Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory

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Bad-Ass Faeries, Volume 3: In All Their Glory

Edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, L. Jagi-Lamplighter,

Lee C. Hillman, and Jeffrey Lyman

Mundania Press (May 2010)

Troop Fae

“War and Circuses” by D.C. Wilson
“Uddereek” by Hildy Silverman
“Brownies vs. Blondies” by Chris Pisano and Brian Koscienski
“Last Gate to Faerie” by Trisha Woodridge and Christy Tohara
“Fae Fighters” by Lee C. Hillman

Covert Fae

“At The Grasshopper’s Hill” by Robert E. Waters
“I Carry No Gun” by Bernie Mojzes
“Return of the Hero” by C.J. Henderson
“The Natural-Born Spy” by James Daniel Ross
“Snow and Iron” by Darren W. Pearce and Neal Levin

Support Fae

“A Brief Battle for the Throne” by Jeffrey Lyman
“Not-So-Silent Night” by L. Jagi Lamplighter
“Selk-Skin Deep” by Kelly A. Harmon
“Theatre of Conflict” by Jason Franks
“The Size of the Fight In the Soldier” by Patrick Thomas
“Amazons and Predators” by David Lee Summers

Civilian Fae

“The Price of Friendship” by David Sherman
“Field of Honor” by Elaine Corvidae
“Faerie Ring Blues” by James Chambers
“So Many Deaths” by John L. French
“Seeing Red” by Danielle Ackley McPhail

Reviewed by Carole Ann Moleti

This anthology is the third in a series, the first two of which received accolades sufficient to convince the editors to publish a third. Subtitled In All Their Glory, volume 3 consists of twenty-one stories grouped into tales of Troop Fae, Covert Fae, Support Fae, and Civilian Fae.

I haven’t read the first two volumes of this anthology, the title of which leaves no mystery as to the nature of the protagonists. Volume 3 characters are diverse, if at times intolerant of other sub-species and humans. They include gay fae, a few kick-ass females, and the usual alpha male heart-ripping type.

It opens with Troop fae, including one of my favorites: the gay soldiers whose wings turn purple with desire in the don’t ask, don’t tell tale “Fae Fighters” by Lee C. Hillman, a closed door M/M romantic fantasy.

Most confusing are the kobalds in Chris Pisano and Brian Koscienski’s “Brownies vs. Blondies. They’re initially portrayed as comely blondes but later on show their stuff in a kooky recipe that mixes the little girl scouts, cookies, ‘bigguns’, kitchen implements, toys, and lawn gnomes. Sergeant Stonejaw, Anklebiter, and Kneecapper rout the Blondies and cook up a baked version—with lots of butterscotch.

“Ra-ourrr socks arrre wet!” The kobald soldiers whined. They milled about searching for dry ground or lifting one leg right where they stood in an effort to drain the moisture from their socks. There are many calamities in life that befall the ill-fated. None is more severe or heart wrenching as wet socks.”

Yep, that’s the story.

“War and Circuses” by D.C. Wilson stars valkyries, dwarves, orcs, dragons, chimeras, griffons, selkies, chupacabras, elves (and even tigers with a trainer named Gunther). The performers in The Oberon-Titania Circus try to convince their ringmaster, Lief, that their webisodes, which broadcast Youtube videos to mortals as fantasy entertainment, aren’t giving away their true natures.

That plotline fades into Lady Mist of the Court of Summer, who tries to womanhandle Lief into manufacturing cold iron weapons to use in a battle between the Winter and Summer Courts.

This monstrous mash up gets together at the end to defend the honor of the righteous fae, regardless of their affiliation, in an entertaining romp. I suppose the body count was this story’s ticket to entry in a bad-ass anthology.

In “Uddereek” by Hildy Silverman the battle, set in an urban wasteland, is between The Restless Dead and the righteous fae.

“Uddereek, or Rick as he preferred,” is the last of the Uddereek, “the only one who had not been transformed over the millennia into a fenodyree by the Seelies’ curse upon their kind.”

The iron immune Uddereek were also well known for their attraction to human females, unless, like Rick, they’re gay and holed up in a girlie bar. Enter Brynne, a snarky Brownie with a way with words, who finds “The Last Unchanged” at Bazooka’s Gentleman’s Club and gets right to the point:

“My troop is on assignment in Newark. Though we do harm to none but the scum on that city, the corrupt king of the scum, Mayor Gregory, has contracted with the Morrigan against us. You know we aren’t Tuatha de or soldiers of any kind.”

She convinces Rick the Mighty to come out of hiding, if not out of the closet, and help battle the Sluagh “… to bring a bit of goodness into this blighted world on behalf of its poorest and most downtrodden.”

This gritty, satiric urban fantasy is entertaining, but there are a series of expository lumps describing the characters’ history, which is then shown much better in scene and dialogue later on. Nevertheless, there is a sense of real battles on several levels in this story.

It isn’t until “The Last Gate to Faerie” by Trisha Woodridge and Christy Tohara that we start to see real bad-asses and tight writing. This is one of the few stories in the anthology in which the character’s emotions are palpable and the stakes vivid and real.

Nancy is a mortal female trapped in Faerie, which has been decimated by nuclear fallout. She’s trying to get back to Worcester, Massachusetts, and her fae husband and baby, but the gates keep closing. And Nea’Kal, the faerie overlord hell bent on revenge, is not about to let her get away.

“Their toxic world had only slowed their damned breeding. Humanity gave nothing to Earth save wars and pollution. Poisoned. They poisoned the Earth, her children. Poisoned him. They needed to be exterminated.”  

Ms. Woodbridge and Ms. Tohara succeed in capturing Nancy’s desperation as she and the half-breed pixies, trolls, Sidhe and even a purple haired squirrel spirit try and help. And the villain, Kal, is well-drawn, providing him with ample motivation for his ruthless pursuit.

Covert Fae stories begin with “At The Grasshopper’s Hill,” by Robert E. Waters. Heavy on exposition this story is set in Mexico City, circa 1847.

“Lubbick was not afraid of war—or death. He had ridden to battle on the shoulders of great men: Alexander of Macedonia, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan, Napoleon. He had killed scores of humans and fae alike in pitched combat. But what was happening in the shadows made him angry.”

He tracks down the sorceress, Zarqua, who is determined to raise an Aztec god by performing human sacrifice on Mexican and American soldiers. The cave fills with “A royal ensemble of fae from the Unseelie Court,” including “Goblins, imps, harpies, boggarts, ogres, gremlins, and pixies, twisted and foul, hump-backed and holding staves and cudgels, walking canes and mahogany spears.”

Lubbick leads the attack against them, the god, Tezcatlipoca, and Zarqua in a prolonged, green and red blooded battle, interrupted by his musings about Marie Antoinette causing the French revolution by rejecting a pixie’s advance, and his own bathing with Cleopatra in an Egyptian fountain. And he can still find the presence of mind to blow raspberries in the middle of the carnage. Now that’s bad-ass, though a bit distracting.

In “I Carry No Gun,” by Bernie Mojzes, Lillybottom the shapeshifter doesn’t like German soldiers. No one does during World War II, and General Whittaker is using and abusing him. But Lillybottom doesn’t care; everything to him is about a good meal.

“General Whittaker’s a funny ol’ fart. He’d stared at me when I first slopped into his office, big, webbed feet slappin’ against the thirsty hardwood. His eyes bugged out a bit, an’ he made a strange, gurglin’ noise somewhere in this throat.  “I see,” he said. He sat down heavily an rubbed his temples. […]

“I was momentarily confused, but then I remembered that this was the military and there were rules. “You’re losin’ the war. They’re bombing London an’ they ain’t gonna stop until they’ve tromped their nasty steel boots all over the world. An’ I’ve talked to seven different recruiters, an’ not a one of them wants my help, SUH!”

And help he does, licking his lips while anticipating the feast. The first person, as with some others in this collection, really kept me inside the head of the non-human being, making his macabre sensibilities and funky dialect totally understandable.

C.J. Henderson opens and closes “Return of the Hero” with evocative summaries.

“Things were not going to end well, and everyone knew it. That’s why from the boundaries of the Northern forests, to the very edges of the Bitter Lake, there was not a loose seed or crumb to be found. Every table top had been licked clean and each turnip squeezed for the last drop of blood to be found within its purpled skin. Every ounce of food had been gathered, preserved, hidden away—all gardens devastated, each rabbit skinned, skewered, and salted for the long and assuredly bloody winter to come. ”

A trio of faeries, “mild and sweet, set out from their homes on a perilous journey” to find the one hero left who can broker a compromise between the selfish rulers of the three kingdoms of New York City: Staten Island, the Vast Meadow (Central Park) and the Western Cliffs listed on the “bus routes of humanity” as the Palisades.

They find the elusive Sherindar and convince him to help because, “The wereclans, the zombie king, the vampire broods, and witch covens, various ghosts, demons, and dragons, and spider lords, the tentacle dumplings, the French…all manner of reprehensibles are flocking to take sides.” After all “Heroes are sewn together for the rags of need and hope.”

I foresaw the ending of this clever urban fantasy set in my hometown, but with prose like that didn’t care.

“The Natural Born-Spy” by James Daniel Ross is an engrossing, historically based story told in first person. It features a changeling created by the Nazi’s during World War II, and a drafted, hapless, nearly helpless medieval literature specialist who nevertheless rises to the demands of the command he is thrust into.

“As I left, they would sometimes say OSS, more often they would just whisper ‘spy’. Is that what I was? I didn’t feel like a spy, my medieval history professor Dr. Goldstein would have said I looked like a shmuck.”

“Snow and Iron” by Darren W. Pearce and Neal Levin profiles an assassin fairy personified by ice and snow, who kills without mercy and remorse. Quite chilling, and short, so any more and I’ll give it away.

Support Fae leads off with “A Brief Battle for the Throne” by Jeffrey Lyman, a delightful hobgoblin-narrated story with a satisfying ending and a historical twist.

It seems that some of the fae are trapped in London by the railway through Aberdeen, which crossed the ley lines and closed the door to Faerie. Even King Oberon and Queen Titania can’t get back to their rightful seats at the council table, leaving the Lords and Ladies of the tribes: trolls, pixies, ogres, elves, shocks, banshees, barghests, dryads, naiads kelpies, and pookas to fight for the throne–and figure out how to reopen the gates and save their magic.

They convene…

“…at Covent Garden in the small hours of the night—after the worst of the drunks had staggered home but still long before the sun warmed the horizon. Word had spread like wildfire across the districts and warrens of faeries. Lord Broggon could see the tension in the assemblage from the slips and errors in glamours. A horn too gnarly here, a tusk out of place there. […] Damned Elves were always scheming. Lord Broggon gripped his knife tighter.”

Deep symbolism and metaphor shine through Mr. Lyman’s dark humor.

“Not So Silent Night” by L. Jagi Lamplighter is an odd Christmas themed tale, yet another set around the events of World War II, involving German and Allied fighter jets and yes, you guessed it, Santa and his Reindeer.

MADD would be pissed at the pilot Shauna, of whom the narrator “wondered if I had overestimated how much rum toddy she had poured down her gullet at the Officers’ Christmas Eve party” before she takes off.

The humor, placed in between two dramatic and nuanced tales, failed to tickle my funny bone.

“Selk-Skin Deep” by Kelly A. Harmon is a very well-written, harrowing story of an accident that didn’t have to happen aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam war. The selkie uses his advantage to try and save the ship and its crew. Ms. Harmon has written an action packed, suspenseful account of a naval battle with a poignant ending. But bombs are ordnance, not ordinance.

In “Theatre of Conflict” by Jason Franks’ characters relive some of Uncle Derek’s best and worst memories from the Vietnam war, even though they’re all in a remote desert area of Australia. The yowies, wyverns, knights, and dryads come for them, like personified PTSD induced hallucinations popping out of Derek’s head, drawing his twin niece and nephew into the fighting–just like his platoon of Eeries did in Nam. But this isn’t a game.

“I told you, it’s storybook rules. They can’t kill us in the first act, there’s not enough drama.

“What does drama have to do with anything?”

“If you’re a faerie? Everything. Life, death, love, war…everything is a performance. Everything.”

“The Size of the Fight in the Soldier” by Patrick Thomas meanders like a log adrift in a bayou that gets stuck in the mud. I got lost somewhere between the Governor of Louisiana being saved by roane Colonel Saraid, and realizing what a natural resource transplanted fae were, and how things were worse after Mysticaust than Katrina, and how Bristlebrite the sprite was recruited to patrol the backwaters.

“In the days before the Mysticaust, children had fire drills. Their grandparents had bomb drills. Now the most important drill was for mystic attacks.”

Bristlebrite then takes center stage like an abusive boarding school matron, teaching her charges a lesson by forcing them to ride a dead alligator down river and then butcher it, making pretty jewelry out of its toes. That is meant to prepare them to fight the monger.

I was left wanting to know more about Mysticaust. And where were the parents? They’re alive, and Bristlebrite knows they’ll be horrified by the trophy she plans to hang on the front gate.

The point of view in “Amazons and Predators,” by David Lee Summers, is so shallow that Airman First Class Tabitha Adams desire to avenge the death of her mother on 9/11/01 by bombing Afghanistan becomes a corny reprise on the culture of terrorism and the abuse of women. There is nothing new there, and nothing changes for Airman Adams or the world at large.

The vantage point of Tzefira, the Oior-pata warrior fae, is equally distant. She is not motivated to avenge the destruction of her people and their mountain cave homes by American drones dropping bombs, or the beating of burkha clad women by the Afghani’s, but rather by:

“The requirement that the Oior-pata must kill a human male before the first mating was a law borne of necessity. If she did not kill a human male, there was a strong likelihood she would kill Aethon soon after they mated—or he would kill her defending himself. Surely there must be an answer.”

I found the idea that a pissed off, horny female faerie be set loose to kill them all so she can finally hook up with her prince charming just plain offensive, demonizing women and trivializing the twin horrors of war and terrorism and the human suffering of extremist oppression.

As we enter the world of the Civilian Fae, “The Price of Friendship” by David Sherman delves into the mindset of a non-human creature very effectively. And all we need to know about the myth and legend is summarized in a short author’s note at the end, rather than taking up white space on the page.

The Nix, “a shape shifting Germanic faerie related to the Kelpie,” repays a kindness shown to his family by a human in the only way he knows how. There is nothing pretty about this story, except the prose and masterful portrayal of dilemmas faced, decisions made, actions taken.

“The Stone of Kingship had declaimed him our lord, on that very same battlefield where he had slain my husband with his accursed blade. For too many of our people, that was excuse enough to set aside the ancient war and bend their knees to an upstart changeling with human blood in his veins. Excuse enough to forget who had died, to set aside revenge. Perhaps they had found something else to live for.”

“Field of Honor” by Elaine Corvidae thus summarizes the futility of war, and of revenge. The unnamed Seelie with the White Hand discovers that which does nothing to bring back those lost only perpetuates the tragedy.

“Faerie Ring Blues” by James Chambers is reminiscent of Gord Seller’s “Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moon’s Blues” (Asimov’s, July 2008), with fae in the desert as opposed to aliens on extended gigs in Frogships.

“Rollin’ Joe Linnet worked six steel strings like no mortal man should’ve been able to, but the only person that knew it was Gorge. […] There was magic in that man. Magic that damn well didn’t belong to him. […] The couple of years since Gorge had been exiled from the Faerie Kingdoms weren’t so long ago that he couldn’t recognize the chords and scales of the Enchanted Lands.”

Gorge finds solace in what ever music he can still make, and in the female human who saved his life and became his soul mate, but he still has something to prove—and a score to settle with those who stripped him of his wings and cast him out of paradise.

I was entranced by the nuanced layers of this story, despite the simple, straightforward prose. Mr. Chambers captures Gorge’s emotion at being caught between two worlds along with the absolute worship he had for his music, and that his woman had for the exile whose life she saved in more ways than one.

“So Many Deaths” by John L. French takes the action to the backstreets of Baltimore. In this noir crime story, Fredag, a Guard of the Last Watch works the missing persons case from on one side of the portal while Detective Bethany Steele investigates the DOA in Patterson Park. They’re about to meet where White Angel turns to Red Angel, Faerie Dust, Super Juice and Tinkerbell, but some just call it ‘hero wine’.

“Earth. Earth was the home world, the place from which we fled when the God of the Tree supplanted our Goddess. The humans who dwell there are short lived, violent people with a tremendous talent for developing new and imaginative ways of destroying each other.”

But things are equally as corrupt and violent in the Land of Eternal Youth, Tirnanogue. Cue the barghests, vicious hounds that track their quarry with the goal of it being the next meal. Ingenious.

“Seeing Red” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail is paintball, faerie style. Suzanne needs to get back to work in the ranks of the Wild Hunt, but she’s got a fear of redcaps, and the shield around the Wild Lands has been breached. There’s lots of action in this fast paced story that feels like a game, but the stakes are much higher for the fae than mere mortals.

There are some very fine stories in Bad-Ass Faeries: In All Their Glory. And there are a few pretty good ones. I believe the light humor interspersed throughout was meant for reader relief, but I found it jarring.

Maybe my interpretation of bad-ass is different than that of the editors, but it also might be that there are only so many iterations of faerie stories to be told. The themes in Volume 3 sometimes blended together, becoming repetitive and bogged down with excess description and silliness, not the gritty, compelling material I expected. I generally ignore a few clunky passages and grammatical errors in such a large volume, but some stories could have benefited from a smidge more editing.