Fast Forward Book Review for March 2010
edited by Esther Friesner
by Colleen R. Cahill
Esther Friesner, an author of many talents, is best known for her Chicks in Chainmail anthologies, collections of humorous fantasy stories focusing on the woman warrior. Now she has turned her sharp eye on the subject of urban fantasy, asking why not suburban fantasy? Witch Way to the Mall, from Baen Books, is the first of a series and in this volume contributors try to imagine how a modern day witch would deal with the existence of keeping up with the Jones#39;, being a soccer mom or finding that much needed eye of newt at the mall.
Friesner#39;s introduction is a great read in itself, as she takes to task all who sneer at suburban life, to which I both agree and chuckle over. The first story in this collection of 21 pieces also has humor, as two witches duel over who can spot the rarest bird in "Birdwitching" by the well-known author Harry Turtledove. Humor is in many of these stories and covers a wide range, from Jody Lynn Nye#39;s ˇ°There is no #39;I#39; in #39;Coven#39;ˇ±, with the memorable line of ˇ°Mom, her homunculus is trying to eat my homework!ˇ± (a true suburban witch problem) to ˇ°The Darrenˇ± by Hildy Silverman, containing a fun look at relationship issues between teenage witches and mere mortal males in high school. My favorite of these droll stories is Sarah A. Hoyt#39;s ˇ°The Incident of the Inferno Grillˇ± which combines magic, mystery and some great literary references as a psychic investigation service takes on a suddenly possessed barbeque. How this problem is solved delighted me and I hope that Hoyt will make this the first in a series of tales.
The volume also contains stories with more of an edge, such as Robin Wayne Bailey#39;s ˇ°The Price of Beautyˇ±. There are chuckles here, as in the three beauty shop owners named Miss Crab, Miss Tree and Eva Lynn, but it is also a look at the nature of beauty and where it comes from. The frustration of being a male in a witch-centered culture is key to David D. Levine#39;s ˇ°Midnight at the Center Courtˇ±, as a young boy finds he is all that stands against a dark force that is leaking out of a local mall. Brenda Clough focuses of the skills of the hearth witch in ˇ°Making Loveˇ±, something that fits nicely in the suburbia setting, while Dave Freer#39;s ˇ°Sootˇ± explorers a witch#39;s house that used to be in the forest, but is now surrounded by suburban sprawl. This does little to stop the powers of darkness, as one may guess.
Hands down my favorite story in this collection is Storm Christopher#39;s ˇ°The House of Lost Dreamsˇ±, for which the title is quite literal as our hero goes to a shop that has lost dreams sitting on shelves in boxes. This piece is bittersweet and totally captivated me; it is the first fiction sale for this author and I hope to read more in the future.
If nothing else, Friesner definitely proves her point that suburban fantasy can be just as entertaining and revealing as its city cousin. I think every reader will find something to enjoy in Witch Way to the Mall.