It’s always difficult (for me) to review a collection of short stories because there are always good ones and some not so good, but this collection edited by New York Times bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson and his graduate students at Western Colorado University really raises the bar. (Full disclosure: I have a story in this collection of 21 stories, but I don’t know how.)
The theme of masks, put on and stripped away, is a novel one, and these authors have some very original and clever ideas. One of my favorites, “Death by Misadventure” by John M. Olsen, follows Death as his scythe (which separates dying people from their souls) is stolen by a cosplayer at a convention. It shows a compassionate side to death and his dealing with his Boss.
“La Marionnette” by Alicia Cay felt like a classic written in the last century when describing a poor violinist in Paris who is seduced into the Night Circus and offered everything she’s ever wanted. The living “mask” is especially creepy and inventive, and the ending surprised me.
Marta may be a witch but is unwilling to face her destiny until she’s tied to a bonfire in “Framing Marta” by James Romag. A clever unfolding and an even more clever “frame” makes this story humorous.
Nebula award winning Eric James Stone’s story, “Beauty is Lifted from Its Face as a Mask,” of a stranded crew on the moon is my kind of story. I’m a sucker for lunar survivors, alien artifacts, and a well-written story.
“Wa-Ha-Ya (The Wolf)” by JL Curtis is a tale of an American Indian band of soldiers in World War II and one young man who turns into a wolf to battle Nazis. Exciting and an unusual viewpoint.
Another favorite is told from the viewpoint of the mask. Rebecca M. Senese tells the story of the neglected mask in “A New Purpose.” Forgotten on a shelf in a comic book shop, the mask grants superpowers to people. It looks forward to doing so again when a little girl begs her mother for the mask, cleverly mimicking the little girl’s outfit to attract her. But the girl proves she doesn’t need an alien mask to be a hero when she gives it to a classmate ostracized because of her birth-marked face. This story is sweet and charming and told from an original point of view.
Throughout the twenty-one stories, we have superheroes, death masks, and other excellent tales under the umbrella of masks, some good and some bad (masks, not stories; they’re all good). It’s one of the first short story collections I recall where I had to finish the current story I was reading. No stopping in the middle to do something else. That is unusual for me. Enjoy!