Review: Firebirds Rising

Firebirds Rising edited by Sharyn November

My attraction to these Firebird anthologies is a little odd to me. I ultimately find them to be just okay, but I still want to read all of them. Is the beautiful cover art courtesy of Cliff Nielsen? Is it the fact that November is putting a lot of effort into making Firebird an imprint with personality, rather than just another speculative fiction or teen imprint? Is it the fact that I feel bad I don’t read more short story collections? We may never know, although I will say that the fact it was Halloween got me to pick this up at the time I did.

Firebirds Rising is the second anthology coming out of Firebird, following 2003’s Firebirds. It contains works by Francesca Lia Block, Emma Bull, Kara Dalkey, Pamela Dean, Charles de Lint, Carol Emshwiller, Alan Dean Foster, Alison Goodman, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Diana Wynne Jones, Ellen Klages, Tanith Lee, Kelly Link, Patricia A. McKillip, Tamora Pierce, and Sharon Shinn. Whew! Most of the stories were written specifically for Firebirds Rising per Sharyn November’s request, and there’s more science fiction in here. Does the second outing of the anthology hold up to the first?

Well, admittedly, the bar is pretty low. Again, I think I like what November is trying to do with these anthologies than what she actually accomplishes. I mean, I’m already eying Firebirds Soaring with a hungry look. But Firebirds Rising isn’t as powerful as Firebirds. To be fair, I spent most of the anthology suffering from a particularly wicked case of deja vu. You see, I think I may have read this in high school. Y’all know how bad my memory is; that’s part of the reason I have this blog, so I can remember what I read and avoid situations like this. But I think the point still stands.

Continuing the trend started in Firebirds by “Hope Chest”, there is one story here that stands heads and shoulders above the rest—Emma Bull’s “What Used to Be Good Still Is”. (What a fantastic name—both author and story.) I really liked her graphic short “The Black Fox” in the previous collection, but I started thinking of her as exclusively a graphic novelist for some reason. Finding out that she’s just as deft in prose is fantastic. “What Used to Be Good Still Is” follows a boy in 1950s Arizona as his friend Sara develops an alarming connection with Guadalupe Hill, a small mountain being turned inside out for copper. The period is used beautifully and, perhaps even better, it’s also about Jimmy growing up and losing his innocence.) The other standout is a chillingly short piece by Francesca Lia Block called “Blood Roses”, about a pair of sisters and their obsessive love for a recently deceased rock star. It’s brief, painful, and thought-provoking; I also appreciated the mundane quality of magic in their world, which is always fun and tends to streamline speculative fiction short stories. And I’d be remiss not to mention Ellen Klages’ “In the House of the Seven Librarians”, which is a lot of fun. Ultimately, though, I think I’m going to start seeking out Emma Bull’s novels. Any suggestions?

But the majority of the collection is forgettable and occasionally uncomfortably adolescent. I’m unsure if this is because I’m no longer part of the audience Firebirds Rising is aiming at, or because the authors seem to have certain expectations about the thoughts and beliefs of their adolescent readers. Tamora Pierce’s “Huntress”, which opens the collection, is a supernatural revenge fantasy against cliques, which is a very common theme in the collection. Perhaps belonging is a better word to tie more stories together, but we see specific types of adolescent belonging—therefore, cliques—examined and attacked throughout the collection, from Carol Emshwiller’s claustrophobic “Quill” to Kara Dalkey’s ungainly “Hives”. The latter’s heroine’s voice reminded me of nothing so much as supernatural fiction that I’ve run screaming from in the past, but it is an science fiction story with an interesting premise, so I must give credit where it’s due. I was surprised to find that I’d forgotten “Wintermoon Wish”, a very sweet story from Sharon Shinn about a selfish girl learning the true meaning of Christmas—er, Wintermoon. Sweet, but insubstantial, although I do look forward to exploring her bibliography alongside Bull’s.

I think that’s ultimately my conflict with this anthology series; even as a teenager, cliques did not have much of an impact on my life, and as an adult, most of the adolescent foci that are necessarily assumed in the reader here due to the short form don’t apply to or even interest me. But it still doesn’t excuse the forgettable stories, although I’m always happy to dig through them for the gems, like Emma Bull.

Bottom line: Like the previous installment in the anthology series, Firebirds Rising is a mostly forgettable collection with a few good pieces—Emma Bull’s “What Used to Be Good Still Is”, Francesca Lia Block’s “Blood Roses”, and Ellen Klages’ “In the House of the Seven Librarians”. A rental for those, a miss for the rest.

I rented this book from the public library.

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