Published by The Science Fiction Book Club
The Science Fiction Book Club has been long known for offering popular books to its members at a discounted price. Over the past couple of years, the club has started publishing original material, in addition to their many omnibus and lower-priced selections. These original anthologies are bringing an added level of respect to the already venerable club. The Fair Folk is the second such SFBC anthology edited by Marvin Kaye, long known as an anthologist. The authors brought into the volume by Kaye and the SFBC are quite impressive: Tanith Lee, Megan Lindholm, Kim Newman, Patricia McKilip, Craig Shaw Gardner, and a story by Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder.
Tanith Lee’s UOUS kicks off the anthology wherein the deals made between Fairy and Human aren’t always what they seem. Lee has been a prominent figure in the genre for some time, having written a number of novels and short stories. Some of these, like UOUS take a familiar tale, like Cinderella, and spin it in a new light. Into the familiarly feeling story, Lee injects the traditional fairy deal of the three wishes and something of a Celtic flavor. This was a solid start to a promising collection told in a strong first person narrative voice. The undercurrent of threat was present, adding another layer of depth to the story.
Megan Lindholm keeps the quality not at the same level, but rather she raises the bar with Grace Notes. The story here may be familiar to readers and watchers of Harry Potter, or rather one of the elements may be familiar. Jeffrey is a ne’er do well, somewhat complacent and unmotivated when good thins suddenly happen to him. It starts when he reaches for toilet paper that he doesn’t recall refilling and eventually leads to his entire apartment being redecorated. Jeffrey’s apartment has been ‘invaded’ by a brownie, an elf who enjoys housework. While this may seem a good thing, Jeffery soon learns the frustrations of such a relationship and is only able to solve the riddle with the aid of his neighbor, Maisy. At first, Jeffrey didn’t want Maisy’s help, but Lindholm drew the two characters together in a nice fashion.
Think Austin Powers meets Harry Dresden and you might have a starting point for Kim Newman’s The Gypsies in the Wood. After two children go missing, a man from the Diogenes Club comes to solve the problem, and encounters another familiar fairy tale – that of the changeling. At times the story was all over the place, though Newman did well to keep the fairy theme throughout.
World Fantasy Award winning Patricia McKilip offers up the fourth story in the book, The Kelpie. This was a powerful story with a more subtle air of fairy than the other stories. McKillip’s fantastical element, the titular kelpie is a fairy in the form of a horse wishes to drown humans. What makes this story darker and at times, more affecting, are the humans who become wrapped in their own obsessions and emotions.
Humorous Fantasy is a tricky beast, or rather a tricksy elfish sprite. Craig Shaw Gardner’s An Embarrassment of Elves, the story is set in his Ebenezum series, a long running humours fantasy series that has been compared to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld saga. Gardner smartly makes the story accessible to readers unfamiliar with his ongoing saga, though by virtue of the characters he’s created just about any reader would be relatively familiar with the entertaining tale. Here, Wuntvor, the long-suffering wizard’s apprentice, and his band of companions come upon the Elves as they are about to depart the lands of men. As would seem logical, the Elves wish to throw a big bash before leaving, though the forces of Dark Lord might have something to say about it. The most humorous aspect of the story was how one of the Dark Riders comes to be part of Wuntvor’s motley crew consisting of a dragon and doomed warrior.
Closing out the anthology is the Jane Yolen/Midori Snyder collaboration, Except the Queen. Told through the letters of two sisters, this tale gives an interesting view on the world of Faerie. The two sisters are no longer in the world of Faerie and their letters reveal some of the regret of the past and frustrations of the now.
It isn’t surprising that The Fair Folk won the World Fantasy Award with its even mix of stories, in terms of style, aura and specific elements of fairy upon which the stories focus. Lindholm’s story was the stand out; it blended the fantastic with the real rather seamlessly. Gardner’s story worked more as a play on Epic Fantasy than a true Fairy Story, though the fey elements which influence Epic Fantasy are played effectively for some laughs. While the stories may resonate with a great deal of familiarity, this makes them no less fun and enjoyable.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford
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