Hags, Sirens, and Other Bad Girls of Fantasy
by Denise Little
Review by Kat Bittner
DAW Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0756403693
Date: 05 July, 2006 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The anthology begins with the first stereotype of a bad girl that comes to mind, a vixen. C.S Friedman's "Shall We Dance" takes place in a Darwinian dating scene set in club Styx. The narrator tries to track the identity of a mysterious woman who captures the heart of his playboy friend Bill. During her time with Bill he notes the progressive weakening of Bill's power over other people until the day when Bill cannot defend his hold on her and she leaves with another man. She's painted as a black widow that will suck the power out of her mate and move on to the next one when she's through. "Shall We Dance" is a strong start to the anthology setting up the tone not predictably from a female, but from a male perspective. The narrator's reaction towards this retelling of Medusa is what the anthology hopes to evoke readers: a mix of intrigue, awe, and an openness and willingness to delve past a bad girl's exterior.
There are not only vixen escapades, but the stories about motherhood are among the most emotionally engaging in the anthology. Scott William Carter's "Heart of Stone" is essentially a mother and daughter tale. Medusa finds out it is not romantic love, but unselfish love that will free her from the curse. It is a great story on how a mother grows to love her child and in the process sheds her selfish nature and opens her world. "Mother of Monsters" by Greg Beatty finds Echnidna on trial in Hades to prove that she has a soul. The short story is a well thought out philosophical exercise on the character of villains and the important role they play in the legacy of heroes. Douglas Smith's "The Last Ride" is a gripping portrayal of Vaya, a Valkyrie, and the ultimate sacrifices one makes for love.
Two stories complimentary to each other are "Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth" by Christina F. York and "Greek to Me" by Laura Resnick. "Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth" is an evil stepmother’'s account from Grimm's Ashputtle folktale (better known by the Perrault title Cinderella) as the sole witness to the true nature of her stepdaughter, Cynthia. She reveals her not as an ingénue who needs Prince Charming to rescue her, but as an ingenious chameleon who can endear anyone to follow her from the common person to Prince Charming. "Greek to Me" is a tale of a sorority girl, Ellie. She gets revenge with the help of a harpy when her big-man-on-campus boyfriend cheats on her with the president of the sorority. The harpy is cast (refreshingly) in the role of a fairy godmother. Ellie's valley girl personae keeps the tone light and ends the anthology on an effervescent note.
Many of the stories can be enjoyed without necessarily knowing the myth behind the woman (and if the reader does not know their backgrounds, explanations are given succinctly). Other gems include a Native American myth by Nathaniel Poole "Tsonoqua", a wild woman of the woods who restores order to a reservation; and Jane Toombs' "Banished" a cat and mouse game that has one of strongest endings in the anthology. There's lots of girl power in Hags, Sirens, & Other Bad Girls of Fantasy. It makes a good gift for a teenage girl, especially one exposed only to heroines who rely on Prince Charming to save them. The anthology presents a cast of females whose powers for better or worse have given them a bad rap. It is not surprising most of the stories are told from first person point of view to get more sympathy from the reader. What the anthology does best is to illustrate what draws their victims and the audience to them. A beautiful, powerful, charismatic woman is hard to resist, but it is their flaws that makes them more appealing, and more human.