Edited by Jonathan Oliver, Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane brings together a wide (and surprising) variety of authors from across the world, and across the genre shelves. Advertised as a "perfect read for Hallowe’en and the long autumn evenings ahead," it went right to the top of the review pile when I was fortunate enough to snag an early paperback review copy.
This is a very dark, very grim collection of tales. It's also a very efficient collection, with some stories approaching the point of abruptness with their brevity. The Wrong Fairy, by Audrey Niffenegger, open the anthology with a tale of magic and insanity that's interesting, but which never quite manages to set its hooks in the reader. It's If I Die, Kill My Cat, by Sarah Lotz that really kicks the anthology off, succeeding as both a character piece and as a tale of magic. Shuffle, by Will Hill, was a stumbling block for me (likely due to my boredom with card tricks), but Domestic Magic, by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem, really uped the ante with its tale of magic-fused (or, perhaps, excused) parental neglect.
Neither Cad Coddeu, by Liz Williams, nor Party Tricks, by Dan Abnett, made much of an impression on me, despite the authors being near the top of my must-read pile. First and Last and Always, by Thana Niveau, however, more than renewed my interest with its fascinating tale of gothic horror, while . The Art of Escapology, by Alison Littlewood, put an interesting twist on reader expectations with its tale of childish obsessions and mature possessions. The Baby, by Christopher Fowler, was perhaps the most disturbing tale of the lot, adding a supernatural edge to an already controversial subject.
Do as Thou Wilt..., by Storm Constantine, was another story that failed to make an impression, despite coming from an author I admire significantly. Bottom Line, by Lou Morgan, and MailerDaemon, by Sophia McDougall, round out a rather soft centre, succeeding to intrigue, but falling short of entertaining. Fortunately, Buttons, by Gail Z. Martin comes along to redeem things with what was, by far, the strongest tale in the anthology for me. Nanny Grey, by Gemma Files, would have been a perfect tale with which to end things, a cruel, dark, and mysterious tale of magical deception that left me all-but cackling with glee. Dumb Lucy, by Robert Shearman, isn't a bad tale, but it suffers from heightened expectations due as much to its place at the end of the collection as its proximity to two of the strongest tales in the collection.
Creative, original, and even inspired (at times), Magic truly is An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane. No matter your tastes regarding what magic is, or your expectations as to what magic should be, odds are there's something here that will cast its spell over you and make the hours just . . . disappear.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins