Book Review: Timely by The Phoenix Fiction Writers

Honestly, this was probably my least favorite PFW anthology thus far. Still a 5-star read, just not quite beyond 5 stars as previous anthologies have been. Timely is, as the title suggests, themed around the concept of time (which is how I finagled it onto my CG comp titles list, lol) and it features two guest authors in addition to the PFW contributors (three guests, if you count the fact that Kyle Robert Shultz is no longer part of the Phoenix Fiction Writers).

The first few stories were great. The Clockwork Toymaker was super sweet; I loved the character dynamics and the steampunk setting. In Bermuda’s Belly, again, the characters and their relationships were a highlight, and the setting was also quite dynamic; I almost felt claustrophobic reading about the tight spaces on the submarine.

The Timekeeper’s Daughter was one of my favorites! The steampunk setting with its fixation on clocks and the way gifts work is fascinating, I loved the sibling relationship between Annora and Althea, and Annora’s struggle with her gift and the whole plot overall was one of the most compelling in the anthology.

The Weight of Dust was probably my second favorite. The Butler was written so well as an automaton, the setting was vividly dynamic, the Butler’s sense of purpose was so well-done and effectively contrasted with the time element of the story… The little bits of memory were really sweet, as well.

Adamant was the first story I didn’t connect with as well. It’s uncommon that I don’t like Beth Wangler’s writing—and I didn’t dislike this story—but I think I struggled with the genre of Adamant. Space sci-fi is rarely my thing in books, and I tend to struggle with war stories as well, so I think the combination in Adamant just didn’t click well for me. Despite that, the core relationship was sweet and the musgroves were interesting. The musgroves’ dialect was pulled off wonderfully. And LouEesa was a fun character.

I think Daughter suffered from the same issue as Adamant—it was a sci-fi war story. I was also struck by how many adverbs were used right out of the gate, which kept me from stepping into the story right away. Still, the concept of the Chasm was interesting and I would be curious to learn more about Anneke as a character. And I think Daughter was done well for what it was, so readers who enjoy the genre better would likely find it quite enjoyable.

The Hundred Acre War was interesting. The particular mix of genres struck me as a bit odd, combining Winnie the Pooh with a sci-fi war, but I don’t think it was poorly done—and it’s a very on-brand sort of combination for Shultz. Again, sci-fi wars aren’t my thing, and I’ve never been a huge Winnie the Pooh fan either, so this one continued the trend of “eh” for me. But, like I said, it was well-done for what it was and I’m sure other readers would enjoy it fine.

With Into the Crimson Deep, things turned back around. This story is a sequel to Matthews’ The Staff of Callewhyr in the Of Myth and Monsters anthology, which I quite enjoyed. It was really cool to return to those characters, and in Into the Crimson Deep we get to see a new corner of the world that Matthews has built and meet additional interesting side characters. Into the Crimson Deep was a great second installment, expanding the reader’s understanding of rukthar lore, and I hope we’ll get to see more of Renlyn and Arnak in future anthologies!

Little Lost Heart, Sing was an excellent conclusion to Timely. It was sweet, with a bit of a dark tint, and the lore of the forest was faintly reminiscent of George MacDonald or Tolkien. Philbrick really plays to his strengths with stories about children, and Henry’s dry humor was equally well-done.

I did enjoy the majority of the stories within Timely; as you can tell, those that I had more difficulty with all had genre in common. If you like sci-fi war stories, you’ll probably enjoy this anthology; and if not, there are still plenty of other stories in the anthology to love! If you like spec fic of any flavor, I do recommend Timely (and PFW’s previous anthologies, as well).

Rating: 5 stars

Similarity to CG: 1 star (for the family and found family dynamics in the first few stories and the importance of time as a theme)

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