Edited by John Joseph Adams
Finally I bring you the long anticipated overall review of The Way of the Wizard edited by John Joseph Adams. If you’ve been following my Wednesday posts, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this collection of short stories blew me away. I’m used to reading magazines or anthologies where I get a few stories I connect with, a handful I can see are good, and a couple that I didn’t like. While I might not have loved every story, I can’t remember a single one that provoked a negative or “eh” reaction. I received this book as part of my Hugo voting packet, but plan to purchase the paper copy so my boys can read it.
This collection is a mix of original and reprinted stories that show a wide variety of interpretations for the concept of wizardry. Some are good wizards, some bad, some heroes, some villains. It’s a broad spectrum look at the position of magic and wisdom that the term wizard has come to contain. On top of the stories themselves, each work has an introduction with the usual bio information as well as a lead in to the story that offers some insight into what appealed to the editor, and is usually fun to read.
While I liked all the stories (though The Secret of the Blue Star by Marion Zimmer Bradley I’d read before), here are the ones I think stood out for one reason or another:
In the Lost Lands by George R.R. Martin is written in a nontraditional narrative style. It’s not quite omniscient, but at the same time the POV is not clearly focused on one character over another much of the time. While the narrative style drew me, the story itself is one where I identified too closely with what was going on to feel happy with any possible solution. Not dissatisfied as a reader, but rather I hoped for a different outcome even as I knew the rules had been set. This is part of why the narrative style works. It’s an amalgam between a modern tale and a teaching tale, so it engages as well as teaches.
John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner by Susanna Clarke offers a wonderful retelling of a Northern English folktale in which the wizard’s arrogance blinds him to what is really happening.
Wizard’s Apprentice by Delia Sherman is told in a sideways fashion, initially through the eyes of the townsfolk regarding a bookseller with a reputation for so much more. As the tale goes along, though, the reader learns the truth, and it’s a powerful one.
The Go-Slow by Nnedi Okorafor is a modern-day tale of magic built up on African traditions. The reader learns the truth along with the main character in a way that seems a clash between the now and the mystic, but is not.
Too Fatal a Poison by Krista Hoeppner Leahy is about a victim of sorcery, one of the sailors in the Odyssey. It gives a wonderfully different interpretation to a minor character in that tale.
The Secret of Calling Rabbits by Wendy N. Wagner I’ve already mentioned here:
The Wizards of Perfil by Kelly Link is another case where the story isn’t exactly what it appears, and the main character isn’t exactly who you think it is either. I kept reading with the desire to figure it out, but also because the characters, in all their strengths and follies, drew me on.
Cerile and the Journeyer by Adam-Troy Castro is one of the more literary styled stories in this collection, which means I can’t say much without spoiling it, but the voice is strong, and the story pieces build so that you know what’s coming but half wish it wasn’t true, at the same time as you doubt yourself and start to wonder who the villain is.
Counting the Shapes by Yoon Ha Lee offers a different situation in which the wizard is neither just starting out nor powerful enough to face the current situation. She’s faced with a puzzle she can’t piece together and a deadline that emphasizes the “dead” as in everyone she knows and cares for. There’s more on top of that conflict, but everything is woven together with skill.
Street Wizard by Simon R. Green reminds me of Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch though they’re clearly different interpretations. It’s got a strong voice and I enjoyed the alternate perspective.
El Regalo by Peter S. Beagle is a wonderful tale of the complicated nature of sibling rivalry…with magic tossed in.
The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria by John R. Fultz is another surreal tale where it’s hard to be sure which reality is real. John’s a friend of mine and when he mentioned he had a story in the anthology, I made sure I kept an eye out for it. I was not disappointed, nor do I think you will be.
I used harsh measures to limit my comments because, as I said, none of the stories actually turned me off, and still this has gone on longer than usual. It’s a worthy collection with something from the perspective of almost every possible wizard interpretation out there, including both folktales and histories as well as unique creations. I am impressed by both the quality and breadth of the stories, and think you would be too.