Title: Spell Fantastic
Author: Martin Greenberg
Like all short story collections, this one had a few I enjoyed, a lot I was ambivalent about, and some I’d rather not have read.
“Saving Face” by Kristine Katheryn Rush – I liked this one a lot. It’s a slower kind of murder mystery, where the main character isn’t directly involved but rather figures a lot out from the side. And his magic is small and not at all flashy, but important, in the way ordinary life is important, even if most people don’t notice it much.
“A Spatter of Later Stars” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman – This was mostly just there. It might have worked better as the opening chapter of a novel, because a lot of characters and gifts are set up, but the actual plot and resolution was a bit weak to stand alone.
“The Woman Who Loved Death” by Robin Wayne Bailey – Disliked. Death shows up, and Hell, but what Hell is/involves and what evil is blurs and confuses. The main character quite enjoys Hell because she’s busy sleeping with Death, and has more of a sense of her own evil deeds after she goes back to life than in the afterlife, which seems backwards.
“Sacrifice” by Michelle West – This is a twist on a fairy tale, although which fairy tale is part of the surprise. I disliked this for the horrible way the main character gets treated throughout, which includes rape and an unwanted marriage.
“Spellsword” by Jane Lindskold – My other favorite of the volume. This is a short story about a college-age young man who failed his wizarding exam and is out on a quest to prove everyone wrong. Magical swords and pterodactyls—how can you go wrong?
“Curse of the Dellingers” by Micky Zucker Riechert – The initial setup is awkward, although at least it carries through the theme well. But I didn’t care for it overall because the only magic was a curse that made people do horrible things.
“For the Life of Sheila Morgan” by Dennis L. McKiernan – Disliked. The main character was irresponsible and petty, and it was hard to want things to work out for her at all.
“The Sagebrush Brujo Meets the Last of the Platters Or Why Do We Live in LA?” by John DeChancie – This one will depend on how much you like the narrator. I didn’t care for him and his rambling, and the frequent pop culture references mostly cited things I didn’t know, although I can appreciate the end point about little moments of magic. It just felt like a lot of words for a tiny plot with a tiny payoff.
“To Catch a Thief” by Lisanne Norman – This one really puzzled me on the setting. I thought it was straight up fantasy for about half the story until it mentions spaceports, and suddenly there are alien races. This is another one that feels like a chapter taken out of context from a larger book, especially given the way it starts and ends in the middle.
“The Thronespell” by Diana L. Paxon – I liked how this incorporated the old Norse legends and the new changing face of the kingdom, and how the two young men become somewhat friends even though they have a vast cultural divide.
“And King Hereafter” by Rosemary Edghill – This would have been better if it hadn’t gone with the Hitler ending. As soon as I saw the year this was taking place the ending was inevitable. Which was annoying. And it’s also why I hate reading World War II era fiction.
“The Midas Spell” by Julie E. Czerneda – More of a sports story here, which was a surprise. The end was a bit fast but was understandable given the hints dropped earlier. Good but not a favorite.
“Embracing the Mystery” by Charles de Lint – The technology references are dated by this point, and the story meanders a bit in the beginning, but this was a good way to finish out the book. It gently points to the unknowable, the magic, and ends the volume on a hopeful note.
Overall this is a hard one to give a blanket recommendation to. I rate this Neutral, and I hope Jane Lindskold eventually collects this short story into a book with the others featuring the Albuquerque adepts. (This story references one published in another anthology; I think there are four total, all in different anthologies).