I love strong women. That’s no secret. I’ll take a competent woman adventurer over a damsel in distress any day.
I also love anthologies. Anthologies, as I’m certain someone has said before me, are like a box of chocolates. I picked up Beauty Has Her Way from Dark Quest Books as an informed reader. I knew editor Jennifer Brozek put out quality anthologies. Heck, she even won an award for one last year (the superlative Grant’s Pass). And I like several of the names attached to this particular anthology. So even if I found a few literary equivalents of a cherry cordial (the bane of my chocolate box existence), I knew I’d find a few delights in there. Worst case scenario, I could skim the stories that didn’t work and save myself some reading time. The book is divided into three sections: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. I figured that in a set up like this, anything could happen.
What didn’t happen was me skimming stories. I read every one without hesitation. That always makes me happy. That said, I didn’t love all the stories, but I at least enjoyed them all. The first story in the collection was a bit of a rough start. “Sacrifices to the Moon” by Paul D. Batteiger presented us with a bad-ass woman warrior heading into inhospitable wastes, potentially to her death, with no visible motivation other than to prove to the reader that 1) she was stubborn as well as a bad-ass, and 2) to set her up as the Outsider hero. It felt contrived. But by the time the spear came out and she gots to killing anything that stood in her way like a proper barbarian warrior, I was willing to forgive the set up. Did it remind me of Robert E. Howard? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Not a chance!
But there are 16 stories in this collection, so let me share what I saw as the highlights.
In the Yesterday section, the story that grabbed me most was the wild-west fantasy “Vengeance is Mine” by Kenneth Mark Hoover. Holy doodle did I love that story and the steely heroine Magra Snowberry! I would love to see more of the character and the town of Haxan.
I felt the Today section was the strongest, from the Caribbean-tinged dark magic madness of Chuck Wendig’s “The Moko-Jumbie Girl,” to Filamena Hill’s story of a mobster’s daughter avenging the death of her cousin in the chillingly satisfying “Men Do Nothing.” All of the stories in this section thrilled the hell out of me. Also worthy of particular note is the full-tilt and high-octane action that I’ve come to love from Erik Scott de Bie’s action heroines in the past. He does not disappoint in “Witch Fire” and I hope to see more of the character in the future.
The Tomorrow section packed a double-punch or powerfully emotional stories. “Ride the Rebel Wind” by Amanda Gannon is a breathtaking adventure, truly steam-punk done right. Told from the point of view of a young engineer dragged into action, it tells powerful tale of a mad captain chasing the beastly airship she put on auto pilot and set loose on the world in the wake of the Civil War. But the true gem, and quite possibly the best story in the collection is “A Well-Embroidered Heart” by Keffy R.M. Kehril. At turns heartbreaking and terrifying, it presents a dystopian land run by the most unique necromancers I’ve encountered in all my years of fantasy fiction, and stars the outcast child seeking vengeance and something more. It evoked thoughts of cold-war European despair and favorable comparisons to China Meiville’s better work.
At a paltry $14.95, lovers of determined women are all but certain to find something to entertain and and intrigue. Recommended.
And now to find some damn chocolates…