In “Goddess at the Crossroads,” Kevin Hearne shares a thrillingly memorable episode from the past of his popular Iron Druid Chronicles hero Atticus O’Sullivan, revealing how one night’s dark encounter with the cult of Hecate served as inspiration for Shakespeare’s witches in the Scottish play.
With “Ashes,” Laura Bickle revisits Detroit arson investigator and powerful spirit medium Anya Kalinczyk as she, her five-foot-long salamander familiar Sparky, and Hades’ Charon pursue a destructive fire elemental named the Nain Rouge through the city’s festival in his dubious honor.
“The Death of Aiguillon” finds Aliette de Bodard exploring an episode sixty years prior to the start of her latest novel, The House of Shattered Wings, in which the survivors of an ongoing magical conflict in Paris eke out a grim existence, and one woman’s wish for a better life is granted at a terrible price.
And in “One Hundred Ablutions,” Jacqueline Carey, author of the much-beloved Kushiel’s Legacy series, tells the tale of Dala—a young woman chosen by her people’s overlords to be an exalted slave among slaves—and of the twining in her life of ritual, rebellion, and redemption.
Throughout the past year I’ve really started to grow an appreciation for anthologies. I think they can be a great way to be introduced to new authors and get glances at worlds you might want to further explore on your own. So when I got wind through Jacqueline Carey’s Twitter that she was participating in this new project, I got all excited.
Then I had sticker shock.
$20 for a trade paperback or $45 for a limited edition hard copy signed by all four authors. There are apparently no current plans for an eBook version. On the face of it, it’s like, what’s the big deal. Small runs are expensive. Which is true. But this anthology totals 152 pages. Total. Each story averages somewhere around 35-37 pages. They are genuinely short stories, the kind you usally pay for at $0.99-$1.99 for on Kindle when the big publishers release them.
Not going to lie. That’s steep and makes it a tough sell. So the question becomes: is this book worth it?
While only you can put a dollar amount on that value, I can at least tell you what I thought of the stories and my own personal belief. Let’s get to it.
“Goddess at the Crossroads” is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. No more. No less. Atticus sits at a campfire and tells of how he met William Shakespeare and how he directly influenced the creation of Macbeth and the supposed curse that follows The Scottish Play. It’s fun, but it’s pure froth that’s easily forgettable. It’s a slice of life story basically. Existing fans won’t really learn much new about the hero and I’m not sure how much of a good introduction to the series it would be for newbies like myself. That says, the story does stand on its own pretty well, which is always appreciated in this kind of collection.
“Ashes” – I think was the best of the shorts from existing series. Fans of Anya will delight in the continuation of her story, while keeping it rather newbie friendly. I came out of this genuinely wanting to take another work at the series that the story was set in. I can’t speak to authorial intent, but if I were an author and I were invited to participate in anthology, this is what I’d aim for: a treat for my loyal readers that has the potential to earn me new ones at the same time.
“The Death of Aiguillon” – one of the reason for my sticker shock was that I didn’t like The House of Shattered Wings so much so I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it. The world is very dense with history and mythology of how things came to be, and de Bodard leaves you to figure it out. I hate when books over-explain their worlds, but she doesn’t even try. She presents it as “here it is, figure it out,” and it’s just not enticing enough to try when the characters are all so chilly and distant and there’s so many characters and so much maneuvering that you need a flow chart to keep it all straight. Needless to say, the first novel wasn’t newbie friendly and this isn’t any easier a read. There is a nicely human sentiment at the core, but it’s just too dense for its own good.
“One Hundred Ablutions” is the one that I was most excited for when I first heard the announcement. The prose is definitely lush without being dense as is her namesake, and this book looks at slavery through the lens of essentially a bird in a gilded cage. She may be well fed. She may have great quarters. She may get to be treated with a rarefied air amongst her other Kerens, but she’s still very much a slave. Like so many of Carey’s works though, I think it needed a little more time to develop. As it stands, it’s not bad, but it’s not her most memorable work either.
So all that said. Do I think it worth the $20 now? Would I now go and buy it?
I really enjoyed two, only kind of liked one, and didn’t like one. To me, that’s just not enough.
As for you, I’ll make my recommendation this way: if you’re a completionist and really love one (or more) of the authors listed, it would be a great add to your collection. Everyone else can skip it either until an e-book version comes out (I’d recommend it at $10) or until the stories get reprinted down the road. As it stands, however, I just don’t think there’s enough meant on this books bones to warrant the price tag.
Verdict: Skip it. Should a price drop or a reduced-price eBook ever come along, upgrade this to a Borrow It.
Available 12/31/2015 through Subterranean Press.