30th Anniversary DAW Fantasy
Ed. by Elizabeth R. Wollheim and Sheila E Gilbert

List Price: $24.95
Hardcover - 425 pages (May 2002)
DAW; ISBN: 0756400708
Review by EJ McClure
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Also this issue: 30th Anniversary DAW SF

18 notable fantasy authors contributed short stories to this eclectic anthology, which is a companion piece for the SF anthology also published this month to commemorate DAW’s 30th anniversary.

Andre Norton’s “Sow’s Ear--Silk Purse” leads the anthology, since the stories are arranged in order that the authors came to DAW books. Feliciana has the misfortune to be plain in a time and place where beauty was as important as a dowry to a dutiful girl’s hopes of improving her family’s fortunes by making a good marriage. But successful matchmaking does not matter to Feliciana, who has no desire to be burdened with husband and household. No, what Feliciana wants is to be ugly, so ugly that no bidder will offer for her hand in the marriage market. Ugliness seems the only road to freedom--freedom to read and write, to live her life however she chooses. How she gathers her courage to invoke the Wild Magic, and the dire fate that subsequently befalls her, is a cautionary parable.

Tanith Lee weaves one of her subtle, sensuous spells in “Persian Eyes.” When Fulvia agrees to take a Persican slave girl into her household to avoid offending her friend Terentia. And at first the girl seems biddable, if curiously aloof. Mysterious. Enchanting. It takes Fulvia some time to notice the changes in her husband and children. Her house. And her entire world. This luscious confection of dread and fascination is classic Lee.

Imagine waking to find yourself . . . beside yourself. When you are (according to your coffee mug) the most powerful wizard in the world, the results are doubly surprising. Especially when the other you is the bits you’d rather get rid of anyway; the lazy, lecherous, gluttonous bits. Or the nagging, high-fiber/low-fat unfun bits, depending on your point of view. All of which might be an interesting conundrum for Magdelene, both of her, if not for the fact that demons from the Netherhells are intent on making their way up her kitchen stairs on their way to invade the world and hideously slaughter millions of innocent people. “We Two May Meet,” tongue firmly in cheek: this tale is one of Tanya Huff’s best.

Waking up to unpleasant surprises is also the theme of Mercedes Lackey’s story, “After Midnight.” The author opens her eyes to find herself surrounded by a committee of her characters complaining about the roles they have been given, kibitzing for more action, less pathos, better romance and happy endings. Some authors evidently have a lot to answer for! Her fans will be able to fill in the names of the characters from the clues in their conversation. This puzzle piece reads more like an anecdote one might hear at a con than a short story; a good laugh shared between friends.

Hallock Stavern wakes less pleasantly in Larry Dixon’s “A Perfect Day in Valdemar.” He wakes to a world of pain. An experienced campaigner, he know what the yellow ribbon in front of his tent means; the healer does not expect him to survive. He does not begrudge giving his life in the service of the Crown; that is the risk of his profession. But he deeply regrets leaving his wife Genni, and the life they planned on having together. Compassionate even in his own pain, he bravely agrees to share his tent with a wounded gryphon, and finds himself sharing even more than that as darkness draws near at the end of the day.

There are plenty of other yummy tidbits in this fantasy banquet. Irene Radford contributed “Draconis Ex Machina,” a delightful bit of backstory for “The Glass Dragon.” Melanie Rawn deftly mingles high fantasy with history to provide a new perspective on the death of Joan of Arc in “The Sacrifice.” And there is Christopher Stasheff’s wonderful mythic piece, “Coronach of the Bell.”

My favorite, however, was the last story in the collection, “It’s About Squirrels.” And it is. Lynn Abbey sets her story in the most prosaic of neighborhoods; a house trailer in central Florida. Nic is a dot-bomb refugee from New York with little more than a computer and an unmarketable resume to her name. She knows she is at the end of the road when her computer goes on the fritz after power losses at 9 a.m. four days in a row. All the fault of the pallbearer squirrels, the electric company representative assures her: stupid critters chase each other, fall into transformers and get fried-- happens all the time. With the help of a talkative neighbor, Nic sets out to trap the nutty squirrels, but soon finds out she has snared more than she bargained for.

I actually enjoyed Elizabeth Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert’s introduction as much as any of the stories. Chock full of interesting historical tidbits about the rise of DAW books and the challenges facing editors and publishers alike, the forward provided as much entertainment as any of the stories in this commemorative edition. Selfishly, I wish they had decided to give us 30 stories in their 30th anniversary volume, but the 18 gems they have showcased superbly represent the formidable cadre of talented authors published by DAW Books over the past three decades.


© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu