|Image and Summary from Goodreads.com|
Awaken the Magic!
Emma, a good-hearted midwife, rushes to warn a neighbor about the hired gunman headed to his ranch but can't prevent the catastrophe in store for his daughter.
Palli, the prophesied daughter of a king, is fated to rescue her people from the destruction called forth by a vengeful priest.
Roselee, a ghost with a faulty memory, flits through the halls of an insane asylum in search of the mortal boy who can help her save the day.
Arabella, a living spirit trapped in her own comatose body, helplessly watches from the realm of dreams as her usurping cousin plots to destroy her once and for all.
Tanza, a tomb raider on a distant planet, struggles to make a living and doesn’t need a long-lost prince to complicate her difficult life.
One way or another, these beauties have no intention of sleeping away their problems.
*BEYOND THERE MAY LIE SPOILERS--AND DRAGONS*
The only word to aptly describe this collection, despite the absence of magical elements in two or three of the stories, is indeed magical. Each story’s setting thrummed into vivid life, stock full of characters that defied stereotypes and made you appreciate each author’s unique way of telling story.
The Man on the Buckskin Horse was inspiring, to say the least. I loved how we learned so much about the Sleeping Beauty character despite her not being the narrator. Luke Palmer, someone who could have easily become a true antagonist, quickly stole my heart with his back story and his chivalry and depth despite his choice of profession. A few quibbles I had was that the true antagonist’s actions felt a little unrealistic—she risked a lot for what she wanted, and I wasn’t quite convinced to her reasoning of why she wanted the land and why she would go so far to get it. As well, I wanted more development for the secondary romantic relationship of the story.
Guardian of Our Beauty by Kathryn Connaughy was the story that perhaps best reflected my own writing style and preferences in regards to storytelling. Her style is very much reflective of many of my favourite authors—Shannon Hale, Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I loved Neriya and Palli, and how they stood so well on their own before they even meet. Neriya especially really did not meet the stereotype of the typical romantic hero; he isn’t as certain, isn’t as confident. But he tries, and my goodness gracious, he was so lovely in that trying. Palli’s quiet confidence and even questioning make her an a-typical princess, and I loved how the scene where she pricks her spindle was turned around. This story contained quite a few of the aspects I had considered to write into my own version of the tale for the contest, and I applaud this kindred-spirit author. Again, however, the ending felt rushed, and SPOILER BUT NOT REALLY, I wished for more time to see Neriya and Palli “fall in love” before their union as husband and wife. He rescues her, and then it’s like I blinked and suddenly they’re married with children.
The Ghost of Briardale by Grace Mullins was the story that, to me, felt the most complete and took the most advantage of the 20,000 word limit. More than any of the other stories, this one did not feel too long or too short. The amount of characters, plot, and setting that fit into this one novella was astounding. I was happy from beginning to the end, which was where it might have felt the tiniest bit tight, but it was closed enough without being unrealistic. I loved the characters, loved the Swamp, loved how everything, even the smaller elements you might have ignored, became important and all came together at the end. I adored Franz and Roselee and actually really want more of their story in the future. The setting completely charmed me—I love that late-Victorian era and the language was so bubbly and the character names made me think of J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis and were so reminiscent of this line from Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: “There once was a boy named Eustace Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” Point being: LOVED IT.
Spindle Cursed by Michelle Pennington had dragons. That’s all I can say. As I’ve said in other book reviews I’m sure, if there are dragons, I am sold hook, line, and sinker. Edmond and Arabella both challenge readers to rethink their ideals of a prince and princess, especially when it comes to the idea of what makes someone truly beautiful and worth love. The dragon was so fun, and I loved the political struggle at the helm of their world. It was like a mix of Gail Carson Levine and Megan Whalen Turner, with a bit of Rosamund Hodge thrown in—three authors I love and admire. However, like many of the previous stories, I had a suggestion or two. I felt that so much of the story’s plot revolved around Edmond’s journey to reach Arabella, and too much time was spent on that. So when they finally meet and start interacting, I felt there wasn’t enough shown of their relationship before they’re suddenly in love. It felt far too quick and made it difficult for me to accept him calling her terms of endearment when, to me, they had literally almost just met.
Finally, Out of the Tomb by Ashley Stangl. This story had a really strong theme and Tanza’s struggles were very real. Auren definitely had my heart, and I loved how Stangl took the Thirteen Fairy Gifts and created Virtue Names in her world. It was just so clever an idea that I’m super jealous of it! Other reviewers have haled her worldbuilding, her characters, and so there’s not much more I can really add to that conversation. There was one nitpick I had: I found the narrative voice of the story distanced me a bit from Tanza and Auren; Tanza as a character voice did not always come through in the narration despite it being third person limited. That, alongside the amount of information and terms we are fed, made me feel slightly overwhelmed and distracted from the story. I’ve seen this in other reviews from readers who read science fiction and fantasy, so it’s not an uncommon thing. I do appreciate, however, her effort to feed us info bit by bit instead of info-dump. I just felt that I didn’t actually know who was who or what was what until about halfway through the story. I kept with it, but for other readers who aren’t familiar with science fiction and fantasy, it might be a bit more challenging.
All in all, congratulations and fantastic jobs to all the authors—and editors—involved in this collection! Four out of five stars!