Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane, edited by Jonathan Oliver, is an anthology of short stories centered around magic in all its various forms: ancient folk magic, new age witchcraft, stage magic, and even some techno-magic. There are 15 short stories in this collection, and, over all, this anthology is fine.
Too often, the stories told are not short stories but rather truncated ones. For many of the stories, it feels as though the authors were limited by a page or word maximum and thus were unable to tell the story they had imagined. This is especially true for “If I Die, Kill My Cat”, “The Baby”, and “Nancy Grey”. All phenomenal ideas that failed in execution. Right as things are kicking into high gear, the story was over. I get that with short stories, much is often left to the imagination, but this was extreme, and I felt cheated out of a story.
This anthology is redeemed by “Cad Coddeu”, “First and Last and Always”, “MailerDaemon”, and “Buttons”. Each of these told a full and complete story with a complete narrative arc (“First and Last and Always” less so but that story still felt complete). “Cad Coddeu” tells a mystical story of Scottish folk magic. Reading that story, I felt transplanted to an ancient world of mist and magic and mystery. “First and Last and Always” is a cautionary tale against using powers that are not fully understood; actions have consequences even when you think you get everything you want. Although a little cliche in premise, the ending twist to horror really sells the entire story. “MailerDaemon” is a highly inventive tale of magic in the 21st century. Anyone who has experienced depression will instantly identify with the protagonist of this tale, with the lows, and with the highs. “Buttons” was by far my favorite story. I could read many more tales of the dynamic duo of Trifles and Folly antique shop. This story had the most developed characters and story. Though it was my first introduction to all of the characters, I felt as though I was settling in to an established series and this was just the next installment.
Here is an overall score of each story on a scale of 1 – 5.
“The Wrong Fairy” by Audrey Niffenegger: 2/5
“If I Die, Kill My Cat” by Sarah Lotz: 2/5
“Shuffle” by Will Hill: 4/5
“Domestic Magic” by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem: 3/5
“Cad Coddeu” by Liz Williams: 5/5
“Party Tricks” by Dan Abnett: 1/5
“First and Last and Always” by Thana Niveau: 4/5
“The Art of Escapology” by Alison Littlewood: 3/5
“The Baby” by Christopher Fowler: 2/5
“Do as Thou Wilt” by Storm Constantine: 2/5
“Bottom Line” by Lou Morgon: 4/5
“MailerDaemon” by Sophia McDougall: 5/5
“Buttons” by Gail Z. Martin: 5/5
“Nanny Grey” by Gemma Files: 1/5
“Dumb Lucy” by Robert Shearman: 2/5
(Fun fact: I scored the overall collection as 3/5 before I scored each story. The average score of all the stories turned out to be exactly 3/5 with no fudging the numbers to make that happen.)