Review: “Forgotten Magic,” Various Authors

Rating: 3 out of 5

This is volume three in an unusual trilogy. Each author provides one story in each volume as their own individual little trilogies: Forgotten Magic (Magic Underground Anthologies Book 3) is part three. Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely happy with how this series ended up. I gave book one (Hidden Magic [review]) a 4/5, because it was a nifty set of stories. Not all of them were great, but some of them definitely caught my eye. I gave book two (Wayward Magic [review]) a 3/5, because there was some serious second-story slump, along with some other issues. Now I’m giving book three also a 3/5. My impression was that these trilogies would stand decently well alone. Sure, they might introduce you to an author’s work, but if you’re reading “a trilogy,” you expect the story to come to some sort of a meaningful, satisfying conclusion at the end. Many of these stories did not, and it was frustrating.

A goodly handful of these stories picked up in odd places compared to where they left off last time. I had trouble reconciling them together, and many of the transitions were confusing. Each three stories by each author still add up to a relatively short story, so it’s weird to have some of them be so disjointed and in some ways unconnected. I still can’t figure out how Toasha Jiordano’s “Dreams of Valonde” got from part two to part three, and found the whole thing entirely confusing. Raven Oak’s “Honor After All” picks up sometime after its second story with a pregnant Shara having left the Order of Amaska and being in hiding from her brother. That’s a lot of important events relegated to the empty space between stories. Alesha Escobar’s “The Great Return” involves the same main character as in story number one, without addressing anyone or anything from story number two, and it’s so much later in the main character’s story that we’re obviously missing a wealth of information. Story number two really should have been used to fill in those gaps instead.

Many of these stories don’t have a satisfying ending. Gwendolyn Woodschild’s “The Rebellion” (which picks up 450 years after the second story) just doesn’t really end. Same with Tiffany Shand’s “Bound by Darkness” (which picks up 5 years after its second story). Melinda Kucsera’s “Spells of Scales & Steel” ends in the middle of things, and also relied heavily on characters that are apparently from the time before the first story began, so I constantly felt like I was missing something. Also, having a Christ-like figure in a fantasy world may not be new, but it’s certainly heavy-handed in this story (the figure goes by J.C.). H.M. Jones’s “Ariana’s Gift” also leaves off in the middle of the story.

One favorite story I’ve been following has been Majanka Verstraete’s Red God story. I find the worldbuilding intriguing, and the characters really interesting. Saleyna is an Empath who is attempting to infiltrate the ranks of the Priests of the Red God to figure out how to bring them down. Only she’s found something much more complicated than she bargained for. Unfortunately, and to my frustration, this story ends in the middle of things. It isn’t remotely satisfying.

Anela Deen’s “Through a Valley of White Mist” is an exception to the above-mentioned problems. I love Simith and Jessa’s story, and I think it ended in a very satisfying place. Another favorite is S. Wallace’s “The Prodigal Son.” It’s years later for Al and Urk, and they have a handful of half-minotaur, half-centaur children. One of those children, Droless, is imprisoned for his crimes, and his family tries to save him. This is a fascinating story, and very satisfying. Yet another good story is H.B. Lyne’s “The Forgotten.” Veteran Felix’s sister is dead, and the “demon” riding in his head is prodding him into blaming the shapeshifters he saw. This story does leave off before it’s finished, but it’s not quite so blatant as some of them.

“Aamira: Letting Go” by Barbara Letson finds Aamira all grown up and working as a doctor. She’s still using her abilities to save children, but she has to face the dark figure again. This story was actually pretty beautiful, and I got pulled into it more than I did with the first two installments. I think William C. Cronk’s final installment, “Great Sun Trilogy, Part III: Bands of Iron” is better than the previous two installments. People’s actions make more sense, and things wrap up in a satisfactory manner. Joynell Schultz’s “The Mail-Order Witch: Episode Three” is quite good and follows nicely from the previous two stories about Ettie’s magic shop. In this installment we finally figure out who was behind everything.

Devorah Fox’s “The Mouth of the Dragon: Revelations” concludes her philosophy-based trilogy. I still don’t like it. Actually, I like it even less than I did before. Heavy-handed philosophy stories are not something I find interesting, and this one is really bald-faced. But this time around the story had an additional issue. In the previous stories, Prince Bewilliam has left one of his knights behind in each of the bizarro towns they’ve passed through. We eventually find out that each of his knights has “fixed” the over-the-top weird behavior of the natives in each town. Yes, the more civilized strangers taught the befuddled natives how to be better. It’s gross. Also, Prince Bewilliam is painted as being a fairly good guy, yet his big regret in life is that he wants “his sons back.” Well, one of those sons took religious orders, and the other is trans. Yes, the sorrow Bewilliam carries is that one of his sons is actually his daughter. And I’m supposed to like this character??

Leah W. Van Dinther’s “The Fort and the Fair” is just… weird. Along with the fact that it doesn’t really wrap anything up, it’s just hard to believe in. Carol (who sees ghosts) gets roped into a game played with Tarot cards that involves betting heirloom-quality trinkets. Which everyone at the table seems to have in abundance, just carried around on their persons while at a fair. It’s obviously a trap to enable Freddie to take the moonstone ring from her, and she just… goes along with it. I should also note that accents in this story are very one-note stereotypes. “Ze” for “the” and “Ah” for “I,” things like that. When it comes to accents, if you can’t do it right, just don’t do it at all. Mention the accent and move along.

C.S. Johnson’s “The Ones Who Choose” is also a bit of a philosophical story. So far we have learned that all unhappiness and injury in the village is magically transferred to one small boy who has to bear it all so that the rest of the population can be happy. Skyla is determined to save him, but apparently humanity is so naturally sadistic that the moment everyone loses this sink for their negative emotions, they go crazy. Content note for domestic violence. I mean, I get it that these people haven’t had to learn to control their emotions, but it’s way over the top.

A.R. Johnston’s “Weather Witch Weapon” is pretty good. The language gets over-expository. The bad guys (Willow and her father) are total stereotypes. And I’m still trying to figure out how it devolved into a scythe-fight? Between characters who are largely much more about wielding magic? But at least it has a satisfying ending! C.K. Rieke’s “Parallel Princess: The Wizard and the Demon” is about a princess who got shuttled off to the land of the fae in order to save her from an attack. That’s the plot of the first story, and the plot of the second story (separate trips to the fae realm). It’s pretty close to the plot of the third story, although finally we get some more information, there’s some decent action, and the princess has gained some personality.

I’m going to have to ding Lee French and Erik Kort’s “The Greatest Sin: A Sacrifice of Soul” a bit, which I hate doing, because I love their writing overall, this story was very well-written, and I love the world they’ve created (buy the rest of the books in the series!). But I think this third story would be really hard to grasp if you haven’t read any of the actual books in the series, and even then I had a hard time making sense of it. I’m still not sure what happened.

I wish more of these “trilogies” stood alone, and that fewer of them were so disjointed from story to story. There are some excellent characters and worlds in here, but that isn’t really enough to make up for the rest.

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