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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

50 Witch Stories. Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert A. Weinberg & Martin H. Greenberg (Editors). Goodwill Publishing House

A hugely entertaining and engaging collection of witch stories that is extraordinary in their variety and the skilful selection.  This anthology no duds and a satisfyingly large number of very good stories and a surprising number of stand out. Below are some thoughts about the stories I liked the best.
Gramma Grunt written by Donald R. Burleson is the first story in the collection and it announces the quality to follow with flair and a nicely darkening tone. Messing with a witch is rarely a good plan and Jason Mitchell finds out that a witch can have a very long memory and an even longer reach.
The Fit written by Ramsey Campbell is a very dark mix of sexual awareness, family and a vengeful witch. The oppressive atmosphere of the context is beautifully conjured and the witch sharply malicious. It is the way that the currents of the story are guided together into an multi-layered confrontation is a wonder of economical, biting writing.
The Mandrakes written Clark Ashton Smith is a joy, the wonderful language that seems archaic without every creaking, a sharp plot and fierce outcome all managed and controlled with seemly effortless mastery of the form and content.
The Only Way to Fly written by Nancy Holder looks at a witch flying to a retirement home on an aeroplane who has a chance to think hard about the choices she has made. Nancy Holder carefully set up the question of , how late is too late and delivers an unexpected and very satisfying answer.
Of Time and Space written by Hugh B. Cave is a gripping story of poisonous gift and the festering memory of a wrong. While the main character is unsympathetic and as the reveal shows has earned his fate, the process is neatly done and the reader is drawn in as much as Victor Dalbin is into the grip of the plot.
A Matter of Honour by R. K. Partain is charming, funny and smartly unexpected, marrying a witch means having a mother-in-law who has a large range of ways of making her displeasure felt. An old fashioned solution is proposed and the outcome is perfectly judged and executed.
Cerile and the Journeyer written by Adm-Troy Castro and The Wich of the World's End written by Darrell Schweitzer benefit greatly by being placed together in the sequence, Cerile first then the Witch of the Worlds End. Both are similar in that they are strongly flavoured by fairy and folk tales while both are strongly individual and very different to each other. They have loss and longing as central themes captured and unfurled in different ways, reading them in sequence allows echoes and contrasts arise that increase the pleasure from both.
The Devil's Men by Brian Stableford and The Caress of Ash and Cinder written by Cindie Geddes are another set of stories that share a theme with very different treatments that work very well as individual stories and as a pair. Both are concerned with the clash of politics and witchcraft leading to horrible public deaths, both capture the relentless cruelty of power ever so willing to sacrifice others for its own aims. Bleak and painful, the stories never falter and have a melancholy strength to their writing.
Suffer a Witch written by Mike Baker is a very black comedy about the consequences that follow being a good witch, a witch dedicated to using witchcraft for good and being in the most pejorative version of the term, a do-gooder. The set up is superb and the pay off horrifying and satisfying.
This anthology has great stories and a smart and thoughtful sequence that balances individual stories as well as creating a consistent variety.

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