I was eager to give this book a shot because Speculative Horizons, the anthology I'm putting together for Subterranean Press, will follow the same format. Add to that the fact that A Fantasy Medley features a short story by Robin Hobb, one of my favorite fantasy writers out there, and I couldn't wait to read this one. It would also give me the opportunity to sample Kelley Armstrong and C. E. Murphy's storytelling skills for the first time.
This anthology edited by Yanni Kuznia opens up with "Zen and the Art of Vampirism" by NYT bestselling author Kelly Armstrong. Set in her Otherworld environment, the short story takes place in Toronto, Canada. Probably due to sky-high taxes, long and cold winters, crappy sports teams, and the fact that the city is nothing to write home about (sorry, it's the Toronto/Montreal rivalry getting the better of me!), Zoe Takano is the only vampire in town. But her place in T. O.'s supernatural hierarchy is threatened when two other vampires show up to take control. This one is more or less light and humorous in style and tone, and I must admit I was expecting a bit more from this bestselling author.
"Riding the Shore of the River of Death" marks the return of Kate Elliott to the universe of her Crown of Stars series. Kareka must prove herself as a man by taking a man's head in combat, or else be forced to accept the role of mere woman and wife for the rest of her life. I don't know if one must have read the series to fully appreciate this short story (every single volume can be found in my "books to read" piles), but this one didn't stand alone as well as the others. Not that it's bad, mind you, just that the piece is more difficult to get into due to the fact that it doesn't flow as well as the other stories.
"From Russia, with Love" by C. E. Murphy is a tale of dragons, vampires, and witches set in frozen Moscow. To my complete surprise, this short fiction piece was hands down my favorite of the anthology. When Janx and Eliseo Daisani compete for Baba Yaga's daughter's affection, it suddenly dawns upon them that the powerful witch was using her gorgeous daughter as bait.
I was pleased to learn that Robin Hobb was returning to the Farseer universe for the sake of a short story. And yet, although "Words like Coins" is set in the Six Duchies, it has nothing to do with Hobb's three trilogies set in that same universe. With the men gone to find work to provide for their families, Mirrifen, a failed hedge-witch's apprentice, must look after the farm and her pregnant sister-in-law during a severe drought which threatens their existence. Trying to make do as best she can, Mirrifen's life will be turned upside down by the appearance of a pregnant pecksie. Healing the ailing creature puts the pecksie in her debt, which has a number of unexpected repercussions. Magical and humane, this short story makes me looking forward to the forthcoming collection of short fiction Hobb is putting together.
A Fantasy Medley offers four vastly different tales by four of the top speculative fiction female writers today. In the end, this anthology makes for an interesting and enjoyable reading experience.
The final verdict: 7.5/10