Review: Phantazein edited by Tehani Wessely

PhantazeinPublished by: FableCroft Publishing
ISBN 13: 9780992284497
Published: October 2014 
Pages: TBA
Format reviewed: eVersion (proofed)
Publisher Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Well I may be a little partial seeing as this is by the publisher I intern for, but I didn’t have part in reading through the slush pile and building the anthology; I received it to ensure the interior was set out without any errors (so that’s on me if there are!)

This is clearly one of the best parts of interning for a publisher. Getting to read for work! From the very first piece in this anthology (one of my favourites!) I was swept away. This is a collection of wonderous fantasy, the kind that don’t always have a happy ending… Prepare to expect the unexpected as several of the tales take a sudden turn that even the most voracious of readers shan’t be able to expect.

‘Twelfth’ by Faith Mudge

This is a retelling of one of my favourite Grimm fairy tales, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, but just as sinister as the original. Here we see the tale from the point of view of one of the princes, and learn who they are,and why they lure the princesses away to dance each night. This makes me all the more eager to read Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing!

This is an excellent piece of writing, and will surely be on my mind for nominations this coming awards year. Wow, Faith!

‘Bahamut’ by Thoraiya Dyer

An impressive story of magic and the sacrifices that must be made. “Every time a priestess uses her magic to call water, the person who loves her most in the world forgets her.” Hence, the scathing daughter of the priestess shall learn magic from letters alone, as she’s soon to forget her own mother, as her father before her forgot them both. The only other option is for the priestess herself to forget her daughter, and then be alone in the world.

‘The Nameless Seamstress’ by Gitte Christensen

This piece is hard to summarise in short, for it’s wonderfully complex. A new weaver has taken his place, and is struggling with his tasks. The old weaver crafted the most wonderful silk, but filled with longing and loneliness the new weaver can only weave of things similar. Still, he eventually hands the finished material to the Nameless Seamstress, who then takes up her part.

Whenever the Seamstress sends a garment, it is directly to its intended and they must accept it with grace. When the wife of the emperor – shunned for so long from the long-awaited garment finally receives hers and finds it’s practically a rag, she eventually accepts it with head held high, and agrees to wear it to the event that very night.

And as for anything else… you’ll just have to read.

‘How the Jungle got its Spirit Guardian’ by Vida Cruz

A tale of customs in a small group of people, how they can divide and ruin an otherwise perfect thin in many ways. This is the type of story that has the right ending, but oh how you wish it could have turned out otherwise!

I loved Daza in this, and Tenu (of course). I loved the descriptions and the food, oh the food! I’m a sucker for food described well.

‘The Seventh Relic’ by Cat Sparks

Danielle – never Dani – is a slightly disturbing look into the burdens diets and the whole culture of what women must do (who care about these things) to stay in peak condition. I couldn’t even try to count how many different diets Sparks goes through in this – it’s staggering.

Split between two POV, we see both Danielle and Mei-yu through to the crescendo of an ending, which is then quite stunning and harsh. It left me thinking ‘…Oh…!’

What I loved about this was seeing Danielle’s thought process. Perfectly captured.

‘Rag and Bone Heart’ by Suzanne J. Willis

A beautifully written tale that feels like another twist on an old fable, one that I haven’t yet read so can’t identify. If it’s not a twist, then it’s written so perfectly in that style that it fits in perfectly, creating one of its own right.

I love how brutal this is, and some of the sentences within are simply magic. ‘Slow violence’ is an example of the perfect use of words within, though you’ll have to read to see what context they’re in. A very excellent piece indeed.

‘Kneaded’ by S. G. Larner

We often read of tales of women who want children so badly, but how often do we read from the POV of one of those children, who were finally born from such desperate measures?

What I loved of this piece was the clever characterisations in the actions which gave the piece more depth to show the customs and time this is set – the brush of a skirt, and so on.

The ending of this? Excellent. Slightly leaves it open and wondering what happens in their future.

‘A Cold Day’ by Nicole Murphy

Another of my favourites, of a simple potter and the customs their town dictate concerning the birth of royals and what spells are used to protect the young. Beautifully written, this shows powerful characterisation in so few glimpses and words, and I loved how it goes in directions you don’t expect!

Also – SUCH a good ending! Simple and short, and ties it all together in such a realistic way. I really must read more of Nicole’s work!

‘The Village of No Women’ by Rabia Gale

Quite a worrying tale, using magic to create wives for men. Written from an excellent choice for the POV, this tale is quite complex with layers of thought given to the various problems it shows and just when you think this has enough in it already – wham, another reveal!

Interesting ending also! So much to say about this piece, but it’s a hard one to review without treading into spoiler territory. It’s also darn decent, and one that I think will last in my mind for quite a while.

‘The Lady of Wild Things’ by Jenny Blackford

Such a good opening line – ‘It is difficult to say which the people of my village feared more: the man-wolves or the nymphs.’

I love seeing short stories that show mythical creatures as terrible beings – harsh and cruel and focused on their own enjoyment rather than the fanciful idea of granting wishes for no reason to any human they come across. I love some grit!

‘The Ghost of Hephaestus’ by Charlotte Nash

Ahh, steampunk. A lovely tale of mystery and suspicion, a good showing of intelligence that doesn’t have all the answers but shall damn well strive to be try. This is one of those short stories that leaves the reader wishing it was a full novel or series.

This is a touching story, full of wonder, Gods and a change of times. This is a tale of epic proportions whittled down into a bite sized chunk, leaving you hungry for more while still being satisfied with the ending.

‘Scales of Time’ by Foz Meadows, illustrated by Simone Herbert

It’s not often you get a poem in an anthology, and even rarer that you get it illustrated. Simone’s lovely art matches Foz’s lovely way with words perfectly. A poem about a dragon? Hell yeah – honestly, why isn’t there more of this in anthologies? Authors, get writing!

This is short and sweet, and shows how the perfect choice of words can move you in just 150 words which would otherwise take a number of thousand to do in novel form. This is damn well done.

‘The Love Letters of Swans’ by Tansy Rayner Roberts

I’d say it’s ‘saving the best for last’ but the whole anthology has been pretty dang good, so let’s just leave it as I’m a Tansy fan! If you love everything Roman then look no further than this short story (actually, do look further and get Tansy’s ‘Love and Rompanpunk’, literally an award winner and shortlisted for many awards besides…)

But back to this actual short. What I love about Tansy’s writing is always the dialogue. Always the characters. In this piece we see people at their most cruel and desperate, historical fiction flung our way as she turns often ill-taught history into something exciting and engaging. Damn, Tansy’s good!

~

It’s not often when you get an anthology where you enjoy reading each of the shorts, and read them to their entirety. Now I had to read each in full to proof, but I know I would have done that anyway because I kept forgetting I was proofing as I got too involved in each story, and had to keep going back to re-read.

This is one of FableCroft’s best anthologies to date, and I don’t say that lightly. Join us at Conflux in Canberra in October for the book launch and see it for yourself!

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