Magic City: Recent Spells, edited by Paula Guran

Magic City Recent Spells

Read May 2014
Recommended for fans of urban fantasy, short stories
★    ★    ★    1/2

Short stories are perfect for those moments when I know I don’t have much time, and don’t have patience for interruptions (really, is there anything more exasperating than having to stop reading during a denouement? Or during a chase?) I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this collection. As I don’t often read short story collections in the modern UF genre, all were new to me, although a peek at copyrights reveal all were previously published. Still, most people will recognize the authors, not the stories, as many are among the most popular in the UF field. In a couple of cases, I found I liked their short stories better than their full-length books. Ultimately, I count it a win, especially since I found a couple of names new to me.

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Notes on the stories:

The Introduction, by Paula Guran was strange and poorly done. It discusses some of what makes urban fantasy a genre, goes on to point it has evolved, and then neglects to say what it has evolved into. There’s also a disingenious line of “I’m neither learned nor erudite,” thus proving she is, in fact, erudite. Ignore it, because it doesn’t do justice to the quality of the stories.

Street Wizard by Simon R. Green: It’s a vinette “day in the life” of a clean-up wizard and feels like Green just tossed it off as a couple sections seemed repetitive. Still, there was a good line or two: “The streets are packed with furitive-eyed people, hot on the trail of everything that’s bad for them. It’s my job to see they get home safely, or at least that they only fall prey to the everyday perils of Soho.” Overall, mediocre. Green’s short staccato style doesn’t work well for the short, and the tone seems to mock the genre.

Paranormal Romance by Christopher Barzak. Sheila, a witch with a knack for love charms, can’t find a love of her own, but still has a satisfying life with her business and a cheerful gay couple next door. Still, she goes on a blind date and finds an unexpected way out. Rather charming.

Grand Central Park by Delia Sherman. An encounter with the fae in Central Park told by the perspective of a young, awkward teen. Captures the adolescent voice, the feel of the park and the spirit of the fae nicely. Enjoyable.

Spellcaster 2.0 by Jonathan Maberry. A select group of college students are working on a career-building computer database of all known folklore spells, but when one of the women doing data entry brings some irregularities to the attention of the lead programmer, things start to go awry. Very good characterization, heavy on the moralizing and plotting. I’d call it a wash.

Wallamelon by Nisi Shawl. A small group of friends discover watermelons growing in the abandoned house on their street, and ensuing events lead Oneida to connecting with Big Mama. One of the few stories centered around an inner-city African-American. Plotting was unusual and Shawl has a good feel for dialogue. Standout line (about the art museum gift shop): “Smaller versions of the paintings on the walls, of the huge weird statues that resembled nothing on Earth except themselves.” I’ll look for more by her.

-30- by Caitlin R. Kiernan. A story about how a writer seeking help for writer’s block from the fae goes through four gatekeepers to obtain her boon. Adequately done, but feels rather self-indulgent and in need of cutting. Nice line: “Just another wonder in the tedious string of wonders, that she can speak with teeth like that.

Seeing Eye by Patricia Briggs. An enjoyable PNR about a blind woman who is asked to help save a werewolf’s brother. Rather enjoyable, although there was an uncomfortable angle with family. Briggs doesn’t quite achieve the tone of suspense she seems to be aiming for.

Stone Man by Nancy Kress. A young teen who spends most of his life on the street gets into a car accident and discovers his magic. Unaccustomed to power and trust, he retreats into the life he knows until lured out. Done well, without being condescending.

In the Stacks by Scott Lynch. Completely different from his Locke Lamora series, Lynch has written a delightful story where the year’s passing grade depends on returning a grimoire to the Living Library, a library full of wild magic. Humor, adventure, daring, well-crafted–it has it all. Fun line: “On any other day, that would have required heroic effort, but it was exams week, and the dread magic of the last minute was in the air.” One of my favorites.

A Voice Like a Hole by Catherynne Valente. A runaway muses on fairy tale runaways versus real ones and ends up uses a talent for singing. It’s Valente; what more can one say? Tearful, haunting, hopeful. “Talking to a runaway is a little like talking to a murderer. There was a time before you did it and a time after and between them there’s just this space, this monstrous thing, and it’s so heavy.

The Arcane Art of Misdirection by Carrie Vaughn. A Vegas card dealer gets the sense something strange is happening at her table. When it occurs two nights in a row, she decides to investigate, and runs into a stage magician who knows more than most about unseen things. I enjoyed it.

The Thief of Precious Things by A.C. Wise. Only minimally urban fantasy, this takes place in a fantastical world. A fox-girl has stolen something from the crow-lords to help the humans. She can’t remember why, until she meets a human who defends her. It has the feeling of age and equivocal endings, as if it is based on an old Japanese folk tale. Beautiful writing: “The crows fold their wings tight, diving for her eyes. She whirls, snapping and snarling at the storm of feathers… She leaps, twists–a war dance. She is all fox now, her animal heart beating hard inside a cage of burning bones, wrapped in fur the color of coal.” I’d read more by Wise.

The Land of Heart’s Desire by Holly Back. A post on a messageboard leads to a notable uptick in business at a cafe. The trouble is that the Lord of the Unseelie Court isn’t amused to have his privacy compromised by his girlfriend’s best friend. Has Black’s usual dark tone, with a nice emotional complexity. A satisfying ending.

Snake Charmer by Amanda Downum. The dying dragon is about to be reborn. Mary Snakbones has her own idea about what should happen, but Simon just wants to finish avenging his dead lover and be done. An air of spooky voodoo magic, done well.

The Slaughtered Lamb by Elizabeth Bear. A drag queen on the streets of New York has another secret. When the fae world intersects our own, she’s moved to act and finds unexpected help. Enjoyable, a little one-trick-ponyish, but well-written.

The Woman Who Walked with Dogs by Mary Rosenblum. While her Mama’s at work, Mari Jane has taken to exploring her neighborhood, realizing that it is a different world at night. Another nicely done inner-city setting, lovely writing: “A cloud slid across the squashed moon like someone covering their eyes with both hands.” I’d look for more by her.

Words by Angela Slatter. A writer wordsmithing in her cottage attracts the curiosity of the children next door. When the parents object, it becomes a lesson on harassment. Moralistic and unsure of its tone.

Dog Boys by Charles de Lint. A recent transplant to New Mexico finds himself targeted by the gangs after standing up for a young woman in school. Pure de Lint. Enjoyable.

Alchemy by Lucy Sussex. Another on the edge of the ‘urban’ definition. A perfumist in ancient Babylon finds a spirit following her. Notable for nicely creating the feel of an ancient culture and time. Immersive.

Curses by Jim Butcher. Dresden takes a case representing ‘a professional entertainment corporation.’ Specifically, are the Cubs losing because of the Billy Goat Curse? Pure Dresden, and done better than usual, although he still manages to work his sexism in.

De la Tierra by Emma Bull. A futuristic L.A., it’s more of the non-explanational fantasy genre. As such, it’s a little rough. A young Salvadoran works as a hit man for the L.A. gods.

Stray Magic by Diana Peterfreund. A local dog rescuer meets an unusual dog who claims to be a witch’s familiar. Charming and cute.

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor with Alan Dean Foster. A Nigerian woman catches a cab to the airport, only to find herself made later and later by all the driver’s side passengers. Fun. Another one that brings in mythology from around the world.

Pearlywhite by Marc Laidlaw & John Shirley. A group of homeless children and their personal guides are being hunted. Moving, sad, and done well.

Finally, thanks to NetGalley for a copy of the ebook for review.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, fantasy, Urban fantasy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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