This collection was never intended to see the light of day, indeed as Tehani, the editor says, “it really shouldn’t exist” Phantazein grew out of the slush pile of the submissions call for another Fablecroft anthology, Insert Title Here.
As I was reading the slush, I uncovered several stories that resonated with me as working very well together but not, it seemed, in an unthemed anthology. To include them in Insert Title Here would have unbalanced the nature of that collection. These stories felt like they belonged in a different book altogether. A fantasy book. This book.
- Introduction, Phantazein.
Now my participation as a judge in the Aurealis awards precludes all but the most general commentary on a number of the stories in this collection. A fact that makes telling you how good it is rather difficult.
That being said you have Tansy Rayner Roberts with a fusion of Greek myth and fantasy in The Love Letters of Swans. If you have come to enjoy Tansy’s work, this is her doing what she does best, fusing her fiction talents with her professional knowledge of the classics. Interesting to see her working with Greek myth/history as opposed to Roman.
Thoraiya Dyer, delivers an interesting take on Arabian myth in her story Bahamut. If you liked the historical stories presented in Gilgamesh Press’ Ishtar, Dyer’s work in fantasy, especially here, would work well in that milieu.
In Kneaded, SG Larner delivers a sickly sweet( I may never be able to drink Raspberry cordial again) tale that plays with elements of The Sugar Child and other folktales that involve baked or manufactured children. Twelfth by Faith Mudge also gives us a dark and interesting perspective on those group of tales that fall under The Twelve Dancing Princesses line. Working with fairytales I think can be a two edged sword, they are familiar and so it’s difficult to be original and you have centuries of expectation as to how and why these stories should be told. Thankfully all the writers in this collection have managed to walk the blade edge.
The Nameless Seamstress is a beautiful tale by the late Gitte Christensen, presenting Chinese mythic elements. Having read it, loved the ambience its execution conveys, I am truly saddened that we have lost this talent.
It’s good to see another work by Rabia Gale, a Pakistani American writer whose work I have followed for some time. Her Village of No Women, continues to show growth in her abilities. I have always found her work to be distinctive and original and this story reaffirms my thoughts that she is one of those writers that can work with genre elements and reshape them to produce something original and distinctively hers.
Thematically Phantazein seems largely split between retellings of fairytales and retellings or reworkings of ancient history/myth. If you are a fan of the current trend of dark retellings of either of these sources then there’s enough dark here for you. Not all stories end sadly but there is a gravity, a depth to all of them.
I love that Tehani included an illustrated work of poetry from Foz Meadows (illustrated by Moni). You probably wouldn’t get Scales of Time outside of small press, or somewhere like Strange Horizons – a poem about friendship and love from the perspective of a dragon.
For a collection that seems to have magically coalesced, Phantazein is a solid production. I’m not sure you could get a stronger collection by asking for direct submissions. Kudos to Tehani’s eye for talent and story and kudos to the writers who took long raked over material in a lot of cases and breathed life and originality in to them.
Phantazein showcases the depth of talent Australia has in the fantasy field and gives us a glimpse at some other international authors who we may not be familiar with.
This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014. Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.