Imaginary Lands by Robin McKinley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
My wife brought this anthology home because it was edited by her favorite author. I’ve never been enthralled by McKinley myself, but I recognized several of the authors in this collection and decided to give it a chance. Also, my wife made the task easier by marking those stories she felt were particularly enjoyable. So, my caveat to this review is that I’ve actually only read 5/9ths of the entire volume.
The highpoint for me was “Flight” by Peter Dickinson, which was quite wonderful. It was a well-crafted, meticulously “researched” essay exploring the relationship between an Empire and one recalcitrant tribe stretching over hundreds of years, from the Empire’s mythical origins through the Industrial Revolution, political revolution, and the Nuclear Age. It accomplished what the best fantasy should: holding up a mirror to the real world in a thoughtful and entertaining way. (I think the mirror analogy is especially apt. The most mundane scene takes on an entirely new aspect when seen in reflection. Dickinson’s work does this with our history.)
There were other good stories as well, but nothing that stood out like Dickinson’s contribution. “Rock Candy Mountain” was cute, as “The Stone Fey” was haunting. In all, I wondered what the common theme was holding these together beside a strong sense of place– yet some of the stories lacked it. I think I was most disappointed with “Paper Dragons,” which started the collection. The language in this piece was evocative and effective, but the story never gathered steam and eventually came to pieces like the dragon in Filby’s garage.