A Review of Fearsome Magics

FEARSOME MAGICS COVERFearsome Magics The New Solaris Book of Fantasy
Jonathan Strahan, ed.
Solaris Books
Release date October 7, 2014 US, October 9, UK
Mass market paperback $9.99 US,  £7.99 UK
ebook: There’ll be one, but I have no specifics at this time

Solaris is one of the few publishers who still do anthologies on a regular basis. And I don’t mean one or two. I mean at least four or five a year, and well put together ones, at that. And Jonathan Strahan is one of the field’s premier editors at short length. Any anthology with his name on it is going to get my attention. Put the two together, and it’s like peanut butter and chocolate. I’ve got several of his anthologies from Solaris in my virtual TBR pile. (Yes, I’m behind on my reading.)

The one I want to talk about today is his their next one. It’s Fearsome Magics. It’s a followup to Fearsome Journeys (which is in the real TBR pile). A number of years ago, and I won’t look up how many because I don’t want to depress myself with contemplating the passage of time, Solaris published three volumes of The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction and one of The Solaris Book of New Fantasy. They were great anthologies, but for some reason, Solaris didn’t continue them.

Now both series are back. The science fiction can be found in the Solaris Rising series (review of the first volume here). Fearsome is the operating title of the fantasy, with a loose them being defined by the second word.

The theme of this volume is magic.  There’s a lot of variety here, enough that I can almost guarantee that there will be multiple stories that will appeal to any reader and a high likelihood that there will be at least one that won’t be to your taste.  As long time readers of my reviews know, I consider that to be a strength.  An anthology which has a great deal of variety will be a strong anthology.

This one is no exception.  Here are a few of my favorites, in the order they appear in the book.“Home is the Haunter” by Garth Nix is a tale of Sir Hereford and Mr. Fitz.  I enjoyed this one so much I bought the ebook collection of their other stories, only to have the hard back version arrive in a grab bag purchase a few days later.  Mr. Fitz is a self-aware, animated puppet.  In this story, he and Sir Hereford encounter sinister doings at a convent located in the middle of a swamp.

K. J. Parker is fast becoming one of my favorites.  In “Safe House” a sorcerer in a kingdom where magic is forbidden discovers that what he thought was a safe refuge from a lynch mob is anything but.  The opening description of how a noose feels when it’s settled about one’s neck hooked me immediately.

“Hey, Presto!” by Ellen Klages isn’t actually a fantasy.  Rather it concerns a young woman whose father is a stage magician in the days immediately before World War II.  In spite of its lack of fantastical elements, this was one of the smartest stories in the book, and one with the most heart.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman’ “Where Our Edges Lie”  deals with a changeling, one of two stories in the book that do so.  Both are dark with tragic endings, but I think I preferred this one.  Here a twin, whose sister is human, must choose between blood and those who raised her.

Another dark story of sacrifice is Frances Hardinge’s “Devil’s Bridge”.  Here a girl has the power to open a bridge to any place, real or imagined.  The ability has been passed down from mother to daughter.  Whether this is the result of a deal with the devil or something else, payment is always required to cross the bridge.  Her uncle forces her to open bridges for money, a practice that can’t end well.

“The Nursery Corner” by Kaaron Warren is a chilling tale of a magician in a nursing home.  His gift to the patients isn’t as good as it appears.

I enjoyed most of the others, although a couple were a bit slow for my taste, and one or two seemed to be coming for a philosophical viewpoint I couldn’t agree with.

Still, Fearsome Magics is a great anthology, with most flavors of fantasy represented.  Looking back over my list of favorites, I realize that half of them could be considered horror.  I’m good with that.  The best fantasy often has an element of horror.

There are fourteen stories here, which comes out to be less than $1 per story.  This is one you will want to check out, especially if you read widely among the fantasy subgenres.  I’ll be looking forward to the next volume in this series.

I would like to thank Lydia Gittins of Solaris Books for the review copy.

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