Esther Friesner, editor,
Chicks 'n Chained Males
(Baen, 1999)

The chainmail crop tops and loincloths are now chainmail bikinis. Without any assistance from the editor who was probably too mesmerized by the last cover to help me (too busy running a growing online magazine my Warrior Aunt Hepatica), I have determined that the ladies depicted thereon are wearing shoulder pieces, brassards and gauntlets. I think. No greaves, unless they're wearing them under their over-the-knee boots. All one can wonder is what could possibly be next, because it doesn't seem as if it's possible to wear any less and still be, well, armored.

And you hope there's something next, because Friesner and her crew have yet to run out of steam with these anthologies. The eighteen stories in this third volume are just as fresh and funny as the stories in the previous two, and I don't think there have been this many puns in one place since the editor spent fifteen minutes by himself. [Editor's note: Excuse me?] This time, each story revolves around a "chained" male. One would think that this would limit the writers' creativity, but they each rise to the challenge admirably.

Harry Turtledove leads off the hilarity with the lusty "Myth Manner's Guide to Greek Mythology #1: Andromeda and Perseus," where Andromeda gets to wear the winged sandals, defeat the Gorgons (without bloodshed), and rescues Perseus from a sea monster and -- eventually -- his chains. In Steven Pizik's clever "Chain, Link, Fence" the chained male is a sacred statue, and the tale involves not one but two rather clever women. It wouldn't be a "Chicks" anthology without a story by Elizabeth Moon, and in "Fool's Gold" the Ladies' Aid & Armor Society takes on a man captured by a dragon, only they little suspect just how he has been imprisoned. Lawrence Watt-Evans also returns with "In For a Pound," a contemporary story about a politically inclined werewolf and his feisty wife. Marina Frants continues the saga of Baba Yaga and her apprentice Vassilisa, who gets her first commission in "Death Becomes Him." The male in this tale is permanently chainmailed. (Okay, okay. I'll stop with the rhymes.) [Editor's note: Thanks.]

The woman warrior in Susan Shwartz's "Straight Arrow" is an F-15 pilot who crashes into the Valley of the Amazons and manages to temporarily snag a few males for their, well, gene pool. Rosemary Edghill offers an unusual take on Arthurian legend in "Bad Heir Day," and in "Why Do You Think They Call it Middle Earth (or how I slew a dragon and found myself a mate)" by Susan Caspar, a top notch corporate trader finds a niche among elves and dwarves when she sets off to rescue her chained male from a dragon. I've been too busy slaving -- er, writing reviews to be able to catch all twenty of the theatrical references that are supposed to be in Laura Frankos' "Leg Irons, the Bitch, and the Wardrobe" but I could appreciate this story about a director in need of a miracle. Maybe you'll have better luck. Josepha Sherman mixes sorcery with sleuthing in "Shiftless," a witty story about a shape shifting husband-and-wife detective team.

Brian Dana Akers has a field day at the shopping mall and manages to insert the name of an up-and-coming new fantasy author into the middle of his clever "May/December at the Mall," and probably wins the prize for most innovative rearrangement of the anthology's title. Jan Stirling is another returning writer whose stories about warrior woman Terion and the mage Feric have also become staples of the "Chicks" books, and she does not disappoint with "Yo, Baby." "Don't Break the Chain!" by Jody Lynn Nye features a frisky and sensible heroine who handles a chain letter in a most innovative way.

What do you do when you're a sword-wielding crossing guard without anything to guard from? Find out in Esther Friesner's "Cross CHILDREN Walk." An Amazon gets to follow a muse with a funny bone in "... But Comedy is Hard" by Kate Daniel, and an unlikely duo team up to solve a mysterious curse in "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" by Kevin Andrew Murphy. K.D. Wentworth brings back Hallah Iron-Thighs whose mission to rescue some princes from a dragon takes a surprising twist in "Hallah Iron-Thighs and the Five Unseemly Sorrows." Finally, Sarah Zettel takes us on a strange sort of sea cruise with "Miss Underwood and the Mermaid."

Nifty biographical notes head off each entry, and once again, the range and quality of the stories is impressive. Liked Chicks in Chainmail? Loved Did You Say Chicks?!? Then get your hands on Chicks 'n Chained Males -- you won't be sorry!

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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