Popcorn Press, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-4276-2755-1
If I am not mistaken, Lilith was said to be the first woman whom Adam ditched aside because she was too independent for her own good. She subsequently became the first demon, cavorting with fallen angels and giving birth to all kinds of hideous monsters. In other words, Lilith was the cautionary tale they used back then to remind women to keep their eyes down and obeyed their wise and all-knowing men. Not unexpectedly, Lilith in the last two centuries has evolved to become the feminist icon who had the courage to give suffocating patriarchy her middle finger. Lilith Unbound is an anthology that invites its authors to explore the various facets of Lilith. As with pretty much every anthology out there, the result is a mixed bag of sorts.
He may be one of the biggest names in the roster, but Ed Greenwood’s contribution, What Dreams May Go, is one of the weakest stories here. Then again, to be honest I’m never convinced that Mr Greenwood is a good writer – he gets plenty of credit for building up the Forgotten Realms world for Wizards of the Coast (before they pulled apart the world completely for the Fourth Edition version of the role-playing game, that is) but his writing has always been on the clunky side. And in this story, he drives me crazy by constantly repeating the hero’s full name. The story itself is a forgettable tale of some hot succubi in a painting coming to life to drain the hero’s imagination, and the constant reiteration of the hero’s full name is just irritating.
On the other hand, Elaine Cunningham’s Trophy Wife is an amusing story of Lilith becoming a divorce attorney to sock it to men who view women as nothing more than trophy wife materials. This one balances wit and jabs at patriarchy nicely, unlike Jackie Kessler’s When Hell Comes Calling which often bashes men without much subtlety. I certainly appreciate Ms Kessler’s message about how Lilith has no regrets leaving the security of her gilded cage if it means that she can be her own person, but I believe I prefer Ms Cunningham’s more subtle and in my opinion, more effective brand of satire.
I also like Lara Gose’s The L.I.L.I.T.H System, where Lilith in the modern day has written a series of bestselling self-help books geared towards women. In this story, Lilith discovers a softer side of herself that she doesn’t necessarily enjoy having as she meets the president of her fan club.
Jennifer Greylyn’s Mother of Vampires is so adorable. In this one, Lilith decides to jump on the paranormal/urban fantasy fiction bandwagon by writing about her life as well as those of her children, only to be told that her vampires aren’t sexy enough to light up the bestseller charts.
Meanwhile, Lynn Hawker’s Reconciliation sees Eve and Lilith finally making peace with each other over shared dissatisfaction with the way men try to run their lives for them.
I especially like Nancy Schmidt’s Exiles, where she transforms Cain, Eve, Lilith, and Adam into Native American folks. In this story, Cain is exiled from his tribe for killing his brother. He encounters Lilith, who helps him with some pointers on surviving on his own – just like the way she has survived on her own. This story also depicts an unlikely bond between Lilith and Eve. This story humanizes all the main characters involved in the story and as a result, I enjoy reading this story tremendously.
Lilith isn’t always the poster girl for feminism or the misunderstood heroine, though. She is also the villain in several stories here. TL Morganfield’s very readable and even heartbreaking So Weeps the Thunderbird makes me wince for the poor fellow in the title as he lets himself be taken by Lilith. Still, he gets some kind of happy ending of sorts here so this story isn’t completely depressing. There are some horror stories here as well, such as Kate Riedel’s Man Underground and Lorne Dixon’s creepy Screech Owl Serenade, where Lilith is the sinister monster with nefarious intentions. But my favorite of this particular bunch is Tracy Woelfel’s Confirmation. An urban fantasy tale about two members of a special task force charged with destroying Lilith’s demonic infants taking a new member on his first night making the rounds, this one chills my blood because of… well, if you read this story you will understand why I find this story so disturbing on the senses. I won’t mind reading longer stories set in this world, come to think of it.
There are many other stories here, but the ones I’ve mentioned are those that I find most memorable. There are some stories that go over my head, especially Lily Huang’s Delta: A Story in Verse that comes off more like an assignment for a creative writing class than anything else, but I’m sure some folks will sneer that I completely missed the point of those stories because I’m a mere genre fiction reader, heh.
At any rate, Lilith Unbound is an enjoyable anthology with a wide variety of themes and interpretations in the stories to keep it interesting. None of the stories strike me as particularly outstanding, but even the weakest stories are readable. All in all, this is a most entertaining collection of stories.