(Carroll & Graf, 500 pages, $17.95.)
In the wake of bestsellers such as the Harry Potter series and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, sorcerers are all the vogue. Here, then, comes Mike Ashley's massive anthology, The Mammoth Book of Sorcerers' Tales.
This volume collects 23 sorcerous tales, ranging from A.C. Benson's 1903 "The Closed Window" to six new stories written especially for this book. Also included are classic stories by several of fantasy's most influential writers, notably Clark Ashton Smith, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.
The book's overall tone is a peculiar hybrid: a somewhat genteel atmosphere combined with yarn-driven pulp narratives. The stories tend to be very idea-centered, with the characters only superficially developed. The most remarkable exception is Darrell Schweitzer's unsettlingly strange and evocative "To Become a Sorcerer" -- the anthology's longest story -- a carefully paced and tensely related tale of a boy's journey of self-discovery and his troubling relationship with his powerful father.
There are other treasures. Steve Rasnic Tem's "Ten Things I Know about the Wizard" -- about a man who falls in love with a wizard's daughter -- has a lot of attitude and plenty of surprises. Richard Lupoff's "Villaggio Sogno" unfolds in a sumptuously imagined city, and its characters are vivid and intriguing. In "The Game of Magical Death", Doug Hornig comes up with an effectively threatening scenario, narrated from a gripping point of view. Tom Holt's "The Infestation" -- about a sorcerer content with his own mediocrity -- is wonderfully entertaining, a joy ride of wit, thrills, and misadventure.
My favourite selection is John Morressy's "Timekeeper", a mysterious and tightly composed story about a magical clockmaker.
Overall this anthology is an interesting primer for young readers enchanted by Harry Potter who may wonder what other sorcerers the world of fiction has to offer.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 2004, 3 September 2005