1) We Will Not Be Undersold by Seanan McGuire – This story centers around big-box store Undermart. Regular-guy Dan is an employee dating Nimh, one of the junior managers, and all is well until he begins to notice odd behavior at work. This was a quick, cute, tongue-in-cheek read and a good one to start anthology on a light note. It feels very different from what I’ve read from Seanan McGuire before. There’s something of a young adult air to it.
2) Changeling by Susan Jett – Marisol, a new mother distraught over complications during her son’s birth, discovers how the fae have adapted to New York when her midwife remembers just where she saw the birthing nurse before. A hero’s journey story that has a few familiar folktale elements and a thought-provoking ending.
3) Water-called by Kari Sperring – Jenny is some sort of water spirit or elemental that has fed on humans that have fallen into her canal for centuries. Lately the bodies have been leeched prior to their dumping and Jenny is forced to deal with the hunter infringing on her territory. This is a story set in the nighttime, with a main character that is far removed from human concerns and emotions. She is a predator — ancient and terrible. I enjoyed the tangible descriptions of the canal and its surroundings and everything to do with Jenny. Where this story went wrong for me was the ‘hunter’ character.
4) The Roots of Ashton Quercus by Juliet E. McKenna – Another story with fae as the protagonist, but this time with less predatory concerns than the last story. It is about a grove of dryads that have discovered that their trees are about to be razed for a new road. I liked the solution they came up with and how their group dynamics played out within the story.
5) To Scratch an Itch by Avery Shade – This time the fae in question is a little girl named Avery Sky who was told she had to abide by three rules, and one of them has to do with telling her parents if she ever got an itch between her eyes. This is what happens to Avery when the itch finally comes. This was a sweet story about childhood. I liked that the mystery behind the itch rule is revealed to the reader at the same time it is to Avery.
6) Continuing Education by Kristine Smith – Lee Kincaid is enrolled in an MBA program at the Old Campus of Monckton College, but her school’s professors are more than they appear to be. This was a mostly straightforward tale, but touches on the idea of the symbiotic relationship between the fae and humans.
7) How To Be Human™ by Barbara Ashford – A jaded “menopausal male fairy” uses his charismatic powers to make money off of self-help seminars. I liked both the premise and the link between power, age, and cynicism in the fairy world.
8) How Much Salt by April Steenburg – This is a story about a selkie named Dylan who is forced to go inland because of the way humans are encroaching on the sea shores. The story revolves around where he ends up. I was mildly amused by this one but wouldn’t have minded if it had gone further.
9) Hooked by Anton Strout – Hooked is the sort of story that changes as you read it. It starts off with a man knocking on a door because of a flyer, takes a little turn I wasn’t sure I liked, veers into something darker, and then twists and lands elsewhere. Hmm. The destination was OK, but I liked the journey there more.
10) Crash by S. C. Butler – A female trader hears a rumor about leprechauns on Wall Street and follows up on it. This left me with a feeling like I’d been gently nudged to imagine some twisted humor in some real world events.
11) Fixed by Jean Marie Ward – Jack Tibbert starts off as a cat and is taken to an animal shelter where trouble ensues. This was another story that felt decidedly YA since the narrator, Jack, is a teenage boy and definitely notices the teenage girl who picked him up. There was a good sense of urgency and action in this one, but I could guess where the story was going.
12) A People Who Always Know by Shannon Page & Jay Lake – A sort of cloak and dagger story that reveals political fighting between older traditionalists and younger upstarts among the fae. I always like stories that have something of a battle of wits in them so I liked where this went, but I wish there was more to this.
13) The Slaughtered Lamb by Elizabeth Bear – I think The Slaughtered Lamb was one of my favorite stories in the anthology in terms of the world building. It had that gritty UF style, and a New York City where magic overflow means there’s a “liaison between the real world and the otherwise one”. This is conveyed to us through the eyes of a transvestite werewolf with achy feet. I liked the characters more than what was actually going on, mostly because the action was quickly dealt with. The characters lingered longer. Yup, another I wanted to continue.
14) Corrupted by Jim C. Hines – This was (in my mind) the darkest of the stories, so this book closes on a very different note from which it began. A fairy whose job is protecting humans from those of her own kind, has to pay a high price to keep people safe. I thought this was very grim.
Overall: I think my reaction is on the middle ground when I look at the anthology as a whole. There were bits and pieces of each story that sparked my interest but I didn’t find a story that really burned itself in my brain. All of these stories stood alone just fine (if they were companion stories to a series, I couldn’t tell), but there were a few stories here whose worlds I wouldn’t mind revisiting – Elizabeth Bears’, Shannon Page and Jay Lake’s, and April Steenburg’s, in particular. Many felt complete and satisfying as they were (Susan Jett’s, Juliet E. McKenna’s, Barbara Ashford’s, Seanan McGuire’s and a few others), then there were the 3 or 4 stories that felt a little flatter than the rest. These focused on the premise of the fae creatures surviving among humans but I didn’t really notice other elements to them. The stories that incorporated some sort of growth and/or inner conflict, or conveyed the adaptation while telling a bigger story were the most memorable for me.
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The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity website