Saturday, 14 June 2014

Book Review: Magic City, Recent Spells edited by Paula Guran

Magic City, edited by Paula Guran

Genre: Fantasy, Short Stories
Publisher: Prime Books
Date Published: May 2014
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Star Rating:  3.5 stars out of 5

Blurb (from Goodreads): Bright lights, big city... magic spells, witchcraft, wizardry, fairies, devilry, and more. Urban living, at least in fantasy fiction, is full of both magical wonder and dark enchantment. Street kids may have supernatural beings to protect them or have such powers themselves. Brujeria may be part of your way of life. Crimes can be caused (and solved) with occult arts and even a losing sports team's "curse" can be lifted with wizardry. And be careful of what cab you call - it might take you on a journey beyond belief! Some of the best stories of urban enchantment from the last few years is gathered in one volume full of hex appeal and arcane arts.

Why I read it:
I like short stories, but I don’t read enough of them. This collection looked interesting – I love urban fantasy in small doses, and there were stories by heaps of authors I was curious about. 

My thoughts:

Magic Spells consists of 24 short stories, mostly urban fantasy. It didn’t feel like a cohesive collection, but I’m not convinced that it matters - there are some pretty awesome stories in here. (And some duds, but I suppose that’s expected.) They’re all tied together with a vague essay on magic at the beginning, tiny introductions that detail “The City” and “The Magic” in each tale, and the overarching urban theme - although this is defined very loosely, as we have stories from Ancient Babylon, a secondary fantasy world, Bordertown, and a string of various (mainly American) Earth locals.

One thing I loved about this anthology is the overall diversity it achieves. There are stories about and by both men and women. The LGBT crowd are well-represented, with 4 out of 24 stories (approximately 17%) featuring queer protagonists. And there are characters from a range of backgrounds and races. I also enjoyed “The City” introductions, which were often a bit random. For example, Mary Rosenblum’s The Woman Who Walked with Dogs is declared to be set in “an American city, perhaps one fairly near Philadelphia.” I spent most of the story wondering how exactly Guran had decided that, as Philadelphia was never mentioned. (Although I will be the first to admit my general ignorance of American geography, so perhaps there was some little clue in the story that I missed.)

My favourite stories were easily Seeing Eye by Patricia Briggs and Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor & Alan Dean Foster. Seeing Eye was a surprisingly engaging story, featuring a blind witch, a werewolf cop, a smidgen of romance and a lot of adventure; while Kabu Kabu chronicles the misadventures of Ngozi as she tries to get to the airport via an extremely odd taxi, complete with amazing descriptions and a plot that managed to be both somewhat predictable and utterly marvellous all at once. I’ve not read much by either author, but am now adding the Mercy Thompson Books and Who Fears Death to the top of my TBR pile.

There were a lot of other stories I enjoyed too, with The Arcane Art of Misdirection by Carrie Vaughn, Paranormal Romance by Christopher Barzak, The Slaughtered Lamb by Elizabeth Bear, and In The Stacks by Scott Lynch standing out in particular. But to be honest, most of these stories were pretty entertaining. The only truly sour note came from Curses by Jim Butcher, where half of the story consists of Harry Dresden finding different ways to ogle and comment upon a bartender’s boobs/butt/"assets" in general. Seriously, this would have been a much better collection without such objectifying drivel.  

That said, Magic Spells still manages to be a very good anthology. Recommended (with a caveat – a lot of these stories have also been published elsewhere. If you read a lot of them, check the table of contents before buying).


  1. I haven't explored short stories very much, it seems like such a grab bag to me. Sounds like this collection may be worth checking out though!

    1. Yeah I agree they can be a bit hit and miss at times. You just don't get enough time to appreciate the stories! But overall I thought this collection was pretty good, definitely worth checking out.