Tales from the Cauldron
edited by Jonathan Strahan
First sentence: “The stories all start with a hat, specifically a tall, black, pointy hat.”
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I know it’s bad form to start a review with “I never read x” but in this case it’s true. I don’t do short stories and I’m not a big fan of witches. (Tiffany Aching aside.) But, in this case, I’m glad for the Cybils: I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of short stories about witches.
The stories themselves were good, taking in a wide breadth of witch lore. It went from modern Wiccan (Holly Black’s “Little Gods,” which — since this is a book aimed at the upper-middle grade audience, I feel compelled to add — contains the book’s only f-bomb), to traditional fairy tale (Jane Yolen’s fabulous “Andersen’s Witch”) and everything in between. There are some fantasy heavyweights here as well: aside from Black and Yolen, Neil Gaiman weighs in with a quirky poem; Patricia McKillip has a story about a witch band fighting evil (way cool); Frances Hardinge was her elegant self in the smart, funny “Payment Due”; Charles De Lint explores the idea of a Hispanic witch in “Barrio Girls”, and Garth Nix offers up a creepy boarding school witch story.
Obviously, there were some that I liked more than others, but hands-down my favorite was from an author I’d not heard of before: Tim Pratt. I guess he’s solely a short story writer, which is why I haven’t read his stuff, but his story “The Carved Forest” was amazing. It’s basically the story of a girl who is having conflicts with her family, so she runs away to the witch’s house. Her brother comes to get her, and discovers that the witch has an entire forest of carved trees. They’re of people in his town, and the witch’s job is to keep them rooted, never leaving her care. It works on several levels: as a brother-sister story, as a creepy witch story, and as an allegory for letting people follow their own path. Perhaps it’s what I wanted to read right then, but it really affected me.
Overall, it’s a great collection of stories, perfect for anyone who is into witches (or just wants to explore the topic a bit).
(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)