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In the time since Rowan said goodbye to her at the Crossroads Theater Maggie has had a fascinating time adjusting to the new Board of Directors and the view of the theater from Rowan’s shoes as she plans and runs the theater season. But Rowan is a hard act to follow, and between missing him and trying to be him, Maggie is tying her own life in knots.
When Rowan reappears late one night, a battered human he recovered from the Borderlands between the human and Faerie worlds in tow, Maggie’s world is again turned upside-down. And again it will take Faerie magic and human hearts and hands to put things back together.
I don’t usually listen to music while reading, but Ashford’s Spellcast and Spellcrossed have had me digging through old Cassettes and CDs, looking for the musicals I grew up listening to and performing in. Spellcrossed is again thick and vibrant with a love and knowledge of the theater. It is a magnificent stage on which to set a suburban fantasy- containing a magic that is unique and fascinating, and at the same time familiar enough to catch us tightly and hold us close.
It is a romance between a human and something Other, where the Otherness is not glossed over, adding extra interest and tension to the writing. It is a book that exults in human imperfections, the beautiful way they all manage to fit together into something magnificent.
This one hit hard and perfect. It is a book about bonds and family. I lost a sister less than a year ago, a sister who was draped in the merry trappings of the theater. Ashford’s skillful, heart-felt writing wrung smiles and tears from me in equal measure. It was my little bit of healing, courtesy of the Crossroads Theater. I invite you all to give Spellcrossed, and its predecessor Spellcast, a read and take away from it everything you can.
It is obviously a sign from above that Maggie needs a change of scene when she is not only fired, but the ceiling of her bathroom collapses on top of her while she tries to take a consolatory bath. She packs a bag and leaves New York City for Vermont, intent on finding a Bed and Breakfast. What she finds instead is the Crossroads Theater and its enigmatic director Rowan.
Spellcast is a fairy tale, and like all the best fairy tales it is dark and dangerous, and examines all of the things about ourselves we would rather not look at. It also glimmers with wide eyed wonder and rustles with restless energy. It is impossible to put down.
Ashford’s love of theater is apparent and will touch everyone who has had the luck to walk across the stage, and everyone who has ever wanted to. She captures the camaraderie of the theater perfectly, with all of its dysfunctions and drama. Her descriptions of things I enjoyed so much when I was younger, my time spent engaged in summer theater, tickled a smile onto my face and marched goosebumps down my arms. It was perfect. And I didn’t realize I had enjoyed theater as much as I had, or that I missed it. It is an amazing author that can appeal to memories that are almost 20 years old and get me to recall them so vividly.
And it isn’t just theater. It is family, and friends, relationships and work and all those little and not so little things that fill our lives and make us who we are.
Spellcast can be a very personal read, if you let it. And I encourage you greatly to do so.
Imagine an eternal bar managed by Gilgamesh himself. It has existed everywhere and when, and always has exactly what its patrons need on tap (which sometimes differs from what they think they want). What started as an idea a group of authors came up with while in their cups translated magnificently into a collection that is the perfect combination of humorous and haunting. Each story has something new to offer- a bit of insight, a cunning use of Gil and his bar- and they all come together to build a beautiful look at humanity as a whole, the good and the bad. Snatches of life from a barkeeps eyes, without all of the cliché. It was a fun, often surprising, read from a very talented group of authors.
Benjamin Tate sets the scene in his “An Alewife in Kish”. Here we meet Gilgamesh, and find out how exactly he came into possession of the bar. Immortality always come with a price and bargains seldom are without a catch.
S.C. Butler lays out just “Why the Vikings Had No Bars”. Odin sees an opportunity to gather a good handful of warriors in Gil’s bar. Drinking and hailing and berserking ensues.
Jennifer Dunne reminds the reader of the dangers in dealing with Gods in “The Emperor’s New God”. Mars is not a deity to be trifled with.
“The Tale that Wagged the Dog”, by Barbara Ashford, is a brilliant look at Tam Lin and his selkie lover. I would suggest not drinking while reading this one. The biting humor will most likely lead to choking.
Maria V. Snyder writes a darker tale about a woman’s place in Japanese society in “Sake and Other Spirits”.
In “The Fortune-teller Makes Her Will” Kari Sperring moves us to 17th Century Paris and weaves a haunting story involving an innocent young girl who speaks with the voices of angels and the Poisons Affair.
“The Tavern Fire”, by D.B. Jackson gives us a possible explanation for the fire that started at Boston’s Brazen Head tavern in 1760, and its lack of casualties.
Patricia Bray reflects on the dangers of unicorn vomit as well as how rough a life of hunting the supernatural actually is in her story “Last Call”.
In Seanan McGuire’s “Alchemy of Alcohol” we meet the King of Summer and his Lady and their very unique problem.
“The Grand Tour” by Juliet E. McKenna walks the reader through the tensions of pre-World War Europe, through the eyes of two youths who experience the worst and the best strangers have to offer.
Dreams of glory are not all that they seem in “Paris 24” by Laura Anne Gilman.
“Steady Hands and a Heart of Oak” by Ian Tregillis looks at a talented sapper in WWII London and his drive for recognition (and penchant for womanizing).
“Forbidden” by Avery Shade is an eerie look at the 1980’s from a far future point of view.
In “Where We Are Is Hell” Jackie Kessler somehow managed to roll a story about loss and redemption into a couple thousand words without leaving anything out. (And managing a very ‘Lady or the Tiger’- style ending.)
Anton Strout winds up the anthology with “Izdu-Bar”- a cunning combination of alcohol and zombies.