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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Fae, edited by Rhonda Parrish

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Special Double Review

(Reviewed by John Sulyok & C. D. Lewis)

Fae

Edited by Rhonda Parrish

(World Weaver Press, July 2014)


Rosie Red Jacket” by Christine Morgan
The Queen of Lakes” by L.S. Johnson
Ten Ways to Self-Sabotage, Only Some of Which Relate to Fairies” by Sara Puls
Antlers” by Amanda Block
Only Make-Believe” by Lauren Liebowitz
F.C.U.” by Jon Arthur Kitson
Water Sense” by Adria Laycraft
The Cartography of Shattered Trees” by Beth Cato
Possession” by Rhonda Eikamp
And Only The Eyes of Children” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Seven Years Fleeting” by Lor Graham
The Last King” by Liz Colter
Faerie Knight” by Sidney Blaylock, Jr.
Solomon’s Friend” by Kristina Wojtaszek
A Fairfolk Promise” by Alexis A. Hunter
The Fairy Midwife” by Shannon Phillips
The Price” by Kari Castor

Reviewed by John Sulyok

Fae brings together a collection of stories with that titular key element: faeries. Settings vary, from modern day to days of old. Some stories feel true-to-life, others like fables. Genre-wise, there’s a little something for everyone.

The quality of the writing spans from passable to nomination-worthy. There are, however, only a handful of stories that truly stand out. Mostly, there are plots that follow old formulas or characters that aren’t characterized. A number of stories deliver an exciting premise, but fail to deliver, focusing instead on cheap twists or snappy last lines.

The few stories that stand out are diamonds in a lot of rough. But they are diamonds nonetheless. “The Cartography of Shattered Trees” by Beth Cato and “And Only The Eyes of Children” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh are shining examples of what could be done with the subject of faeries that surpass tricks on the reader, that build worlds and characters worth knowing and exploring, that have something important to say about the real world. Fae may be worth the price of admission for these alone.

Rosie Red Jacket” by Christine Morgan

Georgina does her best to please her uncle, with whom she lives. She sits quietly alone and reads her books, makes sure she is seen and not heard, and never does she get to play with boys, even her own cousins. As she sits and reads on a stone bench by the garden hedge, she hears another voice: a girl’s voice, about her own age. Not but a moment later does a little girl step out of the hedge, with scarlet hair and wearing a scarlet jacket. She introduces herself as Rosie Red-Jacket and comes with an offer for Georgina: put on the red jacket and become a boy for a day. The prospect of playing with the boys is just too much for her to turn down, but what, exactly is Rosie Red-Jacket getting out of the deal?

Christine Morgan’s story is like a short, classic fairy tale. The prose and descriptions are whimsical and full of life, and just about perfect for any age of reader. It’s a story that uses a last line to tie everything up, but does it in an honest way, making it feel planned and not tacked on. It’s short and fun and has just enough to say.

The Queen of Lakes” by L. S. Johnson

These are trying times for a girl like Rose. All her parents’ attention is on her brother, Tim. All of their savings have gone to pay for his university education, and what little else they could scrape up has gone to his trying to fit in with his wealthier classmates. For Rose it’s either work as a seamstress or marry into money. The worst of it is that she did all of Tim’s work to get him into school. But despite her position in life, she knows she can do more, she knows she can be important, she knows she can rule. And she doesn’t care if it means siding with a murderous water spirit to do so.

The Queen of Lakes” is an intriguing story with enough dark and mature moments to keep the pages turning. The way the story is woven leads to slight confusion at times, but tends to quickly right itself. This one isn’t for children, it’s for adults who like a little squirm in their plot.

Ten Ways to Self-Sabotage, Only Some of Which Relate to Fairies” by Sara Puls

Elly isn’t very happy. Sure, she could have more in her life, but why take the risk? Things are good enough, she supposes. She even plans on making a little side money selling Venus Fly Traps. But then she happens upon Lina at the bookstore and falls for her, and soon after Lina moves in. That’s when the fairies appear. Fairies of all types begin to infest Elly’s apartment and she deals with them the best way she can, she feeds them to her plants. What she can’t deal with is the truth, so she doesn’t tell Lina…she doesn’t tell her a lot of things.

Elly has good intentions, but those intentions are blunt and opaque to the point that it feels like everything that happens is only to drive a single purpose. The symbolism of the fairies, Elly’s lack of communication with Lina, Lina herself, and just about every other aspect of the story doesn’t feel genuine, but rather feels forced to serve the message. There is little depth to Elly’s and Lina’s relationship, we don’t know what the attraction is between them. How and why fairies are a natural part of modern-day life isn’t explained. It all feels very superficial.

Antlers” by Amanda Block

The Lady and her brother the King are twins, born together but born different. He a man of actions, a man of his own rule. She a softer spirit, a woman of thought and feeling. Their fates intertwined, crossing paths during a hunt where at a clearing she finds a stag, noble like her brother, but different like herself. The King’s actions that day seal not only their own fates, but those of his kingdom as well.

Amanda Block paints her story with words that tint and hue the settings and characters. Her words are graceful and adroit. The plot, however, is narrow and flies too direct a route, leaving little room for anticipation or surprise. Read it for the telling, not the tale told.

Only Make-Believe” by Lauren Liebowitz

Robin: a parentless teenage-boy satyr, living off his basic illusions to get by in modern times. Nadia: a teenage-girl, living with her very normal parents, but with magical talents of her own. These two find each other and fall for each other in a very young-love type way, with all of the canned laughs and drama from a mediocre teenage sitcom.

Only Make-Believe” isn’t necessarily a bad story, it’s just old and tired, like a worn-in shoe. It’s a story most people will have read or watched dozens of times with all of the expected scenes—Robin jealous of Nadia, Robin lying to her parents at dinner, Robin not living up to their expectations, etc. The prose feels geared toward a YA audience, and for them it may be the first time experiencing this plot and in that case it’s OK. For anyone else, all it does it put a new (fae) skin over an oldie.

F.C.U.” by Jon Arthur Kitson

Orchid and Lilly are prisoners, held in a strange dungeon. Their fairy wings are useless against their bindings. And it’s all Orchid’s fault, he was the one who wanted to explore. Lilly would have followed him anywhere and he knew it, and now he wishes he hadn’t left the safety of their home. Who are their captors? What do they want? And what are the strange markings all around them? What is F.C.U.?

F.C.U.” puts a nice twist on the fairy story. What would somebody do with a fairy? What could they do with a fairy? These questions are given a unique answer. What could have been improved is the pacing of the information given and the overarching message. The answer to where Orchid and Lilly are comes much too soon, and not enough time is devoted to the reason behind their imprisonment. The story could have said something more, but instead the end glosses over the more important message about the ethics of use and abuse.

Water Sense” by Adria Laycraft

Water is a precious resource for the Kawaiisu people, their homeland located in the desert. Thankfully for them, they each have a water sense that allows them to control and manipulate the element in various ways. Why, then, does Tom not have the sense? To find the answer to his place, his value, in the world he must journey to the Otherworld and seek guidance from a wise old man named Joe.

The world of “Water Sense” feels rich with history, magic, and wisdom. It would have greatly benefited had it been longer, more descriptive, and with greater focus on the frame story and its characters. As it is, there’s a lack of showing and too much telling to engage the reader in the lives of the characters. The Native American milieu is, however, a nice break from the standard fae fare.

The Cartography of Shattered Trees” by Beth Cato

The Lichtenburg patterns on the surface of Vivian’s skin remain from the lightning strike. So too the scars and splinters from the tree that exploded next to her. These are the remnants that others can see. But so much more was given to and taken from her that day. Nerve damage hinders her from drawing and painting. But it’s the emotional scars that are truly holding her back. She would never have been up against that tree if it wasn’t for Andrew…for what Andrew tried to do to her. Now she sees something more in the pattern, something like a map, something she has to follow if she is ever going to move forward with her life.

Beth Cato’s story is so much more than plot. It’s life, with all of the ups and downs and mysteries that can be so hard to rationalize. Vivian has been hurt, but beyond the how is the why and it’s as unique to her as anyone’s personal experiences can be. The fae element is brief but powerful, it doesn’t drive the story, it drives Vivian. It’s an introspective tale that stands out in so many ways.

Possession” by Rhonda Eikamp

When Francis McFarlane was a thirteen-year old boy, he found an impossible thing. By removing an iron spike from a tree, what at first appeared to be a patch of moss changed into something altogether unexpected: a tiny, naked woman with large butterfly-like wings. Upon brief inspection of him by the tiny woman, she declared one thing, Mine. His granam warned him, however, that the spritely young woman would slowly change him, remove parts of his being that made him care for others. But all he noticed were the times she’d brought him good luck. Was he changing? Would she bring him luck, now, when he was caught in a sinking submersible?

Rhonda Eikamp does a lot of telling and little showing in “Possession.” The promise of Francis slowly losing his humanity and empathy is glossed over. From what’s written, he’s a good husband and a good businessman. Never do we see the effects of the faerie on his attitude towards others. Even during the climax, Francis is easily able to overcome what little effect she has on him. There is no tension and the characters are never challenged.

And Only The Eyes of Children” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

The fae are immortal, which is both a blessing and a curse, because they generally can’t breed. That fact has led to an obsession with children. Around 2,000 children go missing every day in the United States, the vast majority not involving the fae at all, but about 3 percent do. It’s those 3 percent that Robin Archer, a rare half-breed, is fighting against. So when little Alexis Foster goes missing, Robin goes on the hunt, using a mix of faerie magic and street smarts to get to the bottom of the disappearance.

And Only The Eyes of Children” fits into the subgenre of urban fantasy perfectly. With a lead character who borders the natural and supernatural, using a mix of magic and technology, and with a capable partner the story of Robin Archer could easily work as an ongoing series. The gathering of information, the dark setting, the very real and downright horrendous crime of child abduction and trafficking all comes together to make for a fun and thoughtful read.

Seven Years Fleeting” by Lor Graham

Love, regret, and second chances. These are the things that haunt the narrator throughout his life. When just seven years old, he falls in love with a red-haired little girl in a brown dress. But their paths only parallel for a short time, and he is heartbroken. Years later and to his utter amazement, she returns. Again, though, their paths drift apart. This continues throughout his life, and never does she age beyond a young adult. He loves her, but he hates her for leaving. He’s torn between the life he’s lived and the life he could have had.

The comings and goings of the faerie throughout the narrator’s life don’t add anything to the plot. Each time, we’re updated on his situation and what’s occurred in his life, all of which seem positive: marriage, a son. But he’s continually haunted by what could have been, though we don’t understand why. It’s like trying to put a life story together from a series of photographs taken years apart. We don’t know the person, we don’t know why he isn’t happy, and we don’t know why the faerie keeps appearing in his life. There’s really very little here.

The Last King” by Liz Colter

Annabelle left a lot behind when she came to London, but instead of peace and quiet, she’s fallen right back into the turmoil she wanted to avoid. Tamlane, the titular last king of the faeries, wants her to be his queen. He’s beautiful and captivating, why wouldn’t she want to stay? Maybe because there’s a catch, and it sounds like the kind of catch she was trying to get away from to begin with.

The Last King” has more going for it than it lets on with its simple narrative. Annabelle has inner strength gained through past hardships that she uses to navigate the minefield of fae trickery. But although the story has merit in the overall message, there’s an amateurish quality to the rules that govern the fae kingdom. The ending is implausible and taints what could otherwise have been a good tale.

Faerie Knight” by Sidney Blaylock, Jr.

Though Thomas Theron was blind, he never let that hinder him from knowing when one of his student’s was misbehaving. He’d honed his other senses over the years and has become quite adept at understanding his surroundings. And that makes him a particularly good Knight of the Fae. Once a year, on Halloween, he accepts his Queen’s boon—the gift of sight—so that he may watch over the little trick-or-treaters, protecting them from the Unseelie Court that tries to swap human children with changelings. Thomas, old now with aching joints, must use all his senses, including his sense of duty, to fight the evil on this night.

Faerie Knight” cuts to the chase, almost literally. There’s very little set up, so it feels almost like the entire story is a third act. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it’s exciting, but the story also wouldn’t have hurt from more. Thomas and his history with the Seelie Court fighting the Unseelie court begs for more screen time. But it hits the spot if you just want a little action.

Solomon’s Friend” by Kristina Wojtaszek

Kadie’s son Solomon has been keeping a journal for school, his teacher having asked him to write down his feelings each week. Kadie’s been reading it, without her boy’s permission. This night, while she reads her son’s journal under the moonlight streaming in through his window, she finds more than just her son’s words. Glowing on the page is a letter, written directly to her, by Solomon’s invisible friend, Hobby. It seems Hobby has become friends with her son, and knows him far better than she does herself.

The story opens with the line: “Kadie never considered herself a great mom, which made it easy to slide her son’s journal out from under his bed…” So she’s immediately unlikable. This is a setup for a quick-fix ending that supposedly turns her character around. But what Hobby writes about her doesn’t make her a believable character. Everything that Hobby defends Solomon for doing, things that Kadie has always found to be strange, are very normal childlike things for a young boy to do. Perhaps this was intentional to portray Kadie as some sort of inept mother, but why expect the reader to take any interest in her then?

A Fairfolk Promise” by Alexis A. Hunter

Iron crosses line the fields, once-living bodies hanging limp from them: scarecrows. Cedric is being bound to one, the intense heat imbued by the hot sun burning his body. The Rolfmen are cruel indeed. Cedric, his life literally hanging in the balance, thinks only of his wife and son and what their fate may be. As a last resort, or perhaps fueled by fever dreams, he sings to the Fairfolk, and prays they can end his suffering, one way or another.

The world built in “A Fairfolk Promise” feels rich and deep, even if it’s not the focus. Cedric’s plight is made almost tangible to the reader, amid the haunting imagery of inhumane scarecrows. The finale leaves a little to be desired, but overall it’s a good read.

The Fairy Midwife” by Shannon Phillips

Tara has recently found employment at Greenbud Birth Center as a midwife. She’s good at telling new mothers how special their baby’s birth was, even though so many births are basically the same. On this night, however, there truly is a unique story to tell. After all, how often does the proud new father try to pay you in oak leaves and acorn caps? Yes, fairies are real and Tara has just been introduced to the truth behind our reality. But she’s sure she read in stories that the fae can’t reproduce. So when she learns that they’re taking embryos set to be destroyed from IVF clinics, how will she react?

The premise is solid: faeries can’t reproduce, so they take human embryos and have as natural a birth as is possible for their kind. It borders on some very interesting real-world ethical problems, but it doesn’t focus on those problems. This could have been a piece that made a statement or at least asked some difficult questions, but instead the focus is on Tara and her history, which isn’t surprising come the conclusion. It’s a missed opportunity to have an important story, settling instead for a lackluster twist ending.

The Price” by Kari Castor

While Addie picks berries for her mother and sisters, she encounters a strange man who leaves no footprints in the snow. He offers her help, but she refuses, knowing better than to talk to strange men. But he is persistent and makes a final offer: should she ever be desperate for help, she should knock three times on a specific tree and he would appear and help her. Thinking nothing of it other than to make him leave her alone, she acknowledges his offer. Not long after, her little sister becomes ill with fever, one from which she has no hope of surviving. Isn’t it lucky for Addie that she knows just who to turn to for help?

Unlike the strange man in the woods, “The Price” doesn’t have much to offer at all. It’s a quick turnaround from Addie picking berries to meeting the stranger to her sister becoming ill. It’s not at all difficult to see the forest for the trees. The plot is telegraphed from the first moments, leaving nothing interesting to follow.


Fae

Edited by Rhonda Parrish

(World Weaver Press, July 2014)


Rosie Red Jacket” by Christine Morgan
The Queen of Lakes” by L.S. Johnson
Ten Ways to Self-Sabotage, Only Some of Which Relate to Fairies” by Sara Puls
Antlers” by Amanda Block
Only Make-Believe” by Lauren Liebowitz
F.C.U.” by Jon Arthur Kitson
Water Sense” by Adria Laycraft
The Cartography of Shattered Trees” by Beth Cato
Possession” by Rhonda Eikamp
And Only The Eyes of Children” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Seven Years Fleeting” by Lor Graham
The Last King” by Liz Colter
Faerie Knight” by Sidney Blaylock, Jr.
Solomon’s Friend” by Kristina Wojtaszek
A Fairfolk Promise” by Alexis A. Hunter
The Fairy Midwife” by Shannon Phillips
The Price” by Kari Castor
 
Reviewed by C. D. Lewis
 
FAE’s introduction explains that it presents not Victorian fairies that have been brightened and shrunk to entertain children, but the more primitive, powerful fae that predated them, godlike and mercurial. Seventeen tales reveal just how dark and powerful. They range in feel from horror to upbeat tales about homes where things go right, and are set everywhere from the modern day to mythical fantasy pasts. There’s even a dehumanizing cyberpunk fairy-driven starship vignette. The best of these stories evoke things from real life – loves and values – and show characters making hard choices that reveal who they are and what they’re made of. But even the predictable ones offer a journey to a Fae world of dark bargains and dire consequences. Anyone with an abiding love of Faerie and the Folk who dwell there will find several stories to enjoy in FAE.

Christine Morgan’s “Rosie Red Jacket” follows the orphan Georgina the day she meets a misanthropic Fae who gives power to her resentment of the boys in her life, who have license to run free and have fun and socialize and break the rules. Empowered by a lent red jacket that lets her mask her gender, she joins the boys and has a grand time playing like boys play instead of sitting nicely in the garden as ordered. On the one hand, she sees just what unruly pigs the boys are; on the other hand, she has a blast. On her return, the dark effect of her ruse begins to reveal itself. Georgina hasn’t been given a gift, after all: she’s been used, perhaps, by a fairy with something against boys. Or perhaps her resentment has been given the power to wish, and she’s brought destruction upon the boys oblivious to the power of her angry whim. Maybe whatever’s left of Red Riding Hood is settling a score. But by the time realization hits, it’s clear things have gone well beyond her control. This, combined with Georgina’s lack of agency – her only choices are to accept the jacket to play with the boys, and to leave the jacket before re-joining her family – provide a horror feel. She’s not in charge regardless what she pretends: she’s the pawn of some other power that acts through her or is entertained to grant her desires and cackle while she blanches at the result.

“Rosie Red Jacket” is a quick read, and as soon as the reader recalls one ought not eat food provided by faeries one knows the story can’t end well. The caricature of the boys and the double-standard that keeps Georgina unhappy and alone in her new home both have a plausible feel that creates sympathy for her bitter feelings. One can’t blame her for wishing awful things. But then, one doesn’t expect wicked fairies to come granting wishes for mischief. If you like horror at all, you’ll enjoy how dark Fae can make daylight.

L.S. Johnson’s “The Queen of Lakes” depicts a small-town girl raised on tales read to her brother, her ambitions modeled on their heroes and conquering kings. Her brains get her brother accepted to a distant university, but her parents’ expectation of a daughter condemn her to craft-work with clothing – a work that threatens the eyesight she needs to breathe read. Her parents don’t champion her, her brother doesn’t come back for her, and the girls her age only think she’s in competition for the local thug boys. She missed the memo that girls can’t be kings, but her family and community force-feed it to her in hard lessons. She has every motive in the world to take risks to chase her dreams – what could be worse than the ignoble and unambitious life laid out before her?

“Queen of Lakes” includes a nasty, brutal Fae who finds the heroine as attractive as the boys do – and presses his unwelcome attention as mercilessly – but he speaks of distant lands and old languages and gives her books about something interesting. She knows he commits brutal murders near the lake, but it doesn’t stop her from taking a daily shortcut near it. It also doesn’t keep her parents from knowingly sending her through the same peril out of greed for the small change she brings them from the sewing job. It’s a dark story; the heroine is alone and betrayed and shown every disrespect her callous community can. There’s no feel of romance when she meets the Fae in his domain, for even as he woos her he leaves the reader with disgust for his disregard for her consent (not to speak of his appetite for human flesh). Yet her ambition to leave town leads her to tempt the dark Fae in preference to the town’s rich lout, whom her parents would have her marry for money. None of the relationships offered her promise rescue: only indignity and servitude.

Once she discovers the exotic future the Fae depicts at his side won’t put her in charge either, the stage is set. J.S. Johnson beautifully constructs a theme of frustrated ambition from numerous oppressive proofs that the world she was born to disdains her will and prefers to mold her to others’ whims. It’s easy to sympathize with her awful choice when she chooses to feed her ambition at the expense of all who wronged her – and their descendants, too, for generations. “Queen of Lakes” depicts its heroine as rebelling against the whole mortal world – male and female alike – to claim the dominion promised her in fairy tales as a child. She doesn’t succeed like the heroes, exactly – but she gets her way. It’s a nasty way, but her world deserves what she brings it. After all, someone’s got to rule – and why not her? “Queen of Lakes” isn’t a happy tale or a tale for children, but if you want a rich dark land where awful bloody bargains feel a better choice than breaking under your brother’s betrayal, then “Queen of Lakes” is a must-needs read.

In “Ten Ways to Self-Sabotage, Only Some of Which Relate to Fairies,” Sara Puls’ lighthearted format lays out in heading-labeled sections how a pessimist with low energy manages to suffer instead of enjoy a household that fills with happy little faeries when she takes on a new lover. The reader quickly wonders how morose and hateful a person must to be to feel compelled to exterminate happy, fruit-growing faeries as if pests. And therefrom hangs her problem. The main character’s problem isn’t Fae infestation, it’s her consistently maladaptive response to virtually every stimulus. After a bitter tailspin of depression, this pessimist – having driven from her life everyone who threatened her dark funk with light or happiness, and squandered every opportunity presented her – bottomed out and found, in the eyes of a small fairy, the inspiration that she must live differently, to follow her abandoned plans, and to own her problems rather than blame them on oblivious bystanders or even would-be allies. Although the piece doesn’t build the main character’s decision to change, or sell the decision convincingly, this fits both with its lighthearted style and the non-introspective main character. Puls does richly illustrate a range of all-too-common self-destructive behaviors we’ll likely recognize from our own experience, which show how people too fearful to face life and its attendant risks can guarantee misery and banish lasting happiness.

Amanda Block’s “Antlers” opens on a fresh body shot through the heart in a quiet garden. Unnamed attendants disdain a healthy daughter pulled from the dying queen in favor of the sickly male who becomes King. No names appear in the story: the King, his sister the Lady, the Stag and Green Man – plus some extras that don’t rate capital letters in their titles. A mythic quality lends actions and conflicts a larger-than-life feel. The mythic quality extends to character complexity: in the tradition of stories that render subtle goddesses prideful and vain long enough to provide back-story for a war sparked by a beauty contest, “Antlers” provides characters starkly innocent or vicious, kind or cruel, virtuous or vile – with no explanation why. Readers could easily divide over this: readers who require complex characters with believable motivations will rebel against the villain’s opacity and the unvarnished guilelessness of his target, but those who revel in the ensuing larger-than-life feel will scoff at complaint. The King’s brutality to his sister and his disdain for nature provide the conflict and shapes his attack, just as it directs the story’s rebound from the turning point. On the surface, the Lady is a passive target of the King’s oppression and is rescued by the Green Man after the King’s pettiness ruins the land’s fertility. But the Lady not only maintains her values despite opposition, she knows her destruction of the King’s trophy will provoke him when she acts. The fact her opposition is indirect doesn’t render her passive; it renders her different. She may seem rescued by the Green Man, but without her support would he have survived the King’s attack? The real story arc reflects old fairy tales in which virtue – or its lack – attracts exactly the supernatural intervention required to give everyone a just desert. Readers who want direct opposition from a female lead may rebel against the rescue conclusion, but this story is for those who believe you can – at least in fairy tales – fight without lifting a fist and summon vengeance and reward through the sheer power of virtue. If this is you, Block has your story.

Lauren Liebowitz’ use of a centuries-old fairy name for her protagonist invites questions about the narrator’s age. One doesn’t expect narrators with old names like John to be two thousand years old, but in a book full of tales about dark immortals, some readers could become anxious that a Fae pretending to be a teenage boy while leading a young girl to a park after school might portend something not suited to every reader. But, creep not. Careful attention to the story’s details reveal its main characters are teens – both of them. The conflict’s not about consent, but self-discovery. It’s a happy tale, each character saving the other from a life without magic.

Liebowitz sets “Only Make-Believe” in a modern world of schools and jobs and paychecks. There, two youths who don’t know what’s become of their birth parents bond over the faerie magic the narrator shows his new friend they share. But happily-ever-after isn’t quick to come: the fairy narrator’s cover story about his absent parents’ made-up mortal employment falls flat when he meets his friend’s parents, whom he feels judge his parents’ supposed work in the arts and doubt his own prospects. Familiar elements recall to readers Twain’s advice that fiction be two-thirds fact: parents skeptical of their daughter’s male company, couples’ tiffs, self-doubt, loneliness warring with pride during separation. “Only Make-Believe” explores self-doubt, social façades, and survival in the real world through the eyes of an oblivious teenage boy who is saved – not for ever-after, maybe, but for now – through the power of love. Or maybe friendship, spiced with a new crush. At fifteen, you know, it’s hard to tell.

Jon Arthur Kitson opens “F.C.U.” on a dungeon scene with a fantasy feel, depicting a captive fairy’s imprisonment after an adventure to learn what lay beyond known lands. But the fantasy world is in the fairy’s mind: flashbacks show his adventure into a modern city, his promises to his lost mate, and his capture. The F.C.U. proves to be but one of a numbered series of Fairy Containment Units in a computer lab adorned with LED panels, in a world in which fairies live long after magic died. Kitson gets high marks for loosing a would-be Oberon in a world whose sensibilities lie closer to Neuromancer or The Matrix than to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Depicting modern apparatus through the naïve eye of a rustic fairy bereft of magic, Kitson deftly sketches a dark future in which arrays of faeries jacked into computer systems provide processing power for spacecraft navigation. Pretty to look at but awful to imagine, Kitson’s images sell a future in which faeries fall, enslaved by the legion, before an onslaught of soulless tech.

Departing from European fairy tales, Adria Laycraft sets “Water Sense” in the Southwest amidst Kawaiisu who regard whites as outsiders. Without the water-power others possess, the protagonist feels alien and powerless. The misfit protagonist chafes under an abusive guardian who also leaves visible marks on his own daughter. The protagonist dreams of realizing the power to save her, and himself, in a harsh world filled with magic and spirits he doesn’t understand. A harsh world he leaves one night, following the song of his new-found spirit guide. The guide shows him he must learn what he is to succeed. Hunted by spirits even as he searches for himself, the protagonist learns he’s not Kawaiisu – and his guide has no idea how to return him to the mortal world. Soon guide and student struggle with how to save the dead guide’s granddaughter from her drunken father. The mood of “Water Sense” delights. The protagonist’s lost time wandering the otherworld with his guide gives a feeling that matches the harsh wasteland in which he lives. But the protagonist’s trials don’t culminate in a hard decision: once he decides to follow the music into the otherworld, threats from hostile spirits are either easily evaded or thwarted by external forces.

Resolution doesn’t come immediately once the action of “Water Sense” moves to the otherworld, but when it comes there’s no sense of peril or sacrifice or character-revealing decision. The protagonist comes cost-free onto the insight who he is just as he’s given cost-free a bond with the cougar, then the eagle. Consistent with his priorities when the story opens, he returns to save the girl – but this doesn’t deepen our understanding who he is, how he will confront his guardian, whether he will remain with the Kawaiisu or depart, or anything except that he’s still committed to defending the girl. The trip to the otherworld gave the protagonist an opportunity to grow up on the inside, but we have no insight into how his traditionally-physical confrontations with his abuser will come out differently once he returns to face his nemesis. Laycraft’s sketch of the dry, dusty, lonely setting is so clear, one can’t help hoping for equal clarity into the protagonist’s character-defining decisions.

Beth Caro’s “The Cartography of Shattered Trees” opens on a lightning-strike survivor’s observation that her scar pattern has taken the form of a map. Caro’s clever descriptions (would-be witches summoning only pizza delivery) and interesting supernatural effects make for a fun read even while the background exposition sets up the Halloween described in the story. It’s hard not to cheer Caro’s protagonist transforming from cringing victim to furious survivor, but it’s delightfully weird to see her debate change – or her desire for changelessness – with a dryad busy dropping Autumn leaves. The story blends delightfully familiar ideas about confronting one’s demons, the inevitability of change, the impossibility of going backward, the freedom to grow from anything. Caro displays an ugly back-story, only to show its palette paints a beautiful picture.

Rhonda Eikamp’s “Possession” opens on a crew-driven Civil War submersible reminiscent of the H. L. Hunley, ruptured and sinking with its crew – and one tiny Fae snuck on board by the protagonist. Flashback reveals the narrator’s zig-zag life-path since meeting the Fae that alternately feeds on him and keeps him safe from harm.

“Possession” explores what has value in life by placing the Fae’s self-interested survival-first strategy at odds with the protagonist’s work, marriage, military service, and care for his fellow man – in short, in contrast with the protagonist’s humanity. The Fae parasite in “Possession” offers a metaphor for a smothering ‘love’ that seeks only prolongation and looks only after itself, while cheerfully interfering with its object’s freedom and any effort to pursue meaning in life. The narrator’s critical decision explains how he found the Fae in the condition he did, and shows humans consistently value meaning more than life. Eikamp’s positive view of human character contrasts with the dark world in which she depicts them, suggests an indomitable spirit we’d like to find in our own world.

Laura VanArendonk Baugh sets “And Only the Eyes of Children” in modern Indianapolis where her narrator describes a day in the life of a Fae detective specializing in lost children. Not a police detective, mind you. After explaining the Fae fascination with children – updated for a world with internet pedophiles – the narrator launches into a human trafficking investigation. The story is rich with fairy details: the effect of magic on Fae metabolism, Fae work specialization, the truth about Titania, how Fae like their fountain drinks, and what kind of sandwich to eat in Indianapolis. The author’s choice to give a modern snarky voice to a Fae narrator gives a light adventure-story feel to what could as easily have been a dark tale about modern slavery and sexual predators – and it’s a great choice, as the narrative voice is hard to put down once picked up. It doesn’t reveal the narrator through some hard choice, but provides a sort of day-in-the life view of a Fae (or part-Fae) narrator, though it’s a pretty good day as they go. It’s a cop story for crime that offends not only the local mortal authorities but some Fae authorities, too. The resolution feels good, offering a new angle on missing children: it’s a dark subject, but some of the missing beat a bad system for a world in which they’re adored.

Lor Graham’s “Seven Years Fleeting” narrates a man’s life, from age seven, in little vignettes seven years apart – the interval in which he meets the Fae who holds his affection. The main story is about his doomed love. The narrator describes actions more than emotions, leaving the reader to infer the explanations for much of the action, including the narrator’s. We see the narrator react to the Fae’s departure, her re-appearance once he’s tried to move on emotionally, then her return when he’s free from attachments. Most of this is clear enough to avoid comment. However, the narrator’s big choice seems to have been an emotional reaction dominated by something, grief or anger, but the characters’ emotional opacity precludes sure understanding. It’s clear the mortal narrator dooms his lifelong ambition through his own intentional act, but it’s not clear why or what we should think about it. The fact the Fae sticks with the narrator – at least, in seven-year intervals – shows constancy equal to the narrator’s, or greater. But we never learn what motivates her, either. Some may enjoy this mystery. The narrator’s early experiences are familiar enough that opacity isn’t a barrier to sympathy, but emotional distance thwarts empathy later when it feels critical to understand and believe the narrator’s choices. Without that understanding, we don’t know what the narrator has shown us about himself, his priorities, and his dominant emotions. Maybe he’s driven by pride or spite, and maybe he’s driven my heartache or love. No doubt there’s a lesson in there, but the fog makes it hard to see where the story takes us.

Liz Colter’s “The Last King” opens on an American expatriate on a walk in an English forest, seeking to find herself by clearing her mind from a world of stressors – including the ‘psycho’ ex-boyfriend she fled in Chicago (apparently, not a tall wizard). Forest depths (or a bit of glamour) render her lost … and the tale begins. She sees her responses to a beautiful stranger run contrary to her self-defense training, but she joins him anyway for a walk even deeper into the forest. Sensual images wash through her mind, but her own history with pretty men prevents her from distinguishing the intruding thoughts from her own. Longing and fear clash, but the beautiful stranger charms away her hesitation – and her power to consent. But the stranger’s rival wants her, too. That Fae, frightening and malicious, appears happy to allow her to retain her will and promises not to sacrifice her to some master in Hell, provided she lay with him until the equinox. She compares the Fae stalkers to her creepy, controlling ex from Chicago – and finds the strength to fight them all. The story isn’t about the thrill of joining the Fae in a land where nobody ages, but the horror of having one’s self subverted to participate in an illusion, and the strength to fight to remain one’s self when all options lead to disaster. It doesn’t feel particularly bad, therefore, when the protagonist destroys the Faerie realm. But her reaction separates her from her abusers. The resolution shows the protagonist regretting the loss of Faerie and its strange and pretty things, despite its inhabitants’ monstrosity. This exposes a humanity her pursuers never had: you know they wouldn’t bat an eye were things reversed.

Sidney Baylock, Jr. sets “Faerie Knight” in a world of good faeries and evil faeries, where the dark and the light are clear and the reader easily believes the depicted wrongs that need righting. The protagonist, a blind schoolteacher when not serving his Queen, thrills to do her bidding but worries advancing age and physical decrepitude have dulled his edge. “Faerie Knight” begins as the ageing servant undertakes One Last Ride. And the evil he’s asked to fight? It’s bad Fae, and they’re not just stealing children, they’re turning them bad. Once in a fight, the old Knight seems for the first time to rely on his hearing to do for his Queen what he does for himself the rest of the year, and soon his Halloween performance begins to look like Rutger Hauer’s in Blind Fury. His weird Fae weapon seems crafted for style over function: it’ll cut anything, perhaps, but apparently only if hit by both blades on opposite ends of the handle. On the upside, it’s a safety blade: it won’t easily injure bystanders accidentally. Since the protagonist takes care to keep fights outside the crowded high school Halloween party, though, we don’t see that feature in action. What we do see is an action hero who displays a pleasant degree of thoughtfulness, who carefully avoids provoking unnecessary conflicts, and whose sense of duty ultimately convinces him to keep up the fight as long as the kids need him. Bad knees, or no.

Kristina Wojtaszek sets “Solomon’s Friend” in a modern world where a mother expects her son to know better than to believe in trolls, monsters, and invisible friends. It’s a story set within a framing story: one night while Solomon’s mother reads his diary by his bed, a beam of moonlight falls upon the page – and she sees more writing, in another hand…. Hatched from something mistakenly bought as a geode, her son’s “friend” the hob writes in Solomon’s diary using letters visible only by moonlight. The hob provides an entertaining perspective as a stowaway tenant in a house of mortals. Allergic to the negative energy with which Solomon’s mother saturates the house while she convinces herself she’s failing as a mother, the hob tells her what’s really going on with her son and why Solomon is all right, despite her worries. Wojtaszek gives the hob a rough-edged smartass voice that’s fun to read – and his critique of the household in which he dwells is an entertaining view on every house with kids. The hob tells Solomon’s mother enough about the rules that govern him that she understands she’s got a choice: she can force him to leave if she wants, or she can derail the project that will eject him. But since we know what the hob’s observations on her household’s done to her heart, we know there’s only one choice she can make. Heartwarming fun.

Alexis A. Hunter sets “A Fairfolk Promise” on a twin-sunned alien landscape where accused criminals are raised over the warlord’s crops to serve a sentence as guards – scarecrows. The story opens as the protagonist fails to evade capture for committing a theft to feed his family, dooming him to die a scarecrow and his family to die without his support. The protagonist is ignored by the terrorized farm workers, and his hopes met with disdain by the only other scarecrow he can talk to. So he calls for the Fae who lived on the land before the warlord drove them out. As it turns out, they have an axe to grind against the same warlord. “A Fairfolk Promise” isn’t a happy tale. While it shows pain and misery and powerlessness, it also offers hope for a comeuppance – though it’s unclear why locals will be more apt to revolt at the conclusion than at the story open, or what power has been conferred on the protagonist beyond his driving desire for revenge. The story follows a mortal from capture to freedom, but it’s the Fae he meets who is the real protagonist, facing a hard choice and making a sacrifice to enable something she believes in. One wonders what the story would look like from her perspective.

Shannon Phillips sets “The Fairy Midwife” in the modern world. The midwife protagonist, whose new employer calls her on her night off to do a home delivery for time and a half, has a fun no-nonsense voice inconsistent with the new-age spirituality she associates with midwifery clinics. Naturally, the birth plan goes awry much faster than she expects – starting with the Fae driver who delivers her to a “home” whose occupant has a hard time keeping his glamoured appearance consistent under stress. It turns out that modern technology has obsoleted the laborious changeling system, as frozen embryos scheduled for destruction at IVF facilities practically beg to be collected by child-seeking Fae. Hence, the need for a midwife. As the story turns increasingly to the midwife herself, Phillips provides a few fun reversals before leaving readers with an entirely satisfying suggestion of happily-ever-after.

In an opening evoking fairy tales of old, Kari Castor’s “The Price” follows a young woman heading into the forest on an errand when she is interrupted by an unwanted suitor. The classic horror feel of her ineffectual dismissals and his escalating efforts to obtain her attention feel inevitable. At last he creates a disaster so painful the main character is driven to deal with her Fae pursuer, which of course spells her end. There’s no last-minute rescue, and no clever scheme to get one over on a Fae. There’s just a bully, getting his way by force. If you crave a dark horror of inevitable doom and enjoy a traditional fairy-tale feel, you need look no further.