Years ago, back in the hazy days of 2016, when the elections were still a gaping, open wound in our collective psyche (not the festering sore they are now), there was a Kickstarter I partook in. An anthology of stories about women, for women, by women. Angry women, which is what I was (and mostly still am, if you ignore the anxiety). Years passed, and the outlook for the project took a rocky path to completion. First the original publishers closed their doors, and I vaguely recalling something shifty happening with funding. Release dates passed with no sign of the book actually being made physical, followed by an editor leaving the project, before it was finally picked up by Outland Entertainment.
Now, after years of waiting, my book arrived in the mail, and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed the stories here more consistently then I have with previous anthologies. There were some misses, to be sure, but that’s to be expected from a book that contains so many stories from so many different levels of authorship.
I did things a little differently for the first part of this review. Because the book was so massive I decided to take notes while I read it. Below the cut is an abridged version of that rambling journey, followed by a relatively normal (for me) review.
- Robin Hobb’s introduction is a bit crap, isn’t it? I would have been so disappointed as the editor to receive an essay explaining why the title I chose for the book was wrong.
Editor: I asked you for an introduction discussing strong, brave, kick ass women in fantasy and sci fi, and you gave me a boorish explanation about a misquote?
Hobb: Yes, well… have you read my books?
- Riding Ever Southward, In the Company of Bees: Beautifully written, even if I know the I-5 through California’s central valley is already a barren wasteland and no amount of bees could make it better. I especially like the golden imagery used by, reminiscent of honey. And California is honey gold in summer, all pouring heat and crystal sugar and melting from one long road to the next. Good imagery overall, and a finally that left me with goosebumps, a very nice touch.
- Was not expecting an alternative universe Peter Pan inspired story from Nisi Shaw.
- I wish people didn’t correlate strong, badass characters with having to constantly swear. I swear pretty regularly, and I am not a strong, badass anything.
- Another post apocalyptic story, woman can be angry without the world ending, you know? I’m angry and our world hasn’t ended
- Oof, naming your family for their failings, eh? Healthy.
- I suppose settings like this allow us to amplify problems that already exist, on a grand scale that makes them something to conquer, instead of something to deal with or shrug off.
- But still, rude.
- A brief, non-fiction history of Harriet Tubman? Not exactly what I was expecting from my fantasy and sci fi story collection.
- I mean, after years of war wouldn’t you need more then a sentence to believe someone? I dunno, maybe I’m jaded.
- For the Love of Etta Candy: On the Importance of the Female Friend, by Shanna Germaine: Is this a true story? Is it fiction? Was it a story at all, or was it an essay? I don’t know. Both, I guess. I’ve never heard of Etta Candy before, but then again, I’ve never read a Wonder Woman comic in my life, nor have I watched the movie. I know, I know, for shame.
- Some Enchanted Evening, by Anton Strout: Oh, oh… she hates Lord of the Rings and is coming across as a bit of a bitch…
- Hopefully it gets better.
- She doesn’t trust this woman enough to give up her weapon easily, but stealing from the rich and famous for her? No problem.
- Oh my god, is this really a jealous woman story? How does the Baroness look like she’s thirty but still has bony arms? I am thirty two and my arms are beautiful, thank you…
- And they said that they watched the Lord of the Rings movies, but now they’re referencing barrows and there are NO BARROWS IN THE MOVIES. Wow, Anton, wow. Also, how are two out of five characters absolute British stereotypes but everyone else seems like they could be from literally anywhere?
- I need to stop asking questions, I think I don’t like this story.
- Burning, by Elaine Cunningham: Wooo! Dragons! Bad dragons, sure, but good dragons too, that are sentient and powerful. Nice. Bittersweet ending, but it sure as hell was better than “Some Enchanted Evening” Why do I have so much less to say about things I like then things I don’t?
- It Ain’t Bad to Get Mad, an Essay by Sarah Kuhn: I liked this- sure I don’t think it’s healthy to let everything make you angry, and I don’t think harboring anger is a good idea. But channeling it into something positive, using your anger to fight injustice, protect your friends and loved ones, to make yourself into something more? That’s worth it. This should have been the introduction, not that weird drivel from Robin Hobb.
- A Dance with Death, by Marc Turner: I’ll admit, I was scared when I saw a man wrote this… but so far, so good. The main character’s a badass, and she’s smart. I like.
- Yep, yeah, good.
- Maru is a cat, guys!
- Pax Egyptica, by Dana Cameron: An alternative universe where Cleopatra is a shape shifter descended from dragons. My thirteen year old heart is singing. Good story, full of gods and magic and a better ending for one of the coolest ancient civilizations.
And my notes tapered off at some point because I got tired of stopping every few paragraphs and just wanted to read.
So! All in all this was a solid collection of stories, with only two or three that I didn’t like. It could have used another pass with a proof reader, as there are a few typos here and there, but not nearly as bad as some published works I’ve read, and honestly, with the path the book took to get here, I’m happy to just have it in my hands.
While I can’t say there were many stories that left me desperate for more, I did enjoy the majority of them, and will no doubt reread some in the future. There was a couple stories that did not make any damn sense, too. “Mark of the Mountain Poppy” comes to mind, maybe I just don’t know enough of the mythology from the region, but I was lost for most of that story, and obviously “Some Enchanted Evening” completely failed to enchant me.
As for stories I did enjoy? “An Unlikely Turncoat” has what might be my new favorite concept for a character. And “Trench Witch” combines two of my favorite topics to read about; hedge witches and world wars. Last of the Red Riders had some great characterization, and Rise of the Bonecrushers was unabashed pulpy sci-fi goodness.
Interspersed between the stories are essays, as my notes mentioned. It felt a little strange to be taken out of the realms of fantasy and science fiction to be given incredibly short writings about historical figures and facts. Their brevity was also a bit jarring, they felt like blurbs you would get in a high school history book. I think I might have enjoyed them if they had been longer and more detailed, or had a theme that tied them all together.
But all in all it was a solid anthology, built by people who care (I’m looking at you Melanie R. Meadors) and written by people who believe. I’m glad I helped support this book over the years, even if it did take a long, winding road to publication. It, like women before it, had to overcome many obstacles, yet here it is. A testimony to how far we’ve come.
Final thoughts: Full of woman of every kind and color, doing everything and anything, this is a good book for someone searching for some great examples of how to write females leads (and on occasion how not to write them), or someone just looking to lose themselves for a while with women who Do All The Things and don’t care for others judgement.