Sails & Sorcery: Tales of Nautical Fantasy

Sails & Sorcery: Tales of Nautical Fantasy - Elaine Cunningham, Mark Summers, Robert E. Vardeman, James M. Ward, Lawrence C. Connolly, Paul S. Kemp, Gerard Houarner, Jaleigh Johnson, Murray J.D. Leeder, J.M. Martin, W.H. Horner, Jon Sprunk, Christopher Heath, Gerri Leen, William Ledbetter, Leslie Brown, Patrick Tho This is an anthology of 28 all new original fantasy stories all set in an age of sail. About half of them are set in the world we know, that is, could be called historical fantasy (and I found I tended to prefer these stories) and the other half are high fantasy. One Amazon reviewer described some of those as "Middle-Earth-on-the-high-seas" and I'd agree those tend to have that flavor, although with a generous helping of Conan the Barbarian. And yes, a lot of horror, including one that came across as a Lovecraft pastiche (John Sprunk's "Sea of Madness"), and few you could call upbeat. I should say upfront I'm not an objective reviewer, my good friend Gerri Leen is one of the contributors and I was one of the "first readers" (aka "beta") for her historical fantasy story about Francis Drake, "The Drum of the Sea." And yes, that is my favorite, need you ask? It was, with one other exception, the only story dealing with a historical figure, and unlike so much in this swashbuckling fantasy genre felt like it had a point--about the price paid for the dark side of a life of adventure. Gerri's was the only name on the contents page I knew before reading this book. Most authors' background entailed only short fiction in small press, with a few exceptions. The back of the book highlights "New York Times best-seller Elaine Cunningham, Paul S. Kemp, Patrick Thomas, and James M. Ward with an all-new story featuring Halcyon Blithe." A lot of the stories had some really interesting concepts--such as a world that had stopped spinning (Chun Lee's "Stillworld: Sailing to the Moon") and the concept given a nod to in the title "Dryads in the Mast" by Leslie Brown. I'd say a few of the stories I found impressive, and I really liked about a third, more mildly liked about a third more, and the rest were "Okay" with only a few I found pulpy clunkers. Thus the three-and-a half-star rating, although I'm tempted to bump it up a full star more for the illustrations (each story had at least one) which were lovely. I thought I'd give a shout out to my five top favorites (besides Gerri's). It was hard actually to choose those top five--several others were top contenders. In the order they appeared: William Ledbetter, "Thief of Hearts" - What can I say? Captain Birch got to me. One of my favorite characters in the anthology. Patrick Thomas, "Beneath the Sea of Tears" - a high fantasy story featuring Terrabelle, a pixie/ogre hybrid, her partner Saraid, a selkie, and their adventures in an underwater city; this stood out as one of the very few light-hearted stories. I would be happy to read more adventures of Terrabelle and Saraid. T. Borregaard, "Cassia's Song" - I liked Cassia Aquila, the setting in Ancient Rome, and the slow build to the reveal. I cared enough about her by the end to find her fate poignant. And I thought the premise pretty original. Elaine Cunningham, "Dead Men Tell No Tales" - Easily my favorite among this five, the one I had no doubt deserved to be included among the best. This was a first person narrative and I was impressed by the voice. Pitch perfect. And this just built up masterfully to the chilling ending. Paul S. Kemp, "The Spinner" - Another stand-out both for style and story, and that last line is haunting. One of the strongest, most memorable endings, in the collection. So yes, by and large I'm happy to have this on my shelves, and would recommend it to fans of short stories for whom a mix of fantasy and nautical adventure appeals.