouge. Where Hearne doesn't manage to make the story more than a collection of references to history and mythology, Bickle is much more successful. There is a good balance in this tale between the need to catch this menace  before he slips away again for another year and the necessity to provide the reader with a bit of background on the characters and the creature they are hunting. Bickle slips in just enough information about the main character to interest the reader in trying to find out more. It still strikes me as a fairly standard urban fantasy story, but a well written one for sure.

The third story, The Death of Aiguillon, is written  by Aliette de Bodard. It is part of her Dominion of the Fallen setting. One novel has been published in this setting this year, with a second one in the works. The House of Shattered Wings was definitely one of the best releases in fantasy in 2015 and in this shorter piece De Bodard manages to capture that same sense of magic and tragedy that makes the novel so beautiful.

The story is set some sixty years before the novel and deals with the fallout of the destruction of the House of Aiguillon. A kitchen maid of Vietnamese origin loses the protection of the House and has to make her own way in a city at war. On her way out, she helps one of the fallen angels tied to the house to escape a certain death at the hands of scavengers. His body parts would have sold for high sums at the the black market because of the magic they contain. He is grateful for her help and promises to be back for her once he has recovered. As time goes by, the kitchen maid begins to realize it may have been an empty promise. Or a dangerous one.

De Bodard packs a lot into this story. Loss is a very obvious theme in a city that is about to hit rock bottom at the end of the magical war. The main character is faced with a decision in the novel. She has lost her place in the world and has to find a new one. The temptation of taking the easy way out is present throughout the story. It is always tugging on the main character. But there is an alternative. One that may be less certain but more rewarding. The dilemma of the main character is laid out in beautiful prose in The Death of Aiguillon. It is a very good introduction to the Dominion of the Fallen setting. Carey gives De Bodard a run for her money but in the end, this one is my favourite of the collection.

The final story in the anthology is One Hundred Ablutions by Jacqueline Carey. We see the story through the eyes of a young girl of the Keren people. Their valley was overrun by the Shaladan some three centuries ago and they have been serving their masters ever since. The main character is the daughter of a fruit picker, not generally worth the attention of the Shaladan. When the flux takes away a lot of higher class girls in her year, she is selected to serve them anyway. Everything she once hoped to get out of life is taken away from her in exchange for a life of service and celibacy. Life is unfair, she lashes out at it.

There is a fine bit of character development in this story. The main character is angry, disappointed and resentful at the beginning of the story. As it progresses, the emptiness of her life weighs on her and when the opportunity comes to strike at her oppressors she seizes it. There is a price to be paid though. What I liked most about this story is that it very vividly shows how her choices affect her emotional state. Not being tied to any other work, this story is by necessity the most self-contained. Carey manages a good balance between characterisation and showing us enough background of this fantasy world to fully appreciate what the main character is going through. No mean feat in such a relatively short text.

A Fantasy Medley 3 is an anthology with a weak start but a strong finish. On the whole, I think it is well worth reading. I enjoyed the stories by De Bodard and Carey in particular.  This third volume in the series is the only one I have read but I like the format a lot. Fantasy and short fiction are not always a successful combination for me but Kuznia's selection is an interesting one. Unfortunately the first two volumes are all sold out and as far as I am aware there is no digital edition. If a fourth volume should appear I will definitely read it though. Recommended for people who feel good fantasy doesn't necessarily need a ten book series.

Book Details
Title: A Fantasy Medley 3
Editor: Yanni Kuznia
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Pages: 152
Year: 2015
Language: English
Format: E-arc
ISBN: 978-1-59606-767-7
First published: 2015

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