By Neil Gaiman, Eoin Colfer, Garth Nix, and others.
Review By Jarad Johnson
Wizards, witches, warlocks, enchanters, have all captivated humanity since the beginning of time, whether they be the mysterious shamans from the time of early man or the fascinating and powerful characters in blockbuster films. In these new stories by some very well-known and prolific authors in the fantasy genre, every point on the spectrum of mages is explored, from Harry Potter-esque stories about children discovering their hidden talents to epic battles between warring wizards. I enjoyed almost every story. The ones I didn’t like I felt were either not relevant to the overall tone of the collection or were ideas and themes meant to be expounded upon in a full-fledged novel. Usually, I generally avoid short story collections because I find that many of the stories presented would have made better novels, but this was very well done.
But, there are some stories in this collection that I felt deviated from the title. Some were not even about sorcerers, but made a vague reference to them in the story. Not that the stories were not good, I just don’t think that they belong in this collection. However, there were a few in here that were, frankly, bad. Poorly written, childish and simple plots that were not enjoyable. But they were precious few, and for a short story collection, I think that speaks to the overall talent of the authors presented.
For me, the most outstanding piece in the whole collection was the very last, called Stonefather. It detailed the journey of a boy named Runnel, who runs away from a family that he feels will not miss him and geos to the neighboring city to seek a better life, a city ruled by Watermages, who fear the powerful Stonemage that Runnel is employed by and others like him. Throughout, we see Runnel discover his hidden talents and help to bring harmony to the city he lives in.
I would love to gush about every detail of this story, I sadly must move on. Although it was my favorite, the progression of events throughout was a little fast paced. I would love to see this turned into a novel. You could theoretically spend several chapters talking about Runnel’s home life.
Some of these stories were not great, for various reasons. This was sadly the case with Holly and Iron, by Garth Nix. I really hate to say that about Nix, because I loved the Abhorsen series he wrote, is one of the best fantasy series that I have come across. But this would have been better as a novel. There was not enough substance, and the epic plot he presented did not fit on thirty-five pages. It needed a whole book to be effectively told.
It details, somewhat like Stonefather, the battle of two warring factions of sorcerers, who have different abilities. Its main character is the princess of the losing side, who is destined to unite her people. What I really like is that the story bears a strong resemblance to the tale of King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone.
There was another outstanding story in this collection, The Strangers Hands, by Tad Williams. In my opinion, it leaned more towards fable than story. It details the account of small town that receives a new visitor who performs miracles by touch, somewhat reminiscent of The Green Mile, but that was as far as the similarities went. A wizard comes into town to counsel the local priest about the matter, and discovers that the stranger is one of the darkest wizards of their time, a Voldemort-like figure. He is mortal enemies to a powerful sorcerer, who is summoned to deal with the matter. The plot seems predictable, but it does not go where you expect it to.
In one of the stories that caught my attention, the author wrote a strong friendship between a Christian priest and powerful Wizard. The relationship in the story is a normal one. I thought nothing of it, at first. But in a time of great division, it’s important to talk about unity. I may be wrong, but by writing these two characters as friends, I think the author may have had another message to the story. Many faiths around the world demonize or fear a religion that is not theirs. They deem them heretics, and sinners. This has been seen in many wars and conflicts throughout history, but it’s also true in day to day interactions for many people. I’m a great believer in the phrase, “people often fear what they don’t understand.” That applies to everything, whether it be a person’s religion, nationality, or the color of their skin. But by making these two interact like they do, may be a subtle message of acceptance and tolerance, which is something that we could all use more of, even when our representatives don’t reflect that.
Finally, there was a story that really got on my nerves, The Fowl’s Tale, by Eoin Colfer. It was the story of a bird that claims he is the lost prince of a prominent kingdom. I just really felt that this did not belong here. The only mention of sorcery was that a magic ring supposedly turned the prince into a bird, but even this to me was reaching a bit too far to be classified as a tale of wizardry. I don’t know if this was a matter of lazy editing, or a thoughtless attempt at adding diversity to the collection, but it did not work.
In summary, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Overall, I found most of the stories to be thoughtful and engaging. Some, of course, were a miss but I think that’s sort of normal for a collection of stories. Very rarely will you find one where you love every single installment. I hope to read more collections in the future.
Jarad attends Middle Tennessee State University, loves tea, and tries to spend every spare second reading. Jarad is majoring in English. Bless his heart! Let's all light a candle for him and send him happy thoughts!