From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Strange Brew edited by P. N. Elrod

Reviewed by Rich Horton

Urban Fantasy is arguably the commercially dominant mode in fantastical fiction these days. Much of it is, at heart, less fantasy fiction than either mystery or romance (or, more properly, a combination of all three genres). Anthology Strange Brew is a solid example that displays both the strengths and weaknesses of the subgenre in the short form.

Much Urban Fantasy these days is less interested in its fantastical element than in the mystery or romance story it’s telling. The characters’ “species” (if you will)—witch, vampire, werewolf, etc.—becomes another element of their makeup, like gender, sexual orientation, or intelligence. This can be frustrating to a degree to long time SF/Fantasy readers, but it’s not necessarily a detriment to the quality of any given story. Also like the romance and mystery genres, much Urban Fantasy—certainly that produced by the contributors to Strange Brew—is at its best in novel or even multiple-novel length. That works against these writers when producing short fiction.

Some of these stories seem rushed or rudimentary. Some lean a shade too much on a presumption of familiarity with the novels featuring the stories’ characters.

But there is a fair amount of enjoyable fiction here as well. Jim Butcher’s “Last Call”, for example, in which Harry Dresden and his policewoman friend Karrin Murphy investigate a case of magically tainted beer at Harry’s favorite bar. Perhaps the best story from a romance reader’s perspective is Rachel Caine’s “Death Warmed Over”, in which a witch specializing in (temporarily) raising the dead is forced to raise a man she’s raised before—despite the pain she knows it will cause him. Besides a pleasant understated hint of romance it’s a nice mystery. Editor P.N. Elrod’s own story, “Hecate’s Golden Eye”, is a fine mystery (with caper elements) about a private eye with a vampire sidekick who are hired to investigate the theft (or thefts) of a gem with a long supernatural history. And “Signatures of the Dead”, by Faith Hunter, is a strong thriller in which a witch and a shapeshifter help track down a pack of feral vampires.

Strange Brew is a book that will appeal to most readers of contemporary Urban Fantasy, if mainly as some snacks between the more substantial novelistic meals these writers usually produce.

Strange Brew
Edited by P.N. Elrod
St. Martin’s Griffin
$14.95 | tpb | 384 pages
ISBN: 978-0-312-38336-7
July 2009

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