Paula Guran (Ed.) Witches: Wicked, Wild and Wonderful – Review

Witches: Wicked, Wild & Wonderful (Paperback)

“Don’t get in a witch’s path. Especially if you are the weaker witch. If you do, be prepared to face her.” – “Bloodlines” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Witches are represented in different ways throughout cultures. In this anthology they take various forms – powerful women, young, old, poor, influential, timid, rich, classic fairy tale hags etc. Even though Witches: Wicked, Wild and Wonderful contains stories of many different themes, they all come to one central character that is wickedly passionate about something they love. Ultimately their actions are seen as good or evil. Is it enough though to label them “white” or “black” witches?

Witches mostly are seen as strong, perhaps a bit aloof and wicked women. However, in this anthology they are presented as humans with as many powers as insecurities. “Bloodlines” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia tells the story of a young girl who not only doubts her skills and appearance but also the possibility of being a real witch like other women in her family. This story of a growing up witch, who doesn’t know what she is capable of, is full of adolescent insecurities and raw, uncontrollable power still to be tamed.

Another of my favourite stories is “The Only Way to Fly” by Nancy Holder about a witch, Jessamyne, on the way to the retirement home who seemingly sacrificed her magic for the man she loved. Her sober analysis of what she has lost is either going to make her more bitter or free. Demeter Alcmedi in “Marlboros and Magic” by Linda Robertson also rebels against strict rules of living amongst people who simply adhere to the order of life in the Woodhaven Retirement Community. The consequences are hilarious.

One of the recurring themes is witches in love – love in many shapes and forms. Sometimes love is manifested in the form of love of humans in general, and sometimes it’s a poignant and deep adoration of someone the witch has lost their heart to. “The Ground Whereon She Stands” by Leah Bobet pictures a shy witch who, not knowing how to get closer to the person she loves, enchants them with a truly flourishing spell. Ceren, a young witch in “Skin Deep” by Richard Parks struggles to understand her feelings and actions which consequently forces her to decide what is important in her life.

At the same time, love for a child might be one of the strongest, unconditional manifestations of love – yet at the same time most tragic and misunderstood. “The World Is Cruel, My Daughter” by Cory Skerry is one of the gems in this anthology. It’s a re-told tale of “Rapunzel” – the story of a manic over-protective mother and the disastrous relationship with her daughter. It’s one of the darkest in this anthology, and is written with great skill and a great dose of murkiness. At the same time, another dark tale of the parents-children relationship, “Catskin” by Kelly Link, is amiably surreal and creepy.

Witches try to blend in but communities are full of nosey busybodies ready to share someone else’s secrets. What happens when a beautiful house appears on the street out of the blue? “Walpurgis Afternoon” by Delia Sherman tells a story of a suburban community magically transformed by two girls. Stories like “Basement Magic” by Ellen Klages, “Afterward” by Don Webb, “Poor Little Saturday” by Madeleine L’Engle and “Magic Carpets” by Lesley What are more sinister and lead to somewhat tragic consequences.

Stories about witches are very often haunting and atmospheric – with the magical ambiance embedded in the very worlds they are set in. “The Cold Blacksmith” by Elizabeth Bear resonates with charm of Scandinavian myths where a task of mending a broken heart might be a real challenge. Tanith Lee created a mesmerising exotic tale of illusions and transformations in “Mirage and Magia”. However, it was the spin on the classic tale of “Hansel and Gretel” that freaked me out. This horror version by Margo Lanagan titled “The Goosle” is full of stomach wrenching descriptions and horror with which the author spun the story. It is truly terrifying.

“The Witch’s Headstone” by Neil Gaiman is a lovely story of a boy befriending a ghost of a witch, but those who read “The Graveyard Book” will know it, as it’s actually chapter four in the book. Also “The Way Wind” by Andre Norton is set in the world of her Witch World universe which might be familiar to readers of her books.

Some witches choose to be protectors of people like Diana in “Nightside” by Mercedes Lackey and Marla Mason in “Ill Met in Ulthar” by T.A. Pratt. What I liked in both of them is that their two central characters are strong, confident urban guardians who love kicking evil’s ass. Others just experiment and toy with magic which leads to mixed conclusions. Girls in “Lessons with Miss Gray” by Theodora Goss decide to pursue magic, which helps them find out the truth about themselves. In a similar manner, Boris tries to discover who he really is when, by means of help from the legendary Baba Yaga, he discovers he might not be the failure he thinks he is. “Boris Chernevsky’s Hands” by Jane Yolen is a nostalgic revival of the Russian folklore icon. “The Robbery” by Cynthia Ward shows what might happen when in the face of helpless mutiny against an unpunished local burglar, the main character decides to try knots magic used by fishermen like her dad and grandpa, with surprising results.

As much as I like most of the stories in this anthology, as they cover such a wide range of themes and representations of witches, the true gem in this anthology is Ursula K. Le Guin’s very first story published in 1962 titled “April in Paris”. It’s a poignant story of passion, accidental time travel, friendship, love and power of loneliness. It’s a superb little story which brings people from different worlds together and saves them from despair of poverty and solitude. “April in Paris” was a marvellous debut story of such a great writer.

I love reading anthologies, as I come across writers I have not read before and little gems like the story of “April in Paris” which I didn’t know about. Witches: Wicked, Wild and Wonderful is full of stories from which each reader might find something they will love. I must admit I am not overly keen on all the stories in this anthology, but the majority of them are great and bring lots of quirky magic tales for those who, like me, love books about witches.

Author: Edited by Paula Guran

Title: Witches: Wicked, Wild and Wonderful

Publisher: Prime Books

Format: Kindle Edition

Published: March 13th 2012

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.

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Sarah Pinborough Murder – Review

Murder (Paperback)

Years after the horrors of Jack the Ripper and the Torso Killer which terrorised London, not everyone has forgotten about the Upir. Doctor Thomas Bond might have found some peace after Upir stopped lurking in the shadows and started enjoying life in the company of Juliana Harrington, but he is aware that Upir’s terrors are not completely gone. The comfort of friendship with Juliana doesn’t let him forget about what happened. The young son of Juliana and her late husband James reminds Dr. Bond of the blood, dread and the peculiar alliances forged to fight the evil that Harrington brought back from his travels. The sudden arrival of Edward Kane, the late Harrington’s friend from America, changes almost everything for Dr. Bond and brings out the darkness he tried to escape from.

Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough is the first book in the Mayhem series and it tells the story of Jack the Ripper and the Torso Killer. Murder continues with the darkness of all the blood and terror that the Upirlegacy left behind, but on a much bleaker level. Dr. Bond used to struggle with his demons but what he is about to face might be more powerful than even he can fight.

When I was reading Mayhem, I thought it was awesome. As I turned the pages, faster and faster, it terrified me and kept me reading to see what more evil can hide in the shadows of the opium clouded London. That changed a little bit when I started reading Murder. The sinister became the wicked. The plot revolves around the issue of new murders which somewhat resemble the Ripper’s ones and a shocking case of dead babies being found in the Thames. Murder is deeply dark, intelligent and exquisitely gruesome.

I really like the characters in Murder – as the plot evolves and the points of view change, it’s great to see the different aspects of it from behind the shoulders of those who in turn show us what they experience. Dr. Thomas Bond might be a professional and respected doctor, but he is also human. His humanity takes him on a journey of jealously, fear, love and madness, and tests his will power to the very limits. Seeing such a strong person struggling made me feel a heart breaking sympathy towards his utmost efforts to find a solution and solve the mystery of the wicked crimes. As much as he wants to hide it, the evil creeps closer and closer to his doorstep. Would the comeback of his past vices help? He is being taken apart by insanity, and as Dr. Bond mentions Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the comparison is strikingly uncanny. What does the Upir really represent and want? The very image of it, which so nonchalantly pops out from the pages of Murder, was enough to make me want to sleep with the light on for at least two days.

Murder is written with brilliant skill. Not only the nerve wrecking story keeps you reading but also the amazing and vibrant portrayal of Victorian London with the tangible gaps in the layers of society and between the innocent and the evil. Sarah Pinborough has written another superb book which from the beginning to the end keeps the reader on the proverbial edge of their seat.

It was so engrossing for me that when I closed the book after hours of reading, I realised that I was thirsty, stiff from sitting in one position and utterly stunned. I didn’t realise so much time had passed and all I did that day was just read Murder. It was totally worth it and I’d recommend it to everyone; fans of horror or not, this book is so multilayered and complex that the blood spilled on the pages just naturally flows from chapter to chapter and the adrenaline urges you to read on. Murder is a poignant and unputdownable novel of the darkness of humanity and haunting malevolence with an exquisite dose of horror and supernatural.

Author: Sarah Pinborough

Title: Murder

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Format: Hardback

Published: April 30, 2014 (UK)

Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.