Review: Fearsome Magics edited by Jonathan Strahan

FearsomeMagicsPublished by: Rebellion (Solaris Books)
ISBN: 1781082138
ISBN 13: 9781781082133
Published: October 2014
Pages: 352
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Publisher Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

This anthology is in the same ‘series’ of sorts – before we had Fearsome Journeys, and now we have Fearsome Magics. As one may guess, we go from an anthology of journeys to one of magic, whether it’s about different worlds joined by bridges or what consequences great power can bring, we have an anthology that investigates the many paths and questions magic itself can raise.

Jonathan Strahan is well known in the anthologies sense world-wide, so one can expect, when picking up one of his works, to settle in for an excellent, engaging read.

The Dun Letter” by Christopher Rowe

Tansie lives in a house that looks like one young children or teens would bet each other to creep into or even spend a night on on a dare. She lives there with her grandmother. Her grandfather is long gone, and her mother somewhere unknown (but could perhaps drop by for Thanksgiving), so Tansie is left alone to struggle to pay the bills, and care for her ailing grandmother.

This is quite a good start to an anthology of magic, because it contains receiving a letter, letting the protagonist know that there may be a lot more to her than she’s ever known. Like anyone who’s loved Harry Potter and wished they’d received their own letter at age 11, this story fills you with a touch of excitement.

Sadly it has a bit of a lacklustre ending. Amusing, to be sure, but…

Home is the Haunter” by Garth Nix

A Sir Hereward and Master Fitz tale once again. Though I love Nix’s writing in general, I’m not really a fan of these two characters, one being a magical puppet, and both who have a way of getting into strife at all times. This is one that relies on humour, so if it misses you then there’s a bit too much world building in this to be interesting as a short story.

Really, it was just a little too long for the plot and ability to hold your attention.

Grigori’s Solution” by Isobelle Carmody

Straight up – I’m not a maths person. As such, this one was a little boring whilst it was an interesting concept – I just couldn’t grasp how magic would have the ability to do such a thing – erase the world – and so I couldn’t get invested in the danger. This anthology shows a lot of discussion on the rules that set magic up in each world, yet in this piece it seemed to be a bit wobbly.

The use of language in the writing itself is excellent though – it’s Carmody after all. I just couldn’t identify with the self-important narrator, though I did like how he presented his findings to the reader. I also found the ‘resolution’ a bit underwhelming.

Dream London Hospital” by Tony Ballantyne

Unfortunately the anthology continues to spiral into weaker plots. This one had the feel of horror to it, and the magic was quite lacking. It’s effective in how illogical it is – keeping you reading to try to figure out what on earth is going on and how it’ll all tie in at the end with the big reveal. This was all a bit like a nightmare, and would probably work better as a novella. In a short story format it didn’t really get to set the tone and draw the reader in.

Safe House” by K.J. Parker

This brought us back to some better reading – though the use of ‘hung’ rather than ‘hanged’ was a bit jarring. Yes, it may seem odd but ‘hanged’ is the correct term. An item can be hung, a person is always hanged.

That aside – this was good. I always love pieces that show the consequences and balance of magic when used, and this showed the results in fine form. We see the struggle that one would still have even if they had magical ability, but it wasn’t over-the-top like a comedy; this felt well thought-out.

This makes me certain that I need to pick up a book by K. J. Parker sometime. I’m sure I’ve said that before, too… I need to just make it happen!

Hey, Presto!” by Ellen Klages

A daughter of a world-famous magician who attends boarding school, and has no interest in having any attention at all. This is another brilliant piece that lifts the anthology up a little, the writing is encouraging and reassuring, and the little hints we see of London in war around this piece give it something a bit extra.

This one had excellent plot and characters, excellent idea seen safely through to the end, and a fitting and dramatic conclusion. Easily my favourite piece in the anthology so far.

The Changeling” by James Bradley

The anthology swings towards horror with this one once again. A mother’s fears about their young child hits home with such deep instincts in most people – you read on, but you’re so wary for what will happen. This didn’t really have much of a magic-sense to it, but remained well written and gripping.

Migration” by Karin Tidbeck

This one was a little odd and disjointed – saying one thing, but I’m sure it was hinting at something deeper in a bizarre kind of way – it didn’t really hold my attention, and I found myself skimming through – but the ending grabbed me back, as it certainly packs a punch.

On Skybolt Mountain” by Justina Robson

I found the writing style on this one a little jerky, and seemed to jump around a bit, skipping bits of logic which would have made it all so much smoother – almost like it had been edited down for length, but lost a bit of depth which would have made it more readable along the way. I just couldn’t get why she didn’t escape in the first place, which made the story a bit confusing throughout and kept throwing me from the narrative.

It was all just a bit confusing.

Where Our Edges Lie” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

An interesting twist on the usual magic and twins story at play, though I found at times one of the twins was acting a bit unreasonably. Being that close, sure you can be prone to outbursts but surely you’d still listen and talk things through a bit more than we saw.

This had the same idea that the first story did, but I found the resolution much more reasonable and satisfying.

Devil’s Bridge” by Frances Hardinge

This piece was excellent. Crisp, with wifts of magic akin to Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, with excellent lines in it about what magic costs such as the protagonists loss of colour from her hair, her ability to lie, her singing voice, an hour of sleep each night, and so on. These were the things that build this short up to be one of my favourites,

The Nursery Corner” by Kaaron Warren

Hurrah for Kaaron Warren! You can always depend on Kaaron to set things straight. This was another surreal piece, but the wonder it keeps you in, along with the characters and the setting that most of us are far too acquainted with, makes it hit home rather well. This is horror done well, where it creeps along, almost up upon you unsuspecting, with the little bits of plot it drops on you from afar to build the scene.

This takes things that can usually be so normal, and manages to twist them into something a bit uncanny and unsettling. While I can’t say this was my favourite piece in the anthology (because I can’t ever enjoy being creeped out!) this was one of the most effective and most readable. Kaaron is just too awesome.

Eugh, old people.

Aberration” by Genevieve Valentine

This one was again surreal, but didn’t have the readability that Kaaron has, perfectly juxtaposing the two by being one right after the other. This one is all about mood and if it doesn’t hit you right, the whole piece will be lost.

The idea is interesting, don’t get me wrong. Just sadly didn’t connect with me in the slightest.

Ice in the Bedroom” by Robert Shearman

Fingers crossed to end on a high note at least. Sadly, this wasn’t really a magic or speculative fiction piece really – which is a shame, as I love Shearman’s work. This is a sad and low piece to end on, as we see the protagonist try to cope with his wife’s suicide.


I would recommend this anthology to those who want a dependable anthology that is certainly readable. This isn’t my favourite of Strahan’s anthologies, and overall I found it too easy to leave between each short story – nothing wrong with that for the casual reader, who is more than happy to pick it up every so often to read one short story before bed, then putting it down. I thank Rebellion for offering me a copy to review.


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