Short story collections are tricky. All too often, even when the stories are all written by the same author, I find myself only liking half of the offerings. The Firebird anthologies, edited by Sharyn November, stand out from because the stories are more consistently good, and the authors are always great picks. I’ve had such good experiences with the first two anthologies (Firebirds, and Firebirds Rising) that I went out and grabbed the third volume and soon as I heard it was on the shelf at Borders, despite the fact that I was not familiar with a lot of the authors. Although I didn’t like it as much as Firebirds Rising, I would say that it’s even better than Firebirds. The first thing I noticed was that the covered advertised it as an anthology of “speculative fiction” instead of fantasy and science fiction (or science fiction and fantasy, as Firebirds Rising advertised). This opens up new areas of stories that may be magical, but don’t fall into the traditional categories of science fiction, or fantasy. Another difference from past anthologies is there are fantastic illustrations by Mike Dringenberg at the beginning of each tale. That, and one of the short stories isn’t a short at all, it’s a full size novella.
For a full listing of all of the stories, and a review of each, please check under the cut:
Kingmaker by Nancy Springer- The first story is about a princess has the skills of a leader, but will not inherit due to her gender. At fifteen, she spends a lot of her time solving petty disputes among her subjects, but is frustrated at the thought of her selfish brother inheriting. Kingmaker is a well written short story that stars a likeable and relatable protagonist. By the end of the story, it feels like her tale is not quite done. I’d be interested to see if Nancy Springer takes the characters anywhere else. Four out of five stars.
A Ticket to Ride by Nancy Farmer- A short story about a young troubled boy named Jason who witnesses the death of a homeless man and finds himself transported to a magical train which takes him into the past of the recently deceased man. I found this story to have a great flow to it’s writing, and it was very interesting to watch Jason travel into the past. The ending was also quite satisfying. Four out of five stars.
A Thousand Tailsby Christopher Bazark- The third story in this collection takes us to Japan, where we meet a girl who believes she is actually a kitsune, a fox girl. This is a story that feels more “speculative fiction” than traditional fantasy, as anything “magical” takes a back seat to the story of Midori and her family. The Japanese setting is really well developed. When you read in the author’s note that Christopher Bazark was inspired by his experiences in Japan, it makes sense. Five out of five stars
All Under Heavenby Chris Roberson. A Chinese inspired sci-fi story about a young boy going fishing with his grandmother. This story portrays the conflict that exists between generations very well, and the setting, which we only get a glimpse of, seems very interesting. I know that the author has written multiple stories about this universe and I would like to read more. Four out of five stars
Singing on a Starby Ellen Klages. At five years old, the protagonist of Singing on a Star is the youngest out of any the narrators in the collection. In the story, she visits a friend, who takes her to a magical world that she can access through her closet while a certain song off of a record is playing. Only there’s something wrong about the world they encounter. Ellen Klages does a great job of writing convincingly from such a young age, and also in dealing with a very disturbing subject, child molestation, in the most delicate way possible. I was very impressed with this story. Five out of five stars.
Egg Magicby Louise Marley. Teenager Tory spends most of her time taking care of her chickens, and dreaming of the day that her mother, who abandoned her at a young age, will come back for her. Only there’s a bit of magic to be found here. One of the chickens lay special eggs. When hatched, there are beautiful pictures painted on the inside. And her mother… well you find out in the end. As someone who is so not a farm girl, I was impressed at how well Louise Marley made something as ordinary as chickens seem magical. I also liked the human aspect of this story, which comes out when the main character has to deal with her stepmother and step family. Five out five stars
Flatland by Kara Dalkey. Kara Dalkey’s story Hives was my favorite story out of Firebirds Rising, so I was really looking forward to her contribution to this collection, which ended up being another favorite of mind. It tells a story of a not so far off future where people are so invested in their career that it becomes their lives. The professional atmosphere of work makes it impossible to have a real relationship with another human being, and people who put family over possessions are looked down upon. This was a really well written story with great characters and setting. I feel as if I could learn a lot about writing sci-fi from reading Dalkey’s short stories. Five out of five stars
Dolly the Dog-Soldier by Candas Jane Dorsey. Okay, it’s not that I felt that this sci-fi short story about a dog turned assassin was poorly written, it’s just that it didn’t suit me. I didn’t like the structure of it, and I had problems connecting with the characters. Sorry, just not for me. Two and a half out of five stars.
Ferryman by Margo Lanagan. A great little story about a girl who’s father’s job is to ferry the dead into the afterlife. I liked the working class atmosphere depicted in this story, and really felt for the characters. Four and a half out of five stars
The Ghosts of Strangers by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. This is the novella of the book. The Ghost of Strangers tells about a girl named Elexa who discovers that she can capture the ghosts of humans and feed them to dragons. Yep, the concept is a little strange but it’s executed quite well. I was impressed at the originality of this little piece. The story and the setting were quite different than anything I’m used to seeing in fantasy. I felt the novella length felt a little awkward at times (probably would have been better as a full length novel) but the story was, on the whole, a satisfying read. Four out of five stars
Three Twilight Tales by Jo Walton. Written in the style of traditional fairy tales, Three Twilight Tales can be read as three separate tales, or three parts of one story. The stories were a lot of fun to read and I really liked how they ended. Four our of five stars
The Dignity He’s Due by Carol Ernshwiller. To be honest, I couldn’t find the fantasy in this story. It tells about a girl and a boy who live the lives of homeless vagabonds, pulled from town to town by their mother, who believes the boy to secretly be a king. The story tells what happens when they finally convince the mother to stop for a little while. Although the storyline seems unlikely, there’s nothing all that fantastical about it. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s a really well written story that was a complete joy to read. I found myself feeling so bad for our protagonist and her bother, and I like how the author wove in sections of poetry about a king into the narrative. Five out of five stars.
Power and Magic by Marly Youmans. In this story, the fantasy elements are very subtle, as they mainly take place during a magic show, hosting by a young man that our sassy main character may or may not care about. A nice little story with some good humor and romance. Four out of five stars
Court Ship by Sherwood Smith. Taking place in the same world as Crown Duel, Court Ship tells about Raec, and his quest to find true love before he has to deal with the pressures of marriage. Our protagonist is a sailor named Risa, who I found very easy to relate to. This is a great story for someone looking for a great mixture of action, humor, and romance. It made me want to go back and re-read Crown Duel. Five out of five stars
Little Red by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple. A short story that takes the myth or Little Red Riding Hood and uses is to explore the psyche of an abused young woman. It’s a little tricky to read at times, but emotionally, quite powerful. Four out of five stars.
The Myth of the Fenix by Laurel Winter. Apparently stories that come in lists just don’t work for me (Dolly the Dog-Soldier had a very similar style) as I had a hard time getting into this and did not find it to be very memorable. It was not a bad story, but just not to my tastes. Three out of five stars
Fear and Loathing in Lalanna by Nick O’Donohoe. What would happen if you take the off the wall style of Fear and Loathing and Las Vegas and put it in a traditional fantasy setting? The result is laugh out loud funny, filled with magical drug use and two very unlikely heroes. This story has a very different tone then the rest of the book, making it really stand out. Five out of five stars
Bonechewer’s Legacy by Chare Bell. This story tells about Ratha, a leader of a feline clan, who is disturbed when she finds that she keeps on seeing a ghost from her past. This story takes place in an already established series and, as can happen in this situation, I found that I had problems getting into it. I suspect that if I was familiar with the other books, I would connect better with the story. It picked up at the end, but the beginning seemed to drag a lot. Three out of five stars
Something Worth Doing by Elizabeth Wein. The book ends with a story about a fighter pilot in World War II. Our heroine, Theo, disguises herself as her deceased older brother so she can get a chance to fly. This story didn’t seem to have much fantasy to it at all. It was more historical fiction. Still, I found that I enjoyed Theo’s tale a lot. The aerial fighting scenes were particularly exciting. Four and a half out of five stars.
In conclusion, Firebirds Soaring is a great collection of great stories, with really only a handful I could not connect with. Although it’s marked “young adult” the stories here have the potential to connect with an adult audience as well. I do hope that Sharyn November does to decide to compile another collection like this. My one request is that she doesn’t make us wait three years before we get to see another collection again!
Rating: four and half out of five stars
Length: 573 pages
TBR Pile: 153 books
Similar Books: The other Firebird Anthologies
Other books I've read by editor: Firebirds, and Firebirds Rising. I’m NOT going to go through every individual author.
xposted to bookish and temporaryworlds