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edited by Sharyn November
Firebird, 432 pages

Sharyn November
Sharyn November was born in New York City, and has stayed close by ever since. She received a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied and wrote poetry. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The North American Review, and Shenandoah, among other magazines, and she received a working scholarship to Bread Loaf. Since 1990, she has been at Penguin Group (USA), where she is a senior editor at both Viking Children's Books (hardcover) and Puffin Books (paperback). Her imprint, Firebird -- a mostly paperback fantasy and science fiction imprint for teenage and adult readers -- was launched in January 2002.

Sharyn November Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Firebirds Rising

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Amal El-Mohtar

There is so much to be said about the Firebird imprint. I have so much praise to heap upon it. Thanks to it, I discovered The Winter Prince by Elizabeth E. Wein, and rediscovered Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown, which I was then able, through the blessedness of the same imprint, to follow up with The Blue Sword. Simply put, the Firebird imprint makes me happy. It's gotten to the point where I'll pick books up off shelves with no recommendation but the appropriate symbol on the spine.

All this to say, I was really, really excited about the Firebirds anthology when it came out, and even more excited by the prospect of reviewing it. I offer this by way of apology for any indulging in school-girlish glee on my part while describing its contents. I offer also the testimony of my sister's puzzled looks, occasioned by my giggles, shocked exclamations and occasional teary effusions while reading, in proof of the fact that this will be a fairly gushy review. And so, on with it.

Firebirds is, as Sharyn November puts it, "mainly a celebration of good writing," and it needs no other tag. Aimed mainly at a young adult audience, it features stories by Delia Sherman, Diana Wynne Jones, Patricia McKillip, Garth Nix, Emma Bull, Sherwood Smith, Laurel Winter and Nina Kiriki Hoffman, to name a few completely at random. It presents a good mix of sixteen stories, varying from the light cheerfulness of Nancy Springer's "Mariposa" to Lloyd Alexander's frankly terrifying "Max Mondrosch," but inhabiting on the whole that land of insight, thoughtfulness and reflection that characterises Firebird's conception of juvenile fantasy.

I'll get one of my few complaints over with early on: I was surprised by the anthology's claim to being a collection of "original fantasy and science fiction." As far as I could tell, there aren't any science fiction offerings in here at all. I didn't really feel the lack, since I wasn't expecting any (I hadn't paid close enough attention to the writing on the cover, distracted as I was by its overall prettiness), but it should be noted that this is a fantasy collection through and through. Much of it is urban fantasy of one variety or another, but I read nothing that I could call science fiction outright.

That being said, so many of the stories offer exactly what I want from short fiction: memorable plots and characters, clear, engaging writing and a signature flair of the author's own. Megan Whelan Turner's "The Baby in the Night Deposit Box" is a perfect example of the above, and is, hands down, one of my favourite short stories ever; on its strength alone I'd cheerfully recommend the whole anthology -- which, fortunately, I don't need to do, since I loved so many others. They include "Dot," by Dianna Wynne Jones, an adorable story about an association of cats and the wizard they own, and "Flotsam," by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, a beautifully moving story about broken families, magic, and hope -- and it's at this point in the review that I pause, and realise how long this will drag on if I continue to list my favourites, of which there are almost too many to properly deserve the name. Still, Patricia McKillip's "Byndley" is enchanting, Sherwood Smith's "Beauty" succeeds in being amusing and engaging without sacrificing the one to the other, and Nancy Farmer's "Remember Me" is heart-breaking and lovely. There's also a collaboration between Emma Bull and Charles Vess on "The Black Fox," an adaptation of a traditional ballad, presented in graphic novel style, which is a delightful surprise to come across in the middle of is otherwise a straightforward collection of short stories.

The anthology does, however, have the occasional disappointing moment. Garth Nix's "Hope Chest," which begins as a promising alternate-world western, devolves into a confusing, disturbing, and ultimately unsatisfying hodge-podge that left me feeling that it was a story that had never been properly finished. Kara Dalkey's "The Lady of the Ice Garden," a retelling of Andersen's "Snow Queen" set in Late Heian Japan, is beautifully written, and carried me along for the most part, but I felt that the ending had been arbitrarily re-written to suit a particular message without taking the rest of the story (which mirrors the original fairly closely) into consideration. Still, despite such occasional blips, this remains a thoroughly enjoyable collection.

Suffice it to say, then, that these stories are, by and large, great. If you're in the mood for good, satisfying fantasy, but don't have the patience or the time to indulge in a full length novel, picking up the Firebirds anthology might be just the thing.

Copyright © 2006 Amal El-Mohtar

Amal has a history of reading anything with pages. Now, she reads stuff online, too. She sometimes does other things, but that's mainly it.

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