Review: Hags, Sirens, and Other Bad Girls of Fantasy

Hags, Sirens, and Other Bad Girls of FantasyHags, Sirens, and Other Bad Girls of Fantasy
by Denise Little

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hags, Sirens, & Other Bad Girls of Fantasy / 0-7564-0369-3

"What kind of stories are the most entertaining ones? Well obviously the most intriguing tales feature characters that don't walk the straight and narrow, those that get into or cause trouble rather than avoid it. And now some of fantasy's most troublesome gals have their chance to shine..."

This anthology fails to live up to the alluring siren call on the back cover. Ultimately, this anthology suffers from wanton inclusion of too many tales which simply do not fit the theme of the work and from surprisingly poor editing within the stories as a whole, including numerous spelling and grammatical errors (such as "Cindy'a body" instead of "Cindy's body") that break up the reading more than I would have expected. The stories in this anthology are:

- "Shall We Dance" by C.S. Freidman
- "Bitter Fruit: A Tale of Crownland" by Rosemary Edghill
- "The Light of Ra" by Phaedra M. Weldon
- "Time and Memory" by Leslie Claire Walker
- "Band of Sisters" by Allan Rousselle
- "Mother of Monsters" by Greg Beatty
- "Sisters of the Blade" by Loren L. Coleman
- "To Ride the Serpent Once More" by Terry Hayman
- "Lilith" by Peter Orullian
- "Homeless" by Annie Reed
- "Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth" by Christina F. York
- "Tsonoqua" by Nathaniel Poole
- "Banished" by Jane Toombs
- "Soul Taker" by Lisa Silverthorne
- "Heart of Stone" by Scott William Carter
- "Black Annie" by Jean Rabe
- "The Amphora" by Steven Mohan, Jr.
- "Dust" by Michael Hiebert
- "The Last Ride" by Douglas Smith
- "Greek to Me" by Laura Resnick

The stories themselves vary widely in terms of location, setting, tone, and so on, as is usual with these "theme" anthologies. Problematically, though, the underlying theme of Bad Girls doing Bad Things ("Bad girls have more fun," editor Denise Little notes in the introduction) is rarely actually here in the stories. Though I won't review each story in the anthology, I'll try to review the first half-dozen stories or so, to illuminate what I mean.

The first story, "Shall We Dance" is actually one of the worst short stories I've ever read. The conceit of the story is that an immortal sorceress exists in our modern world (she was once called Lilith, and then Circe, and then Medusa, and so on) who reflects in herself the purest sexual desires of the men around her. She lets them vie for her attentions, selects the most alpha of the males as her lover, and after spending several nights with her... he loses his alpha male gusto and stops winning at the weekly office poker parties. I wish I was making this up, but seriously, that's the gripping tale of Lilith/Circe/Medusa. I mean, for comparison, "Charmed", did the 'Siren who picks men up in a bar and destroys them' much, much better than this. The story told here is 100% male centric (narrated by a man, and about the poor male victim, with nice potshots at the narrator's ex-wife - a trifecta of male-centrism), the gripping writing consists of pages and pages of boring depictions of what exactly constitutes alpha male behavior (much of it bordering on sheer magic, such as their ability to stare other men into folding at poker even when they are holding four aces), and you may notice that absolutely nothing is said about the woman at all in terms of her motivation, her feelings, her life. Nothing. She is a non-event in this story, in an anthology that is supposed to be about the Bad Girls of stories.

As a side note, I wish someone would mention to Freidman that if you're going to compare human alpha male mating rituals to animals, a little research will prevent you from the embarrassment of using the *monogamous* wolf to explain the behavior of your *promiscuous* human alpha male.

Next up is "Bitter Fruit" and we're zero-for-two on the Bad Girl front. The tale is a fairly interesting one - a giant serpent god is using hypnotic powers to seduce "brides" from the local peasantry to give up their lives in order to allow special fruit trees (the source of the serpent's food) to grow from their dead bodies. A woman lawgiver determines to fight back and burn the serpent's grove to the ground, but must find a way around the serpent's magical shields. Somewhat interesting, although heavy on flashbacks and flash-sideways and a very slow starter, but it really has no place in this anthology.

Third up is "Light of Ra", which is an interesting take on the old Isis-Osiris-Set myth, but once again we are bereft of a Bad Girl. In this tale, Isis is a loving wife to Osiris and a loving sister-lover to Set, intent on doing her best to harm neither. When Thoth murders Osiris and pins the crime on Set, Isis steadfastly believes in her lover, even though she is powerless to aid him until she can return Osiris to life and remove Thoth from power. In addition to the lack of a Bad Girl, the resolution is also problematic in that if Isis could restore Set's missing tongue with Thoth's tongue, why doesn't she restore Set's other...missing...pieces with pieces borrowed from Thoth's body? Still, the retelling is interesting and would go far in a Bad Boys anthology with the re-imaging of Set.

"Time and Memory", next on the list, marks our first sort-of Bad Girl, but at this point frustration is high and the result is rather lackluster. The story centers around the Queen of the Fae who kidnaps men into her realm in order to share her gifts and magic with them, before turning them back loose into the human world to enrich the lives of others. Kidnapping is bad, and it's interesting to see an apologetic tale for the fae that makes the relationship out to be symbiotic for both races, but the tale is rushed and sloppy and the cliched ending of the Queen's frozen heart melting for the first time in years just feels way too Harlequin.

Next is "Band of Sisters" which I really, really wanted to like. Told from the point of view of the Sirens, the tale tells how they came to be, how they dealt with their fate, and how they came to forge their own futures. But campy and frequent references to the women singing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Chatanooga Choo-choo" just set my teeth on edge; others may find this story delightful. Still, points for having Bad Girls in the story, even if it turns out they were really Good Girls Cursed To Do Bad Things Against Their Will. We're still waiting for an unrepentant Bad Girl to enjoy, though.

Next is "Mother of Monsters" which is an absolutely wonderful story and the one story in this anthology which I truly enjoyed. I might *almost* recommend this anthology for this story alone, it's that wonderful. Echidna, the half-nymph, half-serpent descends at last to hades, only to find that since monsters do not traditionally have souls, they do not know what to do with her. She must be judged by the ghosts of hades to determine her fate. Author Greg Beatty shows true understanding of women when Echidna, asked if she has ever "known love" sneers that hasn't she just been weeping for her lost children and isn't that proof of love? Love, she reminds them, isn't just the love a woman feels for a man. As she rages her defiance at her fate and rails that all she ever wanted was to be *whole* - a whole woman, a whole serpent, either would suit her - the reader is touched by the bravery and courage of poor, tortured Echidna. Truly, this story is a rare gem.

We must move on, but this review is getting far too long. The next story, "Sisters of the Blade" brings renewed disappointment. The point of view is Morgana, but we find that she was not a Bad Girl, but rather a Good Girl Who Was Framed, in this case by Guinevere. Well, may we please hear about that Bad Girl, please? No.

And so on. Largely, the rest of the stories are forgettable and very few of them actually involve a Bad Girl doing (and enjoying) Bad Things, which is a shame. Very few of them involve a Bad Girl doing Bad Things for Good Reasons, which would also be very interesting. The only decent stories in the anthology are "Mother of Monsters", "Homeless" (a look at Hera as a modern-day homeless woman, filled with regret - if you liked Odin and Thor in "The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul", this will seem very familiar), and "Lilith" (a decent treatment of the dark goddess, although again she is largely a Good Girl here, sacrificing her own demon child to save a human infant, but still interesting).

I wouldn't really recommend this book. The majority of the stories were a chore to wade through, which was a shame. Still, this might get you through a long airplane ride.

~ Ana Mardoll

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