(Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menageries Book 4)
(World Weaver Press, July 2016)
Reviewed by Chuck Rothman
Sirens is the fourth volume in a series of anthologies edited by Rhonda Parrish, with the overall title of Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menageries. Sirens are probably underrepresented in modern fantasy, and this includes 16 variations on the theme.
“Siren Seeking” by Kelly Sandoval is the story of Thelia, a siren with a dating problem. She keeps meeting up with various supernatural beings, but things just don‘t work out. The story doesn’t really resolve, but it manages to be more than just a series of jokes and paints Thelia’s frustration very nicely.
Amanda Kespohl contributes “The Fisherman and the Golem,” where Ged finds himself the owner of a female golem. Unsure of what to do with her, he has her start by baking bread for him, and slowly begins to fall in love – and realizes she may not be a golem at all. The story winds to a conclusion that shows her to be something quite different.
“We are Sirens” is a rollercoaster ride about a group of sirens who go through the tacky side of America, finding men to seduce by their song. But they are confused by Sarah, one person who isn’t male or female and thinks he/she might be another siren. It’s a mystery to them, but not to us, and Sarah realizes the insanity of what they are doing. L. S. Johnson‘s story moves like a rocket and is a delight to read.
“Moth to an Old Flame” by Pat Flewwelling has its siren, Serena, tending a pet shop during the London Blitz and finding herself attracted the Dr. Jack, a veterinarian who tends to her pets. She uses the shop to attract people to gently feed on. Eyno, the goddess of wartime destruction, shows up with a vision that Dr. Jack is going to be her victim, and Serena has to call on an old friend to help save him. I liked the relationships between the gods, but found it hard to get into the story.
Gabriel F. Cuellar‘s “The Bounty” has its siren as a bounty hunter, searching for criminals and bringing them to justice with her song. The story shows her finding another one at a casino. Everything is a bit straightforward; I would have liked to see some more obstacles or problems.
Roberto is a Mediterranean fisherman who sees “The Dolphin Riders,” mythical creatures who ride across the sea and who call fishermen to their doom. The others laugh at him, until he brings proof. Randall G Arnold uses the setting well, but the story doesn’t seem to come to life.
“Is This Seat Taken” by Michael Leonberger is about a serial killer in the Washington, DC Metro. The protagonist rides it every day, and starts to notice a woman for whom he feels a strange attraction. He quickly becomes obsessed, neglecting his family. The story highlights a problem with theme anthologies. Anywhere else, there would be mystery about the woman and a reveal. In an anthology called Sirens, however, it’s not hard to guess what’s going on. The story would have had far more impact in another venue, where the mystery was less obvious. On the other hand, the protagonist has to be just a little bit dim not to consider who the woman might be, siren or not.
V. F. LeSan gets credit for thinking outside the box. “Nautilus” is science fiction, not fantasy. The title refers to a sentient ship that is searching for a missing ship, trying to find out what happened. It’s nice to see the concept being used metaphorically, not literally, but I found the personality of Nautilus too downbeat and the story tries too hard to give it motivation.
“Siren’s Odyssey” by Tamsin Showbrook tells two parallel stories, that of Aahleis, a siren, and Hannah, a homeless woman. Aahleis is visiting the land and impulsively gives Hannah some money, which makes her feel responsible. The two characters are very well drawn, and I liked the bond that forms between them.
Simon Kewin‘s “Safe Waters” is another science fiction tale, set at the Atlantis resort, a planet that specializes in turning tourists into various fish-like forms to swim in their giant lagoon. Lina turns into a mermaid, and notes that there are some things outside the lagoon’s mesh gate. Things that call to her. The siren is more metaphorical in this case, but makes the case for a way to find what you really want out of life.
The siren in “Notefisher” shows up at a rock festival. The protagonist, an artist, spots a beautiful woman and becomes mildly obsessed. While the characters were good, Cat McDonald‘s story really just concentrates on the protagonist searching for the woman and finally finding her. The story suffers due to the theme of the anthology, which removes the mystery from it.
In Sandra Wickham‘s “Experience,” the siren is on a cruise ship and is ordered by the Siren Goddess to stamp out an evil being aboard it, and this is made harder when the Goddess removes her power to teach her a lesson. She meets up with Beth, who’s been victimized and in her human form has to figure out a way to make things right. The story is nicely told, though I wish there had been more obstacles in her path.
“Threshold” by K. T. Ivanrest is a variation on the theme that manages to keep the elements while changing everything else. It’s set in a society where a magical fence is needed to keep away the Between, who lure people to their deaths with their song. Navrin is 14 and about to come of age when he goes on a hunt to stop the Between, and causes his stepsister Eisa to leave the shelter and be caught by the Between. He and his stepbrother Rokat go to rescue her, and find out that things are not what they thought. After reading so many literal takes on the siren myth, it’s refreshing to see one that’s showing the concept in a new guise. The story is a strong adventure and the emotions of the characters make it more than just a “fight the monster” tale.
Adam L. Bealby contributes “The Fisherman’s Catch.” Jim is a fisherman who’s worried about his friend Burt, who lost his wife but is now spending time with a mysterious woman who he keeps secret. Jim insists on seeing her, and discovers the woman is . . . well, the title of the anthology gives that away. This is a nicely horrific twist on the genre, probably the most effective horror in the book. I especially liked Jim and Burt, two men who think they have a solution.
“One More Song” is set in a world where the many strange creatures of the sea – sirens, selkies, kelpies and others – are known and live with humans. Mira is a siren, a private investigator type who is asked by the selkie Iona for help escaping her abusive human husband. Mira comes up with a plan to rescue Iona, something that causes its own problems. Eliza Chan has written a strong story, where Mira has to jump through hoops to achieve the ending, with obstacles and surprises to overcome.
It’s back to basics with “Homecoming” by Tabitha Lord: the tale of Penelope and Odysseus at the end of the Odyssey, where the siren myth originated. The sirens are barely mentioned here and take second place to a retelling of the ending of the Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view. I liked the concentration on Penelope, who takes on an aspect that’s more than just the myth.
Overall, Sirens is a solid effort. I think the main problem is that the siren myth is limited, so too many things repeat across the stories. Still, there’s enough good reading to make this worth taking a look at.
Chuck Rothman’s novels Staroamer’s Fate and Syron’s Fate are available from Fantastic Books.