It was almost a struggle reading halfway through the book. The enthusiasm of reading this one diffused fast from day one up until finishing Gaiman's work. This is supposedly my Halloween read but now it's almost New Year. I needed a lot of reading breaks for this and it took me to finish one non fiction, one short story, a manga, YouTube videos and Skyrim introductory game before finishing the whole anthology. Getting busy with my work also helped and the reversal of roles between what used to be a pleasure reading and a mediocre work came in handy. Thanks to this book, my work became a pleasure and reading, a mediocre chore.
It's important to note that rating this anthology on account of reading only the story written by my favorite author will not give justice to the whole work. So I will share the plot and my views per story and if you hate spoliers, better STOP HERE and check for my overall rating at the bottom.
Love Hurts (Jim Butcher)
The plot resolved as easily as predicted. But Harry Dresden's postmortem work ala CSI is enough reason here for readers of dark fantasy to look and read more about this mysterious wizard and his world.
The Marrying Maid (Jo Beverly)
Weakest story for the whole anthology. This one lacks heroism and self-sacrifice. The "prince charming" here is selfish and narcissistic, less medieval and more metrosexual, has no balls at all and I imagined myself breaking his chin and busting his kneecap for good. Forcing a maiden to marry and love you in order to prevent a deathly curse against your clan can never be considered as destiny nor love. It's called extortion.
Jo Beverly should have made her "prince" a better character by searching for another way to solve his own dilemma. There is always an alternative.
Rooftops (Carrie Vaughn)
The final confrontation between Charlotte, Dorian, and the Unknown Hero is vague. Something not to be taken seriously.
Hurt Me (MLN Hanover)
Reversal of roles between the Ghost and the Prey. The ghost is the one being hunted here. Nice one.
Demon Lover (Cecelia Holland)
The detailed rendezvous between the Incubus and his victim is the only thing that I can remember here. At this point, I'm getting tired of reading about helpless and easy to fool damsels here.
The Wayfarer's Advice (Melinda Snodgrass)
Sci fi tale that reminds me of a classic story not far from our home planet Earth. This comes up with a good cliffhanger too. A shining light for the whole anthology's bleak universe. So far.
Blue Boots (Robin Hobb)
Just as you thought your mind is about to meander within the story, you are content finishing it as it ended happily ever after. A story about the crooner, his love, and her blue boots.
The Thing About Cassandra (Neil Gaiman)
The thing about this one: it's not Neil Gaiman's best short fiction work but it still won the 2011 Locus Award for Best Short Story. The writing is good and the story is a bit unpredictable and sad. Like any memorable Twilight Zone episode, you just take it or leave it as it is.
After the Blood (Marjorie Liu)
Another good story and a good example on how to write a cross genre fiction (postapocalyptic dark fantasy). In my mind, I can easily draw the main characters' "evolution" as distinct from each other. After reading the story, I thought there is hope for this anthology after all.
You, and You alone (Jacqueline Carey)
This episodic and spy story reminds me of the historical Alexander the Great, with cloak-and-dagger plot that started unconvential, intriguing in the middle, and ended flat. The writing is good but the story in general is more suitable to a certain group of readers different from my tribe.
His Wolf (Lisa Tuttle)
At this point, it's becoming obvious. The process of love is incredibly fast and easy in a short fiction work. Good thing here is that the protagonist advocates against traditional belief that wolves are evil and I agree.
Courting Trouble (Linnea Sinclair)
The story started bland but ended better than expected albeit orthodox. One of those rare stories with an ending that you find agreeable. There's a lot of Sci Fi plot details here to nuke your mind but just concentrate with the story and you'll be okay.
The Demon Dancer (Mary Jo Putney)
The pace is good and the writing is simple but effective. Thankfully, there's no annoying emo, nor dim-witted alpha male, nor primadonna character here to hate. And just as you thought you can predict the ending of this one (since the story involves a succubus!) you are dead wrong. In the whole anthology, this story is most adaptable to be told in graphic novel or comic book form.
Under / Above the Water (Tanith Lee)
There's beauty in this story that is not easy to describe in words. It's always been part of the human subconscious to dream or delude for love to be eternal, transcending space, time, and even sin. Thanks to the author Tanith Lee for reminding us again of this inescapable human nature.
Kaskia (Peter Beagle)
The flow of reading the anthology hit another brick wall this time. For someone who earned the Locus, Mythopoeic, Hugo, and Nebula awards I have to say this is surely not his best. Regrettably an empty story, imagine yourself teaching Korean or Chinese girls the English language in a virtual chatroom and that will become more memorable than Peter Beagle's short story.
Man in the Mirror (Yasmine Galenorn)
Finally a character who knows how to be selfless and knows when to do it at the perfect time. Nice story.
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (Diana Gabaldon)
Randall Mackenzie is no doubt an experienced fighter of the Royal Air Force tasked to perform a reconnaissance mission over the Nazi camps in Eastern Europe. When his Spitfire malfunctioned while practising his skills in recon maneouvres and operating the camera on board, Randall being able to land with minimal injury felt lucky. But there's one thing that worries him more than seeing his Spitfire in total wreck. He crashed in a different time.
I enjoyed this one, it gave me the feeling that I was actually in the British Airspace taking part in a WWII air-to-air combat or dogfight. Randall is surely a fighter and survivor who never gives up to return to where (and when) he truly belonged---to his family sometime in WWII.
For the whole anthology we get an average rating of 3.26 out of 5 rounding it off to 3 out of 5 units. Checking the Book Eater's Scale in the sidebar, it's a Staple Food. Meaning, it's a substantial read but it's not good enough if you're not a fan of any of the 17 authors.
Though it's still worthy to recall the authors who made this collection alive like Tanith Lee, Melinda Snodgrass, Marjorie Liu, Diana Gabaldon, Jim Butcher, Mary Jo Putney, Neil Gaiman, and Linnea Sinclair. The rest, better luck next time.
The Western style of Romance and its definition of Love as purely an emotional process (and hormonal excess) far from being volitional or spiritual may be appealing to others and dull to some and for me, the latter almost won over the former. The "appeal" survived the "dull" by a hairline.
Don't expect too much if you want to read this book and don't blame me if you think that I didn't warn you enough.
Genre: Cross Genre Fiction
Rating: 3 imaginary girlfriends out of 5