A while back, I signed up to get an ARC of this anthology. For a while, I forgot about it. When I remembered again, I figured I wasn’t picked to get one. That’s fine. Then it showed up in my e-mail. I couldn’t get to it right away as I was reading something else, but I finished that book tonight and immediately picked this up. This is the first ARC I’ve received. I’m really thrilled about that.

13 authors contributed to the anthology. Some of them are familiar names, others I haven’t heard of before. Short stories and novellas are great ways to discover new authors. Given what the subject matter for these stories is, I fully expect to be sad a lot and perhaps cry. That’s ok. I’m also not sure if I’ll be able to apply the term ‘enjoy’ to any of these, at least not in the traditional sense.

Due to the nature of this book, I’ll review each story individually after I read them so that I can keep my thoughts organized. I’ll post the full review for the book on Goodreads when I’m done.

Lullaby by K.S Villoso
The author’s name is vaguely familiar, but I’ve never read any of her work before this.
The first person perspective threw me a little. It took me a while to figure out who the narrator was. I have to say, I’ve never read a story from the viewpoint of an unborn baby before. This was a first for me.
The author’s note at the end made me curious to read more in the world this was set in.

Skies on Fire by Sonya M. Black
I feel like I’ve heard of her before, but I’m not entirely sure.
The preface for this one informed me that this story dealt with chronic pain. I’m always a little hesitant to read such stories given that everyone deals with chronic pain/illness differently.
I’m intrigued by the concept of phoenix riders and their battles against griffin riders. That seems interesting. The story focuses on a former rider and her disability and the pain associated with it. I had a hard time connecting with the character, although it provided some insight into what life is like for a friend of mine who has a permanent disability.
Overall, well written.

A Matter of Trust by Angela Boord
I know guns in a fantasy setting aren’t a new thing, but this is the first time I’ve read one. I enjoyed the Italian flavour of this story. Funny story, I have a sister-in-law named Giuli, so it was simple enough to figure out the pronunciation of that one character’s name. I don’t know enough about guns or the history of firearms, so I don’t know if the wheel lock pistols used are a real thing or invented for this world. Regardless, the designs are lovely. The scene where the one man was making more lead shot was a nice touch.
The MC grew a lot over the course of this story.

A Recurrence of Jasmine by Levi Jacobs
As much as I saw the end coming, I still really enjoyed this story. After all, what wouldn’t a mother do to protect her child?

Twice Domesticated Dragons by Intisar Khanani
Oh look, a story about how utterly creepy garden gnomes are. Creepy gnomes plus dragons? Yes, please! Judging from the story elements, I’m guessing this is supposed to be set in our world. The dragons, although they appear only briefly, are interesting. Then again, I’m biased towards anything with dragons in it. Tiny, semi-domestic dragons that eat gnomes? Sign me up.

The Witch in the Woods by Quenby Olson
Quenby is the first author in this anthology that I’ve read. Her style is lovely. I’m intrigued by this curse and the magic that seems to pass from one generation to the next. Was Mim the MC’s mom? Grandmother perhaps? It’s not stated, but given that the MC is so sure her daughter will wind up in the same situation I feel it likely they’re blood relatives of some sort.
She’s left with an awful choice. Let her daughter die or save her, but be removed from her life. Woosh. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a hard choice, but it’s not fun either.

Thief by Virginia McClain
Oh man.
This one hit hard.
My mom is still alive and well, but the thought of losing her hurts more than I really want to admit. It’ll happen one day, but hopefully that day won’t be for a long time yet. What the MC went through for just a few more minutes with their mom…
Part of me wants to think this is set at some point in the last couple years. Might be, might not be, but this felt a lot like reading accounts from people who’ve lost loved ones to Covid.

Thicker Than Water by Carol A. Park
This one left me wishing it was longer, that it was going to explain what Banebringers are. Knowing it’s set in the author’s novel series helps. If I want more, I can go find it. Despite how quickly Danton’s family turned on him, I liked this one.

Death in the Uncanny Valley by M.L. Wang
The transition from the fantasy to the futuristic real world jarred at first. Clarifying that the fantasy was just a VR game was really interesting. I loved the game mechanics preserving their mom for one last farewell, one last hug, and a chance at healing. Very well done.

Summer Souls by Clayton Snyder
While the concept of this story was intriguing, it didn’t quite land with me.

Reliquary of the Damned by Rachel Emma Shaw
My only issue with this story was that the author alternated between she/her and they for the protagonist’s pronouns. That said, this is another fascinating concept. I kind of understood what was going on, but not really. I’m delighted that this is from a larger world.

The Quiet by Madolyn Rogers
Magical power connected to a person’s emotions isn’t new territory, but I like the way it was handled here. The consequence of literally having your pain sucked out is not being as strong as you used to be.

The Paperweight Watch by Krystle Matar
This was a difficult read. Losing one parent, ok. That makes me sad. Both parents? I spent most of this story trying to keep myself from crying. The text was poignant and heart breaking.