Swords, Sorcery and Self-Rescuing Damsels
Edited by Lee French and Sarah Craft (Clockwork Dragon)
How could I resist looking at a volume with a title like this one? The collection stays pretty true to its theme, showing a range of different styles and talents.
The first story, “The Falconer’s Apprentice” by Jodi Lyn Nye, is a perfect little microcosm of what a good story should be. Marie-Jeanne is the daughter of a falconer to the local French nobility. Her father is unable to accompany his liege lord on a hunt, and his well-trained sons are not available, so his daughter goes in his stead. She learns the secret magic of falconry during difficult and dangerous situations while acting in her father’s stead.
Lee French’s offering, “She Remembered,” is a pithy tale of sorcery and betrayal, and how a former swordswoman and mother—more than one mother, actually—take down a secret tyrant.
The next story is a murder mystery, “Alive,” full of intrigue. Raven Oak gives us a story from her Amaskan tales, the story of a woman with a new identity who confronts the evils of her professional past. This story would make a marvelous, edge-of-your-seat movie.
“Thorn Girl” by Connie J. Jasperson is all about a young woman who is jarred out of her slavery by conscience and honor.
Robyn Bennis gives us a scam worthy of Terry Prachett in “The Princess and the Dragon.” It ends in the most memorable “rescue” of a princess from a dragon that I’ve ever seen.
“Ashna’s Heart” by Robert J. McCarter is all about the reincarnation of Kyla: a young fire mage who needs to rescue an artifact that will calm an ancient extinct volcano which has now awoken. Kyla has the gift of life-memory, which means she can remember up to ten past lives. It takes on an epic feel when her quest passes through several incarnations and she recognizes and is recognized each time by the man she loves.
Next, I was treated to a short story with wry, entertaining footnotes—a first, in my experience. But Matt Youngmark’s short story—“Aptitude”—felt more like the opening to a novel, which was both disappointing… and enticing. It was also the story least inclined to follow the theme of the anthology, as you could easily have replaced the female protagonist with a male.
Lou Berger and Ian R. Berger offered a delightful story of a young woman, who had been schooled in swordplay plus healing, and is regaled with tales of elves and ogres by her grandfather. When grandpa is gone, she takes his sword, “War Master,” and goes off on an adventure. While the adventure is marvellous, the real payoff is when she returns home. I would not give that ending away for worlds.
“Princess Last Picked” by Dawn Vogel will be enjoyed by anyone who was looked down on for a physical disability or not being physically strong. Brains, not brawn, win the day here.
In “Yendy Loves Rattlescale” by Elmdea Adams, we get a charming children’s tale, of a misfit dragon and a misfit girl, who find themselves in an unusual friendship that makes them more than the sum of their parts.
From the childlike to the sublime, we next find Katie Cross’s “Water and Light.” It’s a phenomenal story and, in my opinion, this writer is going places. Heck, I looked her up online: she’s one of the new breed of writers. She’s got awards that are mostly via Wattpad and Kobo. If the rest of her YA fiction is this good, it’s no wonder.
As good as it was, and it was very good, “Low Is The Land” by Fulvio Gatti struck me as another opening for a novel… with an ending that was really a beginning. It was fine as an introduction to his fantasy world but a bit disappointing because I wanted more closure.
“Calamity” by Edward J. Knight, is a Western, but with a speculative twist. The protagonist has a gift: she can see ghosts. Her world is turned upside down when Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane show up in her town.
“Not A Whisper” by Sarah Bartsch is a mystery. Over the years Ally learned that while sometimes the “ghosts” she could hear didn’t have all the answers or weren’t sure… They never lied. But constantly hearing them left her mute. How could a mute girl save her sister?
Jeremy Zimmerman gives us a disembodied princess who’d been abducted and her ghost was stuck in a wizard’s besieged tower. So she learned to defend herself and better—really better—her situation in “Hope Beyond Death.”
“Balancing the Scales” was written by Frog and Esther Jones (a husband-and-wife team), and is set during the sack of Rome. An ancestress’ avatar helps an 11-year-old-girl save her family using guerrilla tactics, trickery, and stealth.
In “Remember to Thank Your Healer” by Jeffrey Cook & Katherine Perkins, male heroes are trailed by a woman healer who is a religious devotee of the Maidens of Gold and Brass and a female paladin fighter. They’re all fighting an incursion of demons, but the women, left by the men, circle around and cut it off at the source. You’ll have to read it to see how it was done.
I enjoyed the collection and think you will, too.