DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0614-1
A Girl’s Guide to Guns and Monsters is not just about girl power. Co-editor Kerrie Hughes reveals in the introductory that, as a survivor of rape and abuse, she wants to create an anthology that would assure readers – presumably female readers – that they too can rise about the atrocities and injustices. Okay, there is a bit of a disconnect here in that she never actually stated how this anthology could help, other than provide a vicarious passport for some emotional catharsis, and even then, I’m not sure how that would provide anything more than a few hours of temporary succor.
Okay, I’m getting way off tangent now. I do sympathize with Ms Hughes’s introduction and I wish her well in her efforts to empower other women. It’s just that, reading her introduction and looking at the rest of the anthology – well, I don’t see how these two are related.
Jane Lindskold starts the show with The Drifter, which sees our heroine Prudence Bledsoe showing up in a cowboy town one fine day, just in time to find herself in the middle of a mystery involved some missing children. The locals believe that the nearby Navajo folks are responsible. but Prudence has her own suspicions. This is a pretty standard tale with a rather familiar tough-as-nails action heroine kicking some rear ends. It’s a decent opening story, but nothing too memorable.
Nancy Holder’s Our Lady of the Vampires is a Depression-era story where our heroine’s family had fallen on hard times and she is left at a home by her mother. She soon discovers that there are vampires around, ooh. The author wants this story to be a “the mouse learns to roar” type of story, but the heroine keeps crying and wailing all the time, she’s obnoxious. I’m happy when the story ends because I don’t have to read about her constant woe-is-me-I’m-crying-again antics.
Lilith Saintcrow’s Best Friends is pretty good, fortunately, as I am starting to worry about the anthology at that point. Our hot heroine and her equally hot lesbian girlfriend have a dilemma: her hot girlfriend’s mother has a new boyfriend who seems to be a vampire. We are talking about a menacing vampire who may be feeding on his girlfriend and the girlfriend’s daughter. Can our hot lesbian duo put a stop to that fellow’s misdeeds? This one is an interesting blend of teen angst layered over by horror elements, although the frequent mentions of the ladies’ hotness sort of undermine the stated mission of this anthology to empower ladies everywhere. It’s as if you can only be tough if you are hot or have superhuman powers.
Jeanne C Stein presents Elizabeth and Anna’s Big Adventure, which is about an eight-year old having an unusual babysitter that helps teach her about girl power. This is a decent read, but short and forgettable. Again, I get this impression that one can only have girl power if one has superhuman powers. Since I can only dream of being able to clean the fridge just by waving my hand, I don’t feel very empowered.
Anton Strout, who seems to have a spot permanently reserved for him in every DAW anthology in existence, presents Lupercalia, which empowers women by showing them to be bitter hags when they can’t get a man, but once they think they can get a man, they will happily turn their backs to their fellow sisters. I guess it’s only reasonable that Cupid himself is causing these strong women to act like cartoon shrews in this story.
In Murder, She Workshopped, Kristine Kathryn Rusch serves a story of what would happen if Jessica Fletcher is actually a monster that feeds on the emotional turmoil caused by a violent murder. Our heroine is an assassin specializing in getting rid of monsters just like the true crime author known as Margarite Lawson, and to set the stage, she joins the writing workshop which has Margarite as a guest speaker. Mayhem ensues. This story is delightful, as it offers a playful look into the more colorful aspects of a writing workshop and pokes fun at pretentious aspiring authors while at the same time being a fun read with lots of surprises. This is easily my favorite story in this anthology.
Jim C Hines’s Heart of Ash is an interesting story, about a nymph who takes down spooks for the greater good… until her crusade costs her her girlfriend. If you can’t tell by now, lesbianism is considered one of the “must have” if you want to ooze girl power from head to toe. I like this story, it contains some emotional poignancy and the heroine is a memorable character. However, I’m not sure why this story is here in this anthology – the heroine needs the love of another person, or creature, in order to define herself. This is a part of her being what she is, a nymph, but no matter how I look at this, I don’t find this “someone must love me in order for me to be me” part of the heroine a good fit with the stated empowerment mission of the anthology.
Elizabeth A Vaughan’s Jiang Shi has a “pre-menopausal middle-aged” heroine – nice – but the entire story seems like it’s part of a longer series. Unlike the usual Chinese vampire that the title references to, the spooks in this story are more like a standard monster that can scream and move like any other random monster. There is also a talking mouse. The whole thing is an amusing tale of a heroine who is dragged into a paranormal adventure with evil ninja rats (really) by being at the wrong place and the wrong time, but there are too many things here and too little substance. It’s as if the author is just throwing everything in and passing off the party as a complete story.
Is Tanya Huff’s No Matter Where You Go part of a series too? It feels like it. Our vampire heroine and her human cop boyfriend find themselves trying to rescue a bunch of teens when these teens go through a magical portal into a very unhappy place, let’s just say. The heroine and her boyfriend have an established relationship, there are allusions to events that may or may not happen in previous related stories (I have no idea), and this whole story feels like just a piece of a jigsaw puzzle and I need to collect more pieces to see the big picture.
In PR Frost’s Signed in Blood, our witch heroine stumbles upon a creature that is inciting violence at concerts. This one could have been an interesting story, but, compared to the previous two stories, it feels even more like a part of a series. Things happen, without much explanation. Maybe because I’m supposed to know of it by reading previous stories? At any rate, this is an unsatisfying short story.
Oh boy, Mickey Zucker Reichert’s Broch de Shlang is easily the story with the most unfortunate implications in this anthology. Our heroine’s marriage breaks apart because she insists on caring for a daughter with Patau syndrome. Now, she discovers that there is a family curse that will cause her to be killed by a snake (really). Who will take care of the special girl if she croaks? This story is truly unfortunate because the author resolves this story by (a) killing off the daughter in a special “heroic way”, letting (b) the heroine all eager to ask her husband to come back so that they can be a family again. The take home message here is that the only good girl with genetic handicaps is one that is willing to die so that normal people can be happy.
Alexander B Potter’s The Wooly Mountains has a lesbian heroine (only they have girl power, remember) showing up in the rustic wilderness to mediate between the were-creatures and the anti-spook human groups even as she investigates several incidents of sheep getting ripped apart in the neighborhood. This one isn’t too bad, but the identity of the villain is obvious from the get go and it ends up being a bit too predictable for its own good.
Finally, there is Invasive Species by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. This is the only outright sci-fi story of the bunch. Our heroine Random Delaney is a vermin hunter, and, during her latest assignment, what seems like a routine job turns out to be something more sinister that involves… oh, nasty aliens at work, perhaps? This is a decent closing story, as the heroine kicks some rear end, the setting is well done, and the pacing is solid.
On the whole, however, this anthology is quite the mess. There are more mediocre stories than good ones here, and there are also unfortunate implications galore, starting with how the anthology with the highest density of lesbians so far in a while just has to that one about female empowerment. Or, how many of these so-called kick-ass females are also described to be conventionally beautiful, or that they are often strong only because they have inherent abilities that make them stronger than the people around them. I hate to say this, given that Kerrie Hughes poured her heart out in the introduction, but I don’t feel that there is much about this anthology that feels empowering.