Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb
“They’re b-b-b-bad, bad to the bone,” to paraphrase George Thorogood. Who are? The beautiful but deadly femme fatales who populate the short stories of Beauty Has Her Way…, an engrossing anthology edited by Jennifer Brozek. Split up into three sections, “Yesterday,” “Today,” and “Tomorrow,” the collection features stories by some of today’s best fiction/fantasy/SF authors. Some of the women have been pushed to their very limits. Some of them just try to do whatever it takes to survive. Some are seduced by dreams of power. Some of them are Queen Bitches. Most are after revenge of one sort or another for having been wronged–and they get it, in spades. This is not a heroine’s book, so much as it is an anti-heroine book, but it’s impossible not to identify with and root for the women in these remarkable stories.
I’ll touch briefly on a couple of the short stories form each of the three sections, just to give you an idea about what sort of tales you’ll find in this anthology. All of the short stories are great, and I apologize ahead of time to any of the authors who I can’t get to in this review. “Yesterday,” has five short stories in it, of the fantasy and historical fantasy genre. “Today,” deals with six tales of modern day urban fantasy, and “Tomorrow,” contains six science fiction or apocalyptic fantasy stories.
The two short stories I’ll mention in “Yesterday,” are Sacrifices to the Moon by Paul D. Batteiger and Dunkle Froline by Ramsey Lundock. Batteiger’s Sacrifices to the Moon is a Robert E. Howard influenced Sword & Sorcery type of tale, reminiscent of Howard’s Conan and Red Sonja novels. I’m a major Robert E. Howard fan, so I really liked reading this story about a city which seems helpless to defend itself against an ages-old curse and monsters (the Children of the Ku) which come out of the river to devour its residents, and a barbarian warrior woman, Sheol, who defends the city and eventually becomes it’s queen.
Dunkle Froline by Ramsey Lundock is either an alternate universe type of historical fantasy short story, or if it’s set in ours, it follows an alternate timeline, like the novels of Turtledove. Humans are kept as slaves by the and are forced to fight and live in the slave pits, subterranean and away from the sun light. The dunkle volks are either magic-wielding alien or fantasy being sorts of overlords that rule over humanity’s remnants. How they came to power is not mentioned in the story, but that is probably not very important, as the tale focuses on the plight of one human in particular, known as Tessa.
Tessa is brought up out of the slave pits to live in the dunkle volk house of Master Froline. She is first noticed by two human maids who work for Froline. Froline, like all male dunkle volks, has ivory horns growing from his head. The maids are trying to rebel in the only way that human females can: by getting pregnant by their dunkle volk masters, running off to rebel human encampments, and having their half-breed children born and raised there. The half-breed children are the only way the humans have of killing the dunkle volks, for the half-breed offspring are enough like dunkle volks to be able to kill them. At first, Tessa has her own ideas about rebelling, and doesn’t want to even consider the loathsome idea of having sex with a dunkle volk, but when that is the only weapon one has….
Now, I’ll move on to the “Today” section. The two stories I’ll discuss in brief are The Moko-Jumbie Girl by Chuck Wendig and Daggers In Her Garters by Ed Greenwood, who is also the author of the Elminster and the Falconfar series of novels.
The Moko-Jumbie Girl appeals to me because the main character of the story, Kalinda, is from Trinidad and is poor, and fights against injustice the only way she knows how to: with a type of magic that is similar in some ways to voodoo, but is called Obeah, or Shango, or Orisha. To see her brother in jail and break him out, she needs to get arrested first. She does this by killing all of a neighbor’s chickens, and then she uses the blood and feathers to conjure up the “Moko-Jumbie,” the “spirit of vengeance.” This is a pretty cool story I enjoyed reading quite a bit.
Daggers In Her Garters kicked butt, also, but what can you expect from Ed Greenwood other than that? It’s about an “arrogant bastard,” Gordon Ravenstone, who is also very wealthy, and has gone through a succession of wives (six in all) who have each died and left him their money. One of Ravenstone’s conquests of the past, Daera Griffon, concocts a plan to get even with Ravenstone, and she incorporates the aid of one of her friends, Cort. It’s a nice gem of a short story about vengeance over a lying murdering SOB; good stuff.
Okay, on to “Tomorrow.” I’ll mention the two stories Ride the Rebel Wind by Amanda Gannon and A Well-Embroidered Heart by Keffy R.M. Kehrli.
Ride the Rebel Wind is a Steampunk fantasy short story. As I am a fan of Steampunk, I liked reading this story very much. There are two main characters in it, fifteen-year-old Ariel, who is an engineer who works on the Steampunk ships of the air that fly through the skies, and the legendary figure, Captain Youngblood. Youngblood is sort of like, in her obsessive desire to find and destroy or take over the crewless, tentacled ship, the Kraken, Captain Ahab of Moby Dick. Youngblood desperately needs an engineer, and Ariel’s small town has been devastated by the Kraken, so she eagerly agrees to be Youngblood’s new engineer.
In A Well-Embroidered Heart, magic (or a learned skill passed on through the generations that might have a scientific basis, who knows?) is again the theme. The main character says that he/she has “no name.” The character seeks vengeance through resurrecting the recent dead by embroidering messages on their hearts that make them come back to life for a short period of days, determined by the time and date that is also embroidered into their hearts. They are themselves, more or less, but they have to fulfill whatever task or mission is embroidered into their hearts. They become, in essence, zombies, but fully alive for a pre-determined period, with their own wills, except for their primary task of doing whatever has been embroidered into their hearts. I thought it was a great story, and a fairly original method to commit revenge.
Beauty Has Her Way… is an impressive anthology of short stories about femme fatales that you’ll love to read if you’re a fan of fantastic fantasy and science fiction. Check it out today!