Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s long-running anthology of the year’s best fantasy and horror has been, for me, one of the most reliable sources for really good fantasy fiction. For the last couple of years, Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have taken over the fantasy side from Terri Windling, and I’m happy to say that they keep up the anthology’s high standards.
If you happen to like the editors’ taste in stories.
You can’t quite take this for granted. The stories in this collection lean heavily towards the literary/slipstream/weird edge of the genre, and I think fans of traditional epic fantasy might not find much to suit their tastes. But there’s still a tremendous amount of variety in plot, setting, and style; you can read it almost straight through without getting a sense that the stories are all alike.
I enjoyed nearly all of the fantasy, and appreciated most of the horror. I don’t really read horror, but some of the stories are superb.
In “First Kisses from Beyond the Grave,” the hero ends up going to the same high school as his dead best friend, a high school for the dead; it takes some tired elements and turns them into something unexpectedly tender. “Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery” is silly, wacky, but with a human heart inside. “The Night Whiskey” is gorgeous, haunting, a juxtaposition of nostalgia and anxiety. “Another Word for Map is Faith” has an absolutely startling premise and runs with it; it’s about cartography, but don’t let that scare you off. “A Siege of Cranes” and “The Lineaments of Gratified Desire” are two of the stories that fit more closely, perhaps, with the traditional boundaries of genre fantasy–but both stories are way at the far-out inventive edge, and Ysabeau Wilce’s writing in the latter makes me think I should’ve picked up Flora Segunda months ago. “Halfway House” and “Drowning Palmer” are two more standouts in a collection that, really, is almost all standouts.