The Phoenix Fiction Writers released a new short story anthology on Saturday, and I was fortunate enough to get to read an ARC! If you follow me on Goodreads you’ve probably already seen this review, but I’m super excited to share my thoughts on the collection here, as well. So without further ado, the review!
The Backpack Boy
This story was so well-written and endearing. It so perfectly captured the imagination of a little kid, the interactions between the elephant and the backpack boy were so sweet, and the twist was wonderfully executed.
This is one I struggled to connect with. Judging by what I understood from this story, the world Frank has created is really complex and interesting, but I felt like I didn’t get enough of a glimpse into the world and characters of the story to be fully invested. The writing was well-done, I just wasn’t able to personally connect with this story.
While this story is full of action and suspense, I found it difficult to connect with and didn’t really feel invested in the conflict going on. Though I wasn’t able to engage with it personally, it’s well-written and probably more enjoyable to a reader who enjoys high-stakes situations more than I do.
One of my favorite things in Child of the Kaites was the way Wangler portrayed the relationship between the two main characters, and she’s written a similar relationship in this story. I loved the characters individually, and then their relationship was also extremely satisfying and ended exactly how I’d hoped it would. Plus, the worldbuilding in this story was really enjoyable and I loved the peek into a new culture in Wangler’s world (or at least new-to-me).
Barnaby Brown and the Glass Sea
The characters in this story were so quirky and fun to read. I loved watching them interact with each other. I was so ready to just keep reading this story forever… and then it ended. My only complaint is that it ended too soon, lol. I’m hopeful there will be more to this story in the future, but this was a delightful short.
Through the Lens
It took me a bit to get into this one, and I still didn’t feel fully connected by the end, but the general relationship dynamics between the characters and the glimpse into Dion’s culture was cool. I feel like things could have been fleshed out a little deeper, but I also understand the restrictions of short fiction, so overall this felt like a fairly solid short story.
Ric Vayne and the Curse of the Ghoul Nebula
Something I always enjoy about Shultz’s writing is his ability to use language to fully support the tone and content of the story he’s writing and to vividly paint his characters, and Curse of the Ghoul Nebula is no different. The characters were easy to engage with, Ric himself was a compelling protagonist, the imprecision of Ovo’s translator was really fun, and the whole adventure was perfectly paced.
I was initially confused by the shift in POV and struggled to figure out who the second POV character was, but once I sorted that out I was able to follow the story fine. I didn’t connect with the characters very strongly and the plot felt like it didn’t really do much (I didn’t feel like Kef served much of a purpose, and they didn’t really change anything except to discover the Dragons and the Deep, and then that knowledge was only used to help them once and that was the end), but the Dragons and their ship were interesting and I’d be curious to learn more about them.
This Pain Inside
I was so fortunate to get to beta-read this one, so I already knew it was going to be awesome, but YES, IT’S AWESOME. While usually the first thing I gush about when I read Heath’s stories is the worldbuilding–and the worldbuilding in this one was good, also–what shines the most in This Pain Inside is the main character: Charlie. She’s a very authentic character with very real struggles and flaws, but also very real strength, and watching her journey through this story was amazing.
Overall, I really enjoyed this anthology, I look forward to reading more by all of these authors, and I highly recommend checking out their work. ^-^
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