From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Magic in the Mirrorstone, edited by Steve Berman

Magic in the Mirrorstone, edited by Steve Berman
Mirrorstone (304pp) $14.95

Magic in the Mirrorstone
is a young adult fantasy anthology, with stories that are pretty much each enjoyable to read. Perhaps none of the stories here are quite brilliant, but that risks overly shortchanging the reading experience, as I really quite enjoyed myself — and there are several rather challenging, ambiguous, darker stories.

The bookend stories are among the most fun. It opens light — and quite funny — with Eugie Foster’s “Princess Bufo marinus, also known as Amy,” about a high school kid who discovers a frog princess. It’s very pleasant, sweet – but, I must say, never surprises. It closes rather more substantially with the longest story in the book, “Pig, Crane, Fox: Three Hearts Unfolding,” by Beth Bernobich. This also involves a princess — with a father who sets a series of “impossible tasks” for a prince to complete to win her hand. But the princess has her own ideas — as does Kai, the protagonist. He’s just a street boy, but he thinks there’s money in winning the princess’s hand. So he invites his compatriots to help him . . . the whole thing unspools neatly — perhaps a bit too much so, at the end . . . still, it’s very entertaining, and honest, and I believed in the characters.

Other highlights include E. Sedia’s “Out of Her Element,” about a sickly girl who adopts a salamander — a fire elemental. A visiting alchemist things he can use the salamander to cure her — but the cost is high. The story paints a moral, and quite effectively, without preaching. Lawrence Schoen’s “The Amulet of Winter” is at the top level a quite entertaining story of a master thief sent to steal the title amulet, and the entity he encounters guarding it — but Schoen also manages not to forget the question of the morality of theft. Sean Manseau’s “Veronica Brown” also has a bit of a sting in its tale — the title girl desperately wants to win a Lake Champlain swimming contest, but she always loses — in everything –— to her more glamorous older sister. But Veronica happens to know the monster living in the lake . . .

Indeed, there is a similar ambiguity at the center of other stories here — it’s fair to say that these are not typical YA morality tales. Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “The Jewel of Abandon” looks at the consequences of a jewel which grants a high school girl the ability to see other people from a distance — but always in the worst light. Tiffany Trent’s “Blackwater Baby” features a Jesuit priest with a dark secret of his own trying to keep a half-Faery child from the clutches of the darker elements of Faerie. J. D. Everyhope’s “Old Crimes” brings a teen-aged girl into contact with an old Mexican god — and these gods want blood. The conclusion here is very dark indeed. Holly Black, in “Virgin”, shows a runaway girl making friends with a homeless boy, who has an unexpected fantastical creature for another “friend” — again, the consequences are not easy, and not what we might expect.

Even the lighter stories tend to have a dark undertone — as with Cassandra Clare’s “Have You Ever Seen a Shoggoth?”, in which a disaffected teen uses the Older Gods to take revenge . . . or Cecil Castellucci’s “Lights, Camera, Action,” about the unexpected consequences of villainy, even screen villainy.

Taken as a whole, this is quite a successful YA anthology.

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