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Wizards: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy
I love theme anthologies. I may even love them more than anthologies focusing on one author, because with this kind of anthology you generally get a really collection of stories, as authors interpret the theme in drastically different ways and. And this anthology very much does not disappoint.
Made up of 18 short stories by some quite famous fantasy authors (Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Gene Wolfe, Eoin Colfer, Orson Scott Card, etc.), each story focuses around some sort of wizard or wizards. But with that simple guideline each author comes up with vastly different kinds of wizards: the ghost of a teenage witch ("The Witch's Headstone), the prophet Elijah ("Slipping Sideways Through Eternity"), a young girl with synesthesia ( "Color Vision"), and a cruel wizard whose magic is performed through dance ("Barrens Dance"), to name but a few. This diversity really works in the book's favor, as the theme never seems to get old. in addition, the kinds of stories told vary wildly as well, going from rather absurd humor ( Eoin Colfer's "A Fowl Tale") to high fantasy ( Garth Nix's "Holly and Iron"), to encounters between ancient magic and the modern world ( Elizabeth Hand's "Winter's Wife")
The majority of these stories are really strong. My personal favorites include "Winter's Wife," "Holly and Iron," "Color Vision," "the Stranger's Hands," "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions," "Billy and the Wizard," "Zinder," and "Stonefather," with most of the rest of the stories being almost as strong. each of the selected authors is a master of his or her craft, with excellently written characters, interesting and unexpected plot twists, and fascinating takes on the common theme.
Sadly, not all of the stories are excellent. "The Witch's Headstone" by Neil Gaiman is basically an excerpt from "The Graveyard Book," which unfortunately doesn't stand well on its own. Terry Dowling's "The Magikkers" seemed to be trying to make the reader agree with a moral decision that Dowling doesn't spend enough time exploring. Patricia A. McKillip's "Naming Day" is well written, but the protagonist seems to have been written specifically so that she must learn a moral lesson, and that bothered me somewhat. Finally, both Gene Wolfe's "The Magic Animal" and Jeffery Ford's "The Manticore Spell" are good stories, but a little bit off putting in their weirdness.
All in all, the stories are extremely strong. A prevalence in teenaged or young protagonists means that this could serve as a good book for teens and a good introduction to some great authors. For those more experienced in the fantasy genre this is a great collection of some of the current greats in the field. If you see this book somewhere, make sure to snap it up if you can.