Edited by Denise Little
Review by Sam Lubell
DAW Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780756405137
Date: 07 October 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Clearly inspired by the Harry Potter books, Witch High is a set of stories that take place in a high school for magic users, Salem Township Public High School #4. The authors include many familiar names like Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Laura Resnick, Jody Lynn Nye, Sarah Zettel, Esther Friesner, Sarah A. Hoyt, and Diane Duane, among others. The stories are a nice mix of learning to use powers, coping with teenage life and love, and even a couple focusing on the faculty.
However, there is no continuity among the stories. In one story, a guidance counselor reassures a student that none of the students or even teachers, have the capability to create fire, three stories later a character mopes that she's the only fire witch in her chemistry class, a few more stories down, every student, except for the main character, has mastered fire making by age ten. The magic also functions differently from story to story, as some stories have wands, another elemental powers etc. Even the principal's name and sex changes from story to story. This anthology would have better stronger if it let the writers invent a new school name and location for each story, rather than let the reader expect a shared world (or, at least, school).
While none of the stories will win a Hugo, they are all at least solid and many are entertaining. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has an interesting take on what domestic magic can do and addresses the magical equivalent of a school shooting. Two deal with a form of time travel. Laura Resnick presents time travel with a twist and has some clever thoughts about the type of courses a magical school might offer including a Metaphysics class that is graded based on whether a psychic's mind probe shows a higher level of consciousness, which almost make up for the dreadful pun at the end of her story. Almost. Phaedra M. Weldon presents a story about a boy offered membership in an honors society that veers off into a completely unexpected direction. Several put a magical spin on typical teenage problems. Pamela Luzier shows how the teen dating process, and the typical teen angst, can be complicated with the addition of magical powers to the mix. Christina York presents a little mystery about whether a cheerleader is cheating with her powers. Sarah Zettel shows how witchcraft could run in the family with a character descended from a fairy tale witch. Pauline J. Alma, a fairly new writer, has a very strong story about the "Wicked clique" and how two of the outcasts turn the tables at the Homecoming Dance in a way that saves the world. The final story, by Diane Duane, about a girl whose parascience fair project is making a life-sized gingerbread house, was good but not as good as I expected from the author of the So You Want to Be a Wizard series.
Debra Dixon offers an example of the common theme of the less capable student – in this case a student who is the last to be adopted by a familiar and so must tame the dangerous but powerful Coyote. Bill McCay shows what a witch might be willing to do to save her sick mother. Karen Fox has another story about a late bloomer discovering her magic. Sarah Hoyt combines the student who apparently lacks magic theme with a witch who is too powerful and so friendless.
A couple of the stories feature the faculty. Jody Lynn has a nice payback story showing how a magic school might obtain its faculty – putting a geas on the students who make the most trouble. Esther Friesner's brilliantly titled "You Got Served" shows the plight of the lunch ladies in a school where students can transform Tofu Surprise into cheeseburgers and fries, and a magic spatula that can flip lives around.
The trouble with many theme anthologies is that the stories seem too similar. This is not the case here – although all stories use the school setting, they address several different ideas and authors have their own spin on a high school of magic users. Although this hurts the book's claim to being a shared world, it helps the book as a collection of stories. Teenage fans of Harry Potter will like this book and it may be a good way to show high school students that fantasy is not just children's stories. Still, while this is a collection of good to very good stories, there are no standouts. None get graded an F, but none get an A+ either.