Ancient Enchantresses

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

I had an awkward moment at the end of July. If you follow me on social media, you may remember it.

I was in a local used bookstore perusing sci-fi and fantasy. They were on sale for $1 each or 6 for $5. I was trying to pick up a dozen because I couldn’t cut my pile down to six and I’m a sucker for a deal on used books. Ultimately I rounded out my dozen with four anthologies. I’d thought about these books earlier in my browsing, but my gut reaction was “Nah. I don’t like short stories.”

Then I realized that, aside from classic fairy tales, I couldn’t think of a single fantasy short story. Not one. The bulk of my short story experience was English class. In my mind, short stories were “the boring things in textbooks that teachers make you read and analyze.”

That couldn’t be right, could it? There had to be other short stories out there—these anthologies proved it. And so began my short story reading adventure!

Ancient Enchantresses (Fantasy Anthology) | Lydia Sanders #TwistyMustacheReviews

I started with Ancient Enchantresses, an anthology of “19 original tales of sorceresses from around the world and down through the ages.” This book was edited by Kathleen M. Massie-Ferch, Martin H. Greenberg, and Richard Gilliam. On the back cover, it brags about contributions from Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, Andre Norton, Harry Turtledove, Tanith Lee, and William F. Wu. It was published by DAW fantasy in 1995.

There are, of course, more authors, but I don’t want to list them all and I don’t know enough about fantasy stories in the 1990s to tell you who else went on to publish cool stuff.

A lot of these have not-so-happy endings. I’m still trying to decide if depressing endings are linked to short stories in general (maybe the form is too short to make happy endings convincing) or if gritty “realism” and sad endings were just the trendy things to do at the time. Maybe I’m wrong about everything and the editors just had an affection for melancholy endings. 

A couple felt more like prologues or first chapters than standalone stories. Is this unusual? I don’t know. I haven’t read enough short stories yet. I did check online, however, and it doesn’t appear that these particular stories were intended to be prequels to existing books or anything like that.

My favorite thing about this anthology was the variety of magic. Various religions, cultures, and historical setttings from around the world inspired the magic in these stories. A couple didn’t even have magic in them, but people around the main character thought she was a sorceress, and that was enough to give them a sense of mystique.

As I flipped through the book to find the titles of my favorite stories for this review, I realized that I’d forgotten a lot of the stories, and even some that I remembered, I don’t necessarily like.

Here are the five that I liked best:

  • "The Seven Flowers of Autumn" by Claudia O’Keefe (loved)
  • "A Craving for Oysters" by Mary Frances Zambreno (loved)
  • "But One Son Living" by Lois Tilton
  • "The Offering Place" by Diana L. Paxon
  • "Beyond the Wide World’s End" by Susan Shwartz

It’s difficult to rate an anthology because of the sheer variety of stories and authors. While individual stories ranged from three mustaches to six, my overall experience of the Ancient Enchantresses anthology was a four. I look forward to reading more short story anthologies and finding specific authors to read.

Have you read Ancient Enchantresses? What did you think of it? Are there any other short stories and anthologies you'd like me to read?
Leave a comment below or my hairless ghost lemur will haunt your dreams.

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