Review: “Wayward Magic,” Various Authors

Rating: 3 out of 5

This is an unusual trilogy of anthologies. The idea is, each author involved wrote a trilogy of interconnected or continuing stories, with the first found in Hidden Magic [review], the second found in Wayward Magic (Magic Underground Anthologies Book 2), and the third found in Forgotten Magic. Back when trilogies of novels were more common, it wasn’t unusual for their to be a second-act slump in the middle book. Unfortunately, a lot of these short story trilogies also suffer from a second-act slump, so I’m giving this book a 3/5 instead of the 4/5 of its predecessor.

Don’t worry though; there are still some excellent stories in here. Raven Oak’s “Pretty Poison” picks up with Shendra and her brother ten years after the first installment. They’ve been sent by their order to kill a man, only things get complicated. In Majanka Verstraete’s “The Lair of the Red God,” Saleyna, a mage who has the ability of Empathy, tries to settle into her new role pretending to be a follower of the Red God. I love this story and setting just as much as I did in the first book; it’s tense and intriguing. “The Mail-Order Witch: Episode II,” by Joynell Schultz, is an adorable story of a witch and a warlock who are trying their best to fit in amongst the non-magical while being “out of the closet.” This time someone seems to have set an awful lot of hamsters loose in Ettie’s magic shop to wreak havoc!

In H.B. Lyne’s “The Watcher,” former military man Felix Jones is one of a very few people who seem to realize that part of the city has gone missing, and he’s determined to find his sister Julie, who disappeared with it. Anela Deen’s “When Day Fades Into Night” continues the story of pixie knight Simith and human Jessa, who now share a single life-force. Simith is being forced to enable the continuation of a war between faeries and trolls, while both he and Jessa suffer from being separated. Finally, Lee French and Erik Kort bring us “The Greatest Sin: A Sacrifice of Body,” in which Algernon and his parents and grandmother have fled to a sanctuary. Their enemy Miru is already there, but he can’t attack them while they’re within the sanctuary. There seem to be other secrets afoot, however, and poor traumatized Algernon can’t figure out how to tell his parents that he had to kill people in order to save himself and his grandmother.

Some of the stories involve too much navel-gazing. Others really don’t stand on their own at all; the stories I mentioned above have their own story to tell, while some of the rest are just interludes in the middle. At least one story is very overwrought, and contains no less than six characters whose names start with the same letter–some of which are very similar to each other–so good luck keeping the characters straight (Braxton and Baxter in particular are both boyfriends of teenage girls, so it’s very easy to confuse them). One story is quite short and confusing.

In general S. Wallace’s “Better the Devil You Know,” with its main characters being the married centaur and minotaur warriors, was good except that the Baron of Wings seemed to behave inexplicably oddly at points. Also there was so much blow-by-blow action that it actually got a little boring. One story was so out-of-touch with its first part from the first anthology that I had to go back and read the other story to figure out which one it was, and even then they had only the most tenuous of connections. Another tale is pretty much just a repeat of its first installment–a princess is whisked away to the fae realm for safety, spends time seeing the wonders and wishing she could go home. Not much actually happens.

My least-favorite story is based on the work of a philosopher, and boy does it show it. Towns have names like “Here” “There” and “Near,” and we’re told straight out what trait each town embodies. I prefer to read my genre fiction, not be hit over the head by it.

“Aamira: Healer,” by Barbara Letson, is somewhat interesting; a girl who can heal people encounters a mysterious dark figure who may be Death. In C.S. Johnson’s “The Ones Who Fight,” a settlement remains happy and healthy by shifting all of their pain and damage and unhappiness onto a mysterious boy, and in this installment the main characters who found out about him decide to free him. (Not as heavy-handed as the other story with a philosophical bent, and the surrounding story is more interesting and better-written.)

A story about a ghostly Viking takes an intriguing turn. Another story about two young men on the run from their family and town is good, but I still find myself wondering how so many people in the first installment could have turned on the boys so rabidly. Melinda Kucsera’s “Spell of Bone & Ash” involves dark magic, weird owl-monkey-cats, and a comatose mage fighting off evil. The critters are weird, but this is an interesting story and I look forward to seeing what happens.

This isn’t the high point of the trilogy, but I’m still going to read volume three because there are stories in here that I really care about.

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