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Book Review: Misspelled edited by Julie E. Czerneda

Genre: Short Fiction, Fantasy
ISBN: 0756404754
ISBN-13: 9780756404758
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 48pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (DAW)
Pub. Date: April 2008

I like themed anthologies. I like it when and editor takes a topic or notion and collects a series of stories around it. It allows me as a reader to have general background on the tale, and provides for easier reading of short fiction. In Misspelled, Julie E. Czerneda has collected 17 humorous tales about what happens when a spell goes wrong. The collection has some creative tales, as well as several brand new voices who have never been published before. It is an entertaining collection.

Lesley D. Livingston takes the title of the anthology literally and writes a story that is both about a spell going wrong and Freudian slips of the tongue. “Trippingly Off the Tongue” works out well in the end for the protagonist, although its ending is a surprise. Livingston’s tale is probably not the one I would have chosen to lead the anthology off with. The plot is a little difficult to follow (it’s a bit like trying to listen to that Micro Machines guy back in the early nineties) due to its speedy dialogue. Too many ideas are introduced all at once, and I was a bit overwhelmed.

Kristine Smith writes a tale about preparing a house for sale in “8rms, full bsmt.” Some houses just happen to have doors to hell, and that’s where wizards come into play. Smith’s tale is appropriately humorous in this day of the subprime crisis, but I’m not really sure where the spell goes awry in this tale.

“Eye of the Beholder” by Kevin G. Maclean is a cautionary tale about getting what you ask for. Sometimes, you see, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Maclean has written a fairy tale turned on its head. I can honestly say, I didn’t see his ending coming (though I should have).

“Cybermancer” by Janet Elizabeth Chase mixes together the worlds of technology and witchcraft. An interesting combo, as in there are so many ways both can go wrong. Chase’s protagonist is not the most likable character, but she does do the right thing when her poor sister is dragged into Hell. I like this one for its particular creativity, and it is one of the few to incorporate technology in this anthology.

Marc Mackay writes a schoolyard tale about messing with things you know nothing about. “Eye of Newt” shows how two young girls learn that sometimes just because something is traditional, doesn’t mean it is useless. This story had a superfluous (implied) lesbian relationship that was unnecessary to the story and ultimately distracting. Had Mackay left it out, his story would have been stronger.

“Chafing the Bogey Man” by Kristen Britain is a hilarious take on the sport of golf. Britain’s poor protagonist makes a huge gaff in his struggle for retaining lost glory, with hilarious results, including the appearance of a rather strange garden gnome.

“A Perfect Circle” by Kent Pollard is another story that incorporates technology. This one does poke a little fun at the MMORPG culture. Having played more than one of them myself, I smiled at Pollard’s good-hearted jabs. His story takes the meaning in misspell literally, with the problem of the story being caused by a spelling error.

First time author Kell Brown’s “Reading, Writing, Plagues” suffers a bit from his lack of explanation. I understood the action as he related it, but I’m still not sure exactly how the misspell took place, even if I am able to identify its results. Brown would do well to work on setting the stage a little better in his tale. Still, it is a classic wizard�s spell gone awry tale, and I’m sure readers will like it.

John Zakour’s “bubblegum for the brain” style of writing holds true in his story “Totally Devoted 2 U” in which a love spell gives the conjurer more (or less, depending on your take) than she bargained for. Like Maclean’s tale above, Zakour’s is a cautionary one. I have liked Zakour’s writing for some time, and he is an excellent humor writer. This one does not disappoint in any respect.

“The Mysterious Case of Spell Zero” is a Sherlock Holmes style mystery tale. Except in this case, the two protagonists solve mysteries involving spells. I found Rob St. Martin’s tale to simple for the genre it is emulating, lacking in any real mystery. The solution is arrived at almost as soon as the problem exists, and so lacks any drama.

“Crosscut” is a story about a fantasy writer who is down on her luck. Demons and writing don’t always mix well, but for the writer protagonist in this tale, the misspell ends up much improving her life. S. W. Mayse’s tale finds laughter in the joy of relief from worry. This is one of my favorites of the collection.

“Bitch Bewitched” tells its entire story from the perspective of a dog. Doranna Durgin’s story is cute, and has puppies and babies in it, so it plucks a little at one’s heart strings. The ending leaves room for more of the story to be explored, and I wonder of Durgin plans to write more stories about the magical border hounds. I’d be sure to read them.

Morgan S. Brilliant’s tale of young adults and their parents is apropos. Relationships are quirky little things as “The Witch of Westmoreland Avenue” knows all too well. For a first-timer, Brilliant writes a solidly entertaining tale.

Being a Quality Assurance Mage isn’t all it’s cracked to be as Kate Paulk makes painfully clear in “A Spell of Quality.” Sometimes Mages call up forces they just can’t handle, and it isn’t even their fault. This story is a bit on the gruesome side to be truly funny, but is still an enjoyable tale.

“Demon in the Cupboard” reminded me too much of my own life. I’ve been told more than once to leave my wife’s kitchen alone and suffered to consequences for not listening. Imagine how much worse it might be if your wife was a which. Nathan Azinger’s protagonist doesn’t listen to his wife, and trouble ensues.

Jim C. Hines should be a familiar name to many of you by now. “Untrained Melody” is another of his humorous tales. I had never thought that a bard could be an accordion player too. Worse yet, his heroine is an untrained bard. It takes the help of a flute playing dwarf to undo the evil the heroine has done. As always, Hines stories bring a smile to my face.

The concluding tale, “Yours for only $19.99,” was another favorite in the anthology. Shannan Palma tells a story about what happens when doing magic without first reading the instructions. Fortunately, it all works out for the young girl who wanted a fairy tale life. Sometimes, reality is better than any story.

Misspelled was an enjoyable and entertaining collection of stories. Even those tales that I had trouble with were still creative enough to entertain. The stories cover a wide spectrum of thoughts on the topic of spells gone awry. I recommend Misspelled as excellent escapism.