(Note: the moral and stylistic grades for this book are averages based on the quality of multiple stories.)
I am in general quite pleased with the quality of work put out by the Firebird imprint. Their YA and adult fantasy novels tend to be of dependable quality and interest. This anthology, celebrating the Firebird imprint, features short stories many well-known YA authors, such as Diana Wynne Jones and Garth Nix, as well as some adult novelists such as Patricia McKillip. Unifying this collection is a high level of quality and a low level of objectionable material not to be found in most fantasy anthologies, but characteristic of Firebird’s material.
In general, these short stories are both interesting and effective, ranging across the tone spectrum from light and whimsical (Diana Wynne Jones’ charming first-person narrative of a cat’s adventures, “Little Dot”) to dark and disturbing (Garth Nix’ bizarre pseudo shoot-em-up western, “Hope Chest”). Several of my favorite authors are represented here, and I enjoyed reading Patricia McKillip’s characteristically beautiful story, “Byndley”, about a wizard’s encounter with Faerie (for what it’s worth, I thought the story was of higher quality than a lot of her novels are, and I like her novels). Lloyd Alexander’s “Max Mondrosch” was fascinating as a nightmarishly black comedy along the lines of 19th-century Russian short stories. (If Lloyd Alexander is not the first author to spring to mind at the term ‘nightmarishly black comedy’, prepare to be surprised.) Two or three of the stories struck me as sub-par and not very effective, but on average they were involving and well-crafted.
It’s hard to give this book a moral grade: it’s more difficult to judge the moral content of short stories since there is so little material by which to judge, and an anthology obviously represents many viewpoints. Most of the stories employ either a whimsical or a faerie/mythic approach to magic, though there are a couple with some darker elements. The only story that really bothered me was Garth Nix’ “Hope Chest”, a highly disturbing tale in which a young woman’s will is hijacked in order mercilessly to murder members of an evil brainwashing cult. (It also featured the only graphic violence in the book.)
Content advisory: Two or three of these stories contain occasional bad language, and “Hope Chest” contains some disturbing scenes of violence and gore.