Book Reviews: Summer of Magic Anthology

Review posted with permission of Stephanie Hoogstad – original link “Book Reviews: Summer of Magic Anthology” featured on the site

Today I’m returning to familiar territory for my review: fantasy. However, I’m traveling down an avenue with which I haven’t had much experience, i.e. urban fantasy. I’m no stranger to fantasy which incorporates technology and other modern elements, namely Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians, but Summer of Magic is arguably for more mature audiences.

An author of the anthology gave me an advanced reader copy of Summer of Magic in exchange for my honest review, and I’m happy she did. My imagination had departed from fantasy for far too long, and this collection helped bring it back.

Summer of Magic comprises seven short stories: “Uprising” by Andrew Dobell, “The First Imprint” by Lee Hayton, “Gypsy’s Ghost” by Andrea Drew, “Monster” by Art DeForest, “How to Fuel Your Revenge” by Nicole Zoltack, “Born of Ashes” by Jamie Davis, and “Goblin’s Amends” by Wren Cavanagh. From a secret society of magic-wielders in London to magical creatures working at a hospital, the anthology represents the entire gamut of possibilities offered by urban fantasy today.

Magic, action, and everyday social interactions play prominent roles but the humor became my favorite part of the collection.

Are you, like, a…Death Eater? –Andrew Dobell, “Uprising”

Zeus sniffed at the corpse, snarling slightly, and then raised a hind leg in a timeless salute. –Art DeForest, “Monster”

I have to admit that I take a special guilty pleasure in crossing off every one of those Cowboys-fan vampires. What can I say? I’m a Washington Redskins fan. –Nicole Zoltack, “How to Fuel Your Revenge”

I saw how you were looking at him, hey whatever rings your bell…panties damp yet? –Wren Cavanagh, “Goblin’s Amends”

This humor keeps the stories engaging, grounds them in today’s (first-world) society, and enhances the writers’ individual voices. It doesn’t hurt that any references to Harry Potter make me chuckle.

Image of the cover for the book Summer of MagicThe anthology could do with some workshopping but it’s definitely worth a read for all urban fantasy fans.
Image retrieved from Amazon (link below)

The worlds depicted in Summer of Magic boast imaginative energy. While the stories take place in our world, the writers weave fantastical elements into the ordinary, sometimes in new ways and sometimes in manners more familiar to the reader. Whether it’s new magic like the coven in “Uprising” or retellings of old creatures like “Born of Ashes,” the treatments of these subjects capture the imagination and make you want more.

“Goblin’s Amends” brings a fascinating twist on mythical/legendary creatures. The story throws readers right into the magic with the unusual theft of a gold necklace. Next thing the reader knows, an injured harpy visits the ER and surprises all onlookers except for Dr. Sidra Luna and Nurse Cara Garay. As the narrative progresses, Cavanagh exposes more and more characters for the magical creatures they are. I started looking for the next to join their ranks—trust me, you’ll be guessing until the very end.

I would love to see Cavanagh continue developing this world and the interactions among its inhabitants further. From adoption to magical creature support groups and sociopolitical commentary, she hints at a much larger, complex universe in which any fantasy fan will easily get lost.

Unfortunately, that world-building also serves as the anthology’s downfall. For many of the stories, too much is attempted in a short amount of space. “Uprising” in particular has an issue with ambitious world-building leading to extraneous exposition and the sacrifice of good pacing.

“Uprising,” which takes place in modern-day London, follows a semi-celebrity magic-wielder, the coven she encounters, and the attacks launched against them by a group of murderous Nomads. This story, although rather lengthy, is merely a slice of the world which Dobell creates in The Magi Saga. At first, “Uprising” maintains a quick pace which matches the danger the characters face. The world and people who populate it kept my attention fairly well, especially the fan-boying coven member Richard, but the progression disappointed me. The plot is strong but between the exposition regarding characters’ backgrounds and the lack of suspense during later action scenes, I felt incomplete. In a way, I want to read more of The Magi Saga just to gain a more fulfilling view of Dobell’s world.

Other stories in the anthology have similar problems. “How to Fuel Your Revenge,” a heart-racing narrative about a vampire hunter, ends on a cliché. “Monster” only partially resolves the enthralling narrative of cunning, nature, and the struggle of man vs. werewolf. “Goblin’s Amends,” which reminds me of Gabriel García Márquez’s surreal “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” disappointingly rushes through the final action scene. “Gypsy’s Ghost,” which I was excited about because Gypsy is a freelance copywriter/medium, also wraps things up too quickly.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy these stories. Rather, I know these stories have a lot to offer and I don’t know if they’ve reached their full potential yet.

There are two stories with which I had few problems, “Born of Ashes” and “The First Imprint.”

“Born of Ashes” depicts two paramedics’ efforts to rescue and treat Unusuals—i.e. magical creatures—from a horrible car crash. It comes as part of Davis’s Extreme Medical Services series, and, as with the other stories, the author occasionally overuses exposition to help readers understand the world. Nevertheless, “Born of Ashes” stands as a gripping story on its own while also baiting the reader to check out the rest of the series.

“The First Imprint,” on the other hand, is a fully-fledged, self-sustained narrative. It takes readers on Bretta’s first solo job reading an “imprint,” which we would call a ghost or residual energy. While the plot is simple and straightforward, the emotional struggle it explores is not. The social dynamics among Bretta, her father, the widow, and the widow’s husband grabbed hold of me from page one and refused to let go. The ending left me very satisfied while also leaving open the possibility of more stories should Hayton choose to pursue this world.

Some Amazon reviews mention typos. However, these errors have since been corrected and, in all honesty, they didn’t detract from the storytelling in the first place.

The collection is worth a read for fans of urban fantasy. If nothing else, the variety of worlds shown will help budding writers learn what they do and do not want to explore when tying together magic, 21st-century technology, and modern sociopolitical struggles.

I look forward to reading more from these writers, and I plan to continue with the series represented in Summer of Magic.

To learn more about this and other books or contact Notch Publishing, you can follow this link. If you would like to read Summer of Magic and access its worlds for yourself, please click on the ad below.

What do you think of this anthology?