Friday, April 23, 2010

"Never After" by Laurell K. Hamilton, Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie M. Liu, and Sharon Shinn

Remember all those fairy tales you were told as a child, how the princess found her prince and lived happily ever after? Remember that there was usually a fairy godmother or some other such being to help the story along? Remember how passive the princesses were, almost to the point of being helpless (think of how many needed "saving" from someone or something)? The stories here are a different take on those old, worn-out tales, no godmothers needed, no helpless, hapless heroines here.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this book was the story by LKH, "Can He Bake a Cherry Pie?", also the shortest entry in the book at a mere 36 pages. Why was I so shocked? Well, I haven't read anything by LKH since her Anita Blake series went off the rails (think that was around "Incubus Dreams"), and by that point nothing of hers was short. Also, there's pretty much nothing sexual in this story anywhere, other than the old lecher that has been promised our heroine's hand in marriage leering at her and goosing her. Elinore's father has arranged this deal, and she's not happy about it. Rather than disobey him outright, she declares that she's going to rescue Prince True; several females in the realm have also set out to rescue this famous Prince but none have succeeded - indeed, few have returned. Elinore leaves that very night before she loses her nerve, fully expecting to be one of those fated to die in her attempt. However, what she finds isn't exactly what she expected. Not a bad story, a little on the submissive female side for my taste, but overall a much, much better story than I expected.

"Shadow of the Mist" by Yasmine Galenorn takes us into the world of selkies and stalkers. Selkie Siobhan is pregnant with her first child, an event she's waited over 100 years for. At one of the happiest moments of her life, she receives a phone call that could change everything; the man she was "promised" to has finally tracked her down, intending to get her back (taking stalking to a whole new level, in my humble opinion). Frightened for herself, her baby, and her fiance, she contacts her friends, the D'Artigo sisters (from the author's Sisters of the Moon series) to help her solve her problem. The suspense isn't bad here, as I truly felt concerned for our heroine. A bad breakup is one thing, but to be hunted down by the ex for over 100 years? Truly terrifying. I had never read Galenorn before, but I enjoyed this tale.

Then we come to one of my favorite authors (as you know if you're a loyal follower of this blog!), Marjorie M. Liu, and her story "Tangleroot Palace". Princess Salina ("Sally" to her friends) has been ordered by her father to marry a warlord, a horrible ogre of a man if the rumors about him are true. She's desperate to avoid her nuptials at any cost and looks for a solution in the magical forest of Tangleroot. There's a Queen there that might be able to help her - or might just be the death of her. In her travels she meets and is invited to join a troupe of wandering entertainers, a motley group who allow her to be herself, plain old Sally. There's a very dream-like sequence involving the Queen, and even though I'm not entirely sure what happened, I still loved the story. Then again, Liu has never disappointed me yet.

Finally, Sharon Shinn provides probably the best entry, "The Wrong Bridegroom". It's always a good thing when the strongest, most entertaining story is last, isn't it? Sort of like saving your dessert or something.... Anyway, there's a contest being held at Castle Kallenore; King Reginald wants to find a husband for his daughter Olivia. She's agreed to marry the winner of the contest, the suitor in question having proved himself in a series of challenges such as strength, wisdom, and courage. One of the suitors is "the boy next door", a lad that Olivia has grown up with as he's one of her neighbors (can you really have neighbors when you live in a castle?) She finds him dull and boring, and hopes that the winner will be exciting and handsome. In fact, she settles her sights on one of the suitors after she sees him on the grounds during "off" hours. The tale follows the contest, and wouldn't you know it, the handsome guy does win - as does the neighbor. It's a tie, and Olivia has to choose. She picks Prince Charming, of course, and then insists that she needs to meet his family before they can be wed, thus buying her some time (her father wants a quick marriage). As a young lady of good standing, Olivia can't travel with her fiance alone, so his sister chaperones. They've barely left the castle (in a plain old horse-and-cart, no less!) when the other Bridegroom follows and joins them. The party grows larger and larger as Olivia's "wicked" stepmother joins the party too. This is the longest story, and as I said, probably the best. Not only are the main characters engaging, there's enough time for Shinn to develop the side characters as well, and no one is really what they seem. The pretty princess is in for quite a surprise, not just about her prospective husbands-to-be...

I would definitely recommend this anthology to those who like entertaining stories as well as fans of these authors. Quite refreshing to have our heroines rescue themselves, too!

1 comment:

Wendy said...

That's a very polite way to describe LKH's books as going "off the rails." I'd call it "went in the crapper."