Friday, 22 February 2013

Dark Alchemy Review

Dark Alchemy
Edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Throughout the ages, the wizard has claimed a spot in human culture-from the shadowy spiritual leaders of early man to precocious characters in blockbuster films. Gone are the cartoon images of wizened gray-haired men in pointy caps creating magic with a wave of their wands. Today's wizards are more subtle in their powers, more discerning in their ways, and-in the hands of modern fantasists-more likely than ever to capture readers' imaginations. 
In Neil Gaiman's "The Witch's Headstone," a piece taken from his much-anticipated novel in progress, an eight-year-old boy learns the power of kindness from a long-dead sorceress. Only one woman possesses two kinds of magic-enough to unite two kingdoms-in Garth Nix's "Holly and Iron." Patricia A. McKillip's "Naming Day" gives a sorcery student a lesson in breaking the rules. And a famished dove spins a tale worthy of a meal, but perhaps not the truth, in "A Fowl Tale" by Eoin Colfer.

This is anthology with a lot of top fantasy writers contributing stories and like many anthologies, it’s only as strong as its weakest story. For some reason the theme of wizards and magic didn’t grab me – I only started reading the book when I finished a book sooner than expected and needed something to read on the way home. Unfortunately that lack of need to read all the stories meant it took me a few weeks to finish this and there was some spark missing to make this a top notch anthology.

Only a few of the stories stick in my mind – The Ruby Incomparable by Kage Baker which follows the life of a girl who learns magic but fails to connect to her mother. The emotional heart of that story was about more than the magic and the lovely ending lingers in my mind. I also really enjoyed Tad Williams’ The Stranger’s Hands which tells the story of two vagabonds who bring with them some unusual gifts when they arrive in a new area. This was an easy read, which surprised me as I struggled with the one Tad Williams book I’ve read before and makes me wonder if I should give him another chance. The Neil Gaiman story was warm and focuses on friendships – but was one of the chapters in The Graveyard Book which I read previously.

The other stories aren’t bad – but they just aren’t particularly memorable and cover a number of different wizards stories – some set in the modern time and some in fantasy worlds but in each occasion the use magic changes the world: sometimes for one person and sometimes the whole world. This was an entertaining enough read but not a book to move to the top of the TBR pile.

Recommended for fans of David Eddings and Terry Brooks. 6.5 out of 10


  1. Wow. With all those authors I would have thought it would have totally captured you. Too bad, but still might be something for the curious to read. :)