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Sharyn November – Firebirds Soaring

June 24, 2014

50. Firebirds Soaring edited by Sharyn November (2009)
Firebirds, Volume 3 (technically, although since it’s an anthology, it doesn’t really matter)

Length: 592 pages
Genre: Short Stories, Fantasy

Started: 25 April 2014
Finished: 15 June 2014

Where did it come from? Library booksale.
Why do I have it? Ana’s fault. And also I totally judged this book by its cover – isn’t it awesome?
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 30 May 2013.

Overall Summary and Review: This anthology is a little strange, since it’s full of stories that are all written by authors published by the Firebird imprint, but that don’t otherwise have much in common. There’s fantasy, there’s sci-fi, there’s historical fiction, there’s fairy tale, there’s dark, there’s light, there’s… not really anything thematically or conceptually tying these stories together. If I’d read this anthology straight through, as I’ve done with other anthologies, I think that would have bothered me, but I read it much more spread out – a story here, a story there, over the course of a month and a half – so the lack of a common thread didn’t make much of a difference. But, if your goal in reading this is just to get a sampling of some recent young adult fiction, particularly speculative fiction, this one would definitely fit the bill – there’s some great authors included, with some very good stories, and overall, it’s a solidly enjoyable collection – some highs and some lows, of course, but definitely more of the former and relatively few of the latter. 4 out of 5 stars.

Individual Stories:
– In “Kingmaker” by Nancy Springer, a king’s daughter has always had the ability to tell truth from lies, which makes her a valuable asset to her father, even if she won’t inherit the throne. But when she is sitting in judgement over a dispute involving pigs, she uncovers something with the power to change her destiny. I really enjoy this kind of mashup of Celtic mythology, lots of familiar elements, but I liked the protagonist and enjoyed the turns the story took, although the ending didn’t have quite as much thunder as I think it deserved.

– In “A Ticket to Ride” by Nancy Farmer, a boy living in a group juvenile home is caught alone outside the library when a local homeless man is dying, and in his panic he finds himself on board a strange train with some strange men. This book is an interesting vision of the afterlife, although I felt like it wasn’t entirely internally consistent – what happens to Jason’s ticket, and when? – and the setting was a strange mix of old-timey ridin’ the rails that clashed with the weird hint of dystopia that permeated the first part of the story.

– In “A Thousand Tails” by Christopher Barzak, a young girl realizes she’s a kitsune, a fox spirit, trapped in the body of a girl, and she must figure out how she got to be where she is. I liked this one – it’s quiet and bittersweet, and yet it unsettled me, since I recognized a lot of my younger self in Midori. I thought the ending went on a bit too long and lost some of the momentum of the story, but otherwise, really very good.

– In “All Under Heaven” by Chris Roberson, a young man is going out for one last fishing expedition with his grandmother, and trying to find a way to tell her that he’s leaving. Initially this one confused me – I couldn’t tell if it was distant past or distant future, or both. But once I got settled in, I quite liked the world, and wanted to know more about it than the glimpse of the little story.

– In “Singing on a Star” by Ellen Klages, a girl goes over to a friend’s house for a sleepover, but finds out that her friend has a secret elevator in her closet that allows them to travel to a strange place. I thought this one was kind of predictable, but with a really palpable sense of menace surrounding the childhood loss of innocence that made it resonate really well.

– “Egg Magic” by Louise Marley features a teen girl whose mother left when she was very young, but left behind a strange chicken, that has only every laid a few very strange eggs. I liked the non-usual family dynamic in this story, and how immersed I felt in the story, even within a few pages.

– In “Flatland” by Kara Dalkey, Appie works for a company that monitors her performance in almost every aspect of her life. Even when she’s on vacation, she’s never entirely free… but that’s how she likes it, right? This reminded me in a lot of ways of a cross between So Yesterday and some elements of Ready Player One. Maybe a little predictable but I found the world really interesting.

– I skipped “Dolly the Dog-Soldier” by Candas Jane Dorsey. Wasn’t feeling it. Sorry.

– “Ferryman” by Margo Lanagan was one of my favorite pieces in the collection. It involves Charon, the man who ferries the souls of the dead to the Greek underworld, and his daughter. I love Greek mythology, and I am a sucker for stories about dads and their daughters, and Margo Lanagan’s writing is unsurprisingly tender but haunting.

– “The Ghosts of Strangers” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman is one of the longest stories in the collection, about a village who has a relationship with dragons that live nearby, helping them care for their young, and bringing them ghosts of animals to eat. A young girl has the ability to capture human ghosts as well as animals, a power that may come in useful when her village is threatened. I liked the world and the tone of this story, although it seemed needlessly complicated. (For example, I’m still not sure what the jewel-finding ability had to do with anything.)

Jo Walton‘s “Three Twilight Tales” all focus around a small village inn where magical things seem to happen. I liked the fairytale feeling of this one, and the little twists in each of the tales.

– In “The Dignity He’s Due” by Carol Emshwiller, the narrator’s mother is convinced that her son, the narrator’s brother, is heir to the French throne, even though they are homeless in rural America. This one had some great characterization, and an emotional weight that occasionally felt like a punch to the gut.

– “Power and Magic” by Marly Youmans is the tale of a confident boy trying to impress a jaded girl, who has promised to kiss him if he shows her real power and magic. I was surprised by this one – both the depth of character and the sheer weight of atmosphere that Youmans is able to build in a relatively short space were impressive, and this story is resonating in my head after many of the others have faded.

– “Court Ship” by Sherwood Smith had the potential to be an interesting story about a prince who hires a ship to take him to pay a visit to a future princess, but the worldbuilding was so complicated – names and countries and politics and alliances and histories, and the ultimate payoff of the story didn’t really seem like enough. When I got to the note at the end and realized that it was set in the world of Smith’s other novels, and made reference to things that happened in those books, it was immediately clear why the story standing alone was less than successful.

– “Little Red” by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple is a take on Little Red Riding Hood involving a girl in a psychiatric ward. Little Red Riding Hood is a disturbing story at the best of times, and Yolen and Stemple have amped up the disturbing on this one, no doubt. Dark and brutal, but really well done.

– “The Myth of Fenix” by Laurel Winter is a little story of a boy who fakes his own death to leave his world behind – maybe literally. I’m not a huge fan of the fragmented stream-of-consciousness style of story most of the time, and this one didn’t make much of an impression on me one way or the other.

– “Fear and Loathing in Lalanna” by Nick O’Donohue involves two mages who are sent to infiltrate a meeting of Heroes armed with nothing but a cartload of magical supplies. This was clever and funny enough, although I’m not a particular Hunter S. Thompson fan, so I was maybe not the optimal audience.

– “Bonechewer’s Legacy” by Clare Bell is a good example of how to write a story that’s part of a series world without making it feel like it. It involves the leader of a group of sentient animals who believes her mate has returned from the dead. I didn’t love this story – the world didn’t entirely grab me, but it was still an interesting read, with some nice worldbuilding.

– “Something Worth Doing” by Elizabeth E. Wein was another one of the best stories in the collection. It’s the story of a girl who, following her elder brother’s death in a pointless accident, takes his place training to be a pilot in the RAF in World War II. Judging by the author’s note, this was written before Code Name Verity, but it’s in a similar vein, and really, really good and satisfying.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Inkweaver Review
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Here’s a question: How does one write an introduction for the third anthology in an ongoing series?

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 8: “I, his daughter, wore only a simple shift of amber-and-brown plaid wool, and only ghillies, ovals of calfskin, laced around my feet. No golden torc, no silver lunula, nor am I royal of stature or of mien.” – a low-cut, tongueless oxford shoe with loops instead of eyelets for the laces; a crescent-shaped metal ornament of the Bronze Age.
  • p. 11: “Some ancient metal I did not know – perhaps orichalcum?” – a metal mentioned in several ancient writings, second only to gold in value, and supposedly mined in many parts of Atlantis.
  • p. 22: “Given my Celtic bias, in “Kingmaker,” the setting is sort of Welsh, almost Tintagel, with the crashing sea, the cliffs, the huge rocks left behind by playful giants, the logan stone balanced and rocking atop its pillar.” – Large stones that are so finely balanced that the application of just a small force causes them to rock.
  • p. 206: ““What, one of these bunnocks? Two?”” – a variety of flat quick bread (variant of bannocks).
  • p. 456: “There were men and women in armor, leather skins, and nothing; they were fighting with spears, swords, broadaxes, twybils, and flails; they were wailing, singing, shouting, and roaring.” – a hand tool used for green woodworking.

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