Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Review: Firebirds

Dear blog,
An anthology  of all things fantasy, edited by Sharyn November.  I've read heaps of short stories of late, having been too busy lots of the time to sit down and read a novel (which also explains my lack of reviews recently).

Summary (from Goodreads): Firebirds gathers together sixteen original stories by some of today’s finest writers of fantasy and science fiction. Together, they have won virtually every major prize— from the National Book Award to the World Fantasy Award to the Newbery Medal—and have made bestseller lists worldwide. These authors, including Lloyd Alexander, Diana Wynne Jones, Garth Nix, Patricia A. McKillip, Meredith Ann Pierce, and Nancy Farmer, tell stories that will entertain, provoke, startle, amuse, and resonate long after the last lage has been turned. And they all share a connection to Firebird—an imprint, like this anthology, devoted to the best fantasy and science fiction for teenage and adult readers.

Review:  Like with Across the Wall, I'll review each short story individually.  There are sixteen stories, so some I might not say very much of to keep the entry (relatively) short and interesting.

Cotillion by Delia Sherman- is one of my favourite stories in the book, and a strong opening.  It's haunting and beautiful and full of mysterious fairies and such, with a 1960's NYC setting seems like an interesting setting- almost as if as well as all the mythical and mystical folk, the world of high society during the Vietnam War seems kind of intriguing.  It was like a world within a world, if that makes sense. 
The Baby in the Night Deposit Box by Megan Whalen Turner -- is despite the cheesy-sounding title, actually a pretty good read. It was well-paced, and the characters were all likeable in their various shapes and forms.  Look out for the kick-butt demise of the enchantress at the end.
Beauty  by Sherwood Smith -- was actually one of my least favourite stories in the book.  Perhaps that's because it followed on from the Crown Duel novels, which I haven't read. Either way, I found it really difficult to like the main character, and the story dragged on slightly too long.  Elestra was entertaining at first but then just became slightly whiny, and I wanted to slap her by the end. 
Mariposa  by Nancy Springer -  Even though I think that Elestra of Beauty fame was supposed to be likeable, and a strong/capable sort of young woman, in truth I actually preferred Amy/Aimee, the heroine of Mariposa.  Mostly because Amy/Aimee was flawed, and she changes.  For instance, she goes from abandoning her soul  to rescuing it.   Need I say more?!  
Max Mondrosch by Lloyd Alexander - I really struggled to *get* this story.  No matter how many times I read it, it didn't make much sense.  It was just a little too strange.  I think it was meant to be darkly humorous, but only if you can make any sense of it. 
The Fall of Ys by Meredith Ann Pierce --  Is a traditional Breton folktale, and the writing style is such that it reads like poetry.  It's one of the shortest pieces in the book, but one of my favourites.   It's haunting and tragic in a romantically poetic sort of way. 
Medusa by  Michael Cadnum - Is yet another one of the retellings in this collection.  And a retelling that's been done countless times (it seems that it would be more original nowadays to tell the story from Perseus' perspective).  But the writing style is poetic and absolutely beautiful, and Medusa's voice seems to really shine through, if that makes sense. 
The Black Fox by Emma Bull , Illustrated by Charles Vess- is a refreshing but slightly bizarre  change from the other stories in the book.  Bizarre in a good way.  This is because it's a graphic manga-esque story, based on an old folk song/poem.   It's pretty amusing, and the artwork is great.  Plus the lyrics are included at the start of the story, so you can sort of see where  the short story itself came from. 
Byndley by Patricia A. McKillip -  Was another story I wasn't too keen on.  Even though I read it three days ago I had to refer to the book to remind myself which one it was when I saw the title.  I don't know why, dear blog, but I found the writing style unbearably dry and the main character, Reck, was somewhat unremarkable.  Okay, I know that wizards are pretty unusual, but this is a fantasy anthology, where magic is somewhat the norm.  The concept is interesting- it'd make an interesting novel, but as a 20-paged short story and a dry writing style hold few thrills for me. 
The Lady of the Ice Garden / Kara Dalkey - is a Japanese-y version of The Snow Queen, complete with kimonos and everything else that you would require from such a story.  It's certainly an interesting twist on the norm, and the story seems comfortingly familiar while still being Girida and Keiken, with references and such to Shinto, kimonos and the like. 
Hope Chest / Garth Nix -- I reviewed this in my review of Across the Wall.  I'll quite from it here:
[Hope Chest] is an epic historical-western-scifi sort of short story, and at 40 pages or so the longest story in the book after Nicholas Sayre. The historical and western elements of the book are a little surprising, because Garth Nix doesn't normally include these things in his novels. The blend of western-meets-scifi is quite bizarre and "what?!", but it works (look out for the awesome shooting scene in the train).
Chasing the Wind by Elizabeth E. Wein -- Exotic location, great characters, interesting idea, perfect pacing, clear writing style, modern-historical setting, aeroplanes ...what more could you ask for? 
Little Dot / Diana Wynne Jones -- Yay for a UK author appearing in the book!  The Little Dot of the title is in fact a cat, and the story is told from his point of view, which makes for an interesting change and was kind of refreshing.  Also, the aforementioned Little Dot was a very likeable, entertaining feline who cam out with some very funny things. The story opens with "I am lucky enough to own a wizard who talks to me", and so the rest of the story is an amusing romp through the countryside in which Dot's preferred mode of transport is a chicken coop hovering off the ground.  Have I persuaded you to read it yet?
Remember Me by Nancy Farmer -- Was both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time that left me feeling slightly confused and unsure what to make of it.  Should I be happy that Flo returned from whence she came, or sad that she had left?  It had a strong moral in that sense, I suppose, in that Jessie had only sort of realised how much she really loved her changeling sister when she was gone. 
Flotsam  by Nina Kiriki Hoffman --  Is a very strange little story, but utterly enchanting anyway.  I'm sure that this has been done so many times before- girl rescues fairy-type being, who then goes on his way, and girl's life is altered forever.  But Becky is so likeable, and Poppy (a boy by the way) so sweet, the story is utterly irresistible. 
The Flying Woman  by Laurel Winter- is thrilling from the very start. A brother and sister get abandoned on an island by her father, and so it begins.  Throughout it's gripping, and a good conclusion; a dramatic, strong sort of ending that really wraps things up well. 

Other thoughts- I was kind of disappointed by the lack of science fiction, for this claims to be an anthology of fantasy and science fiction.  But the only sci-fi story in here seems to be Garth Nix's Hope Chest.  So that was a little disappointing. However, there are a couple of other anthologies, Firebirds Rising and Firebirds Soaring, and perhaps they'll hold more sci-fi. 

In three words: fantastical, readable, worthwhile.
Reccomended for: fantasy fans young and old.
Rating: 3.

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