Beyond the Pale edited by Henry L Herz (Birch Tree, July 2014)-I didn’t skip around in this anthology (because I usually don’t, but that’s just me), and I think it works better that way. It’s a fantasy collection, with a line up that frankly, if you’re a fan of fantasy/urban fantasy, it should blow your socks right off. The ultra talented Saladin Ahmed kicks things off with “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela” about a physicker that is asked for help by a supposed mountain hermit, and it’s nothing like he ever could have imagined. This story is a beautifully written introduction to this should-be-a-household-name author. “Even Hand” by Jim Butcher is told from the viewpoint of one of my favorite characters, Marcone, crime boss and frequent nemesis (and sometimes reluctant ally) of Harry Dresden. It reveals a, shall we say, softer (but no less cunning) side of the self-professed “monster”, and as is usual for Butcher, is excellent. Two absolute standouts are “Frost Child” and “South” by Gillian Philip, about kelpies and selkies, respectively. If you haven’t discovered her books yet, read these stories and you’ll rush to buy them all. Trust me. Her writing is lovely and her stories are the stuff of dark fairytales. Just gorgeous. “Frost Child” is actually a prequel to FIREBRAND, so it’s perfect to read before you start the books.
“The Children of the Shark God” by Peter S. Beagle is another one of my favorites and is about, you guessed it, the children of a Shark God, but it’s really a fable about two children (and their mother) longing for a father that is never there, but that loves them fiercely, and it will break your heart. It’s achingly lovely, and if you like fables, you’ll adore it. Heather Brewer has a couple of dark tales in there that will give you chills, and I especially liked the subtly creepy “Misery” about a town appropriately called Misery, built of shades of grey, and a young man that dares to hope for more. “A Knot of Toads” by Jane Yolen is fantastic, witchy, atmospheric fun, about a young woman who returns to her sea swept childhood home to bury her father, and finds out her father died a very unnatural death indeed. Kami Garcia adds a fun story to the mix called “Red Run” and if you think it’s your typical “road ghost” story, think again. “The Adventures of Lightning Merriemous-Jones” by Nancy and Belle Holder rounds things out, and it’s a delightful tale about a mouse and…well, Dracula. Trust me, it’s adorable, and it had me giggling with delight. All told, this is a full-bodied mix of tales from some of the most talented authors in the biz, and is a perfect way to spend an afternoon.