Marion Zimmer Bradley, editor,
Sword & Sorceress XX
(DAW, 2003)

The Sword & Sorceress series debuted in 1984 when editor Marion Zimmer Bradley set out to collect and publish fantasy short stories with strong female protagonists. It has had a long and successful run, culminating in this 20th installment in the series. Despite Bradley's untimely death, incoming editors Elisabeth Waters and Ann Sharp promise that the series will continue.

Eighteen stories and one homily are collected here. The last is a bit surprising but instead of closing the anthology with a short humorous tale, as Bradley liked to do, Waters and Sharp have included the homily that was read at Bradley's funeral. It's an appropriate way of saying goodbye to such an influential figure in fantasy and science fiction. Bradley completed the editing of this volume before her death but Waters and Sharp have penned the introductions for the stories.

The theme for this anthology is that of self-discovery or finding one's true path in life. The variety of changes worked on this theme is impressive. As with any anthology, different readers will find different pieces resonating with them, but all of the stories try to avoid fantasy cliches.

One standout is Kathryn J. Brown's "The Mask of Medusa's Daughter," which features a very believable protagonist (despite her supernatural origin). Dorothy J. Heydt's "Blood Will Tell" is another well-written and -researched tale of the Greek witch Cynthia. Yet another story that will please fans of ongoing characters is Phyllis Ann Karr's "The Robber Girl, the Strangers, and Ole Lukoie" -- "the strangers" here are Karr's characters Frostflower and Thorn. Charles M. Saplak's "Swords for Teeth, Mirrors for Eyes" succeeds in reworking the hoary theme of dragonslaying and packs the force of a folktale from a long-forgotten culture. A tense relationship between a plant mage and her not quite so gifted niece powers Margaret L. Carter's "Late Blooming." Readers familiar with George Barr's fantasy art will discover another side of his talents in "Too in the Morning."

These are just a few of the stories to be found between the covers of this anthology. Plenty more awaits the reader. This volume is a fitting memorial for Bradley, who may be remembered as much for her discoveries of new writers as for her own body of work.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 3 January 2004

Buy it from