It’s always difficult to get a handle on a book of short stories – especially an anthology from different writers – because of the unevenness of the writing. This book, being edited by the “Insecure Writers” themselves, is doubly difficult to classify. However, the authors have done us a favour by all being darned good at their craft, so even the weakest story has elements to recommend it, and the group effort provides a pleasantly diverse reading experience
The main difference between the works presented is the accessibility of the plot. All are fantasy-oriented, so there is a certain amount of uncertainty as to what’s going on in the tale. However, as usual, different authors let us in on things to different levels in order to create suspense while keeping us informed. The success of each story depends on how well this balance is achieved.
The first tale in the collection, “The Mysteries of Death and Life” by Jen Chandler, is perhaps the least complicated in plot, although it deals with metaphysical characters and concepts like Death. The main character is a simple young woman down on her luck who has the strength and compassion to perform a charitable task for someone in worse condition than herself. It is also a heartwarming story of an unlikely love, so it covers all the emotional bases.
“Sometimes They Come Back” by Roland D. Yeomans is a bit more involved. A supernatural Caretaker oversees a metaphoric House populated by various metaphysical characters from a variety of mythic backgrounds, including Ancient Egypt and Lewis Carroll. This tale is less focused, and uncertainties abound, leading to a less satisfying conclusion.
“The Witch Bottle” by Sean McLachlan has a more complicated plot, and needs a bit too much explaining to keep the action flowing smoothly towards the nicely twisted ending.
Other stories include a knight fighting a digital dragon hiding in a folder in a world of lost internet servers, a Kansas farmer bewitched by the source of his farm’s fertility, a couple of tales of fantastic worlds where various forms of authoritarian governments deserve rebellion, and a magician who comes up against a non-magical force she can not deal with: amnesia.
The anthology ends with two more traditional settings. “Of Words and Swords” by Tyrean Martinson is a straightforward tale of a knight fighting a dragon and winning his love by small but useful magic. “Breath Between Seconds” by L. Nahay is a rather drawn-out description of the process of dying, with little emotion or tension to recommend it.
In all a book of varied styles and qualities, bound together by a common theme of unlikely heroes. Recommended for fantasy fans looking for a quick, enjoyable read. (4 / 5)