Heat Factor: Characters remove clothing, but it rarely gets racier than that.
Character Chemistry: Distinctly lacking.
Plot: Maiden + Forest + Autumn Equinox
Overall: I would classify these stories as high fantasy, not romance
What do I mean by high fantasy? I mean elves and orcs and swords. I was expecting more along the lines of Wicca / modern day witches; the dedication is “for all those who still believe in magick,” which seems like it would support my assumption. I guess the cover art should have been a clue, but even that clearly magical lady could be rooted in a mundane, recognizable world. But no: 8 of the 10 stories take place Once Upon a Time in the Land of Magic.
Another general note for readers who are only looking at the cover and tagline: not all of these heroines are witches. In fact, some of them don’t have magic at all. The general plot of several of the stories is as follows: maiden enters forest, finds love despite magical opposition. Some of these maidens do have magic of their own, but not all of them do. And some of the witchcraft we encounter is downright malevolent.
For readers who still find themselves intrigued by this anthology, here’s a quick run-down of things I didn’t like:
- The writing is weak. I am generally pretty forgiving of typos and awkward sentences, but there were enough here that I started highlighting them. Rogue and rouge are NOT the same thing. Please hire a copy editor.
- “The Matchweaver’s Loom” by Alisha Klapheke and “The Witch Collector” by Clarissa Weaks BOTH end abruptly just as the adventure gets started. You can read more about the protagonists as they fall further in love and defeat their enemies in other novellas! Lame.
- In the majority of cases, the chemistry between the protagonists is lacking. Part of that is form: it’s hard to show chemistry in a small amount of space, especially if you’re also doing world-building for a completely new realm as well as setting up a swashbuckling adventure. Part of this is the stylistic choice that most of these authors made to focus only on the point of view of one character. But really, it’s about the way the path to love is constructed: The beautiful girl meets a magic, mysterious man. He’s so handsome! She’s so beautiful! True love it is!
Here are some stories that had something interesting going on:
- “Wolfswood” by Morgan Jenson opens with some nice lyrical language that establishes that we’re entering a dream state. We are not dealing with reality, but with a place outside of time. In addition, this story was short and tightly focused – a nice intro to the collection.
- “Balance” by Elva Birch is fully rooted in our world. Margaret lives in Maine. She has powers because she serves the Goddess. There are rules about how magic works. In addition, Birch is the most successful at showing the development of chemistry between her leads given the short word count.
- “In Wraithwood” by Juliet Mariller is “Romantic” in the Byronic sense of the word, rather than the romance novel sense of the word. The heroine is mourning the death of her true love, and through the course of the narrative, is able to start letting go. With that said, it was well-done, and does end with a glimmer of hope for a brighter future.
- “The Mad King’s Gold” by Emma Hamm is a “Rumpelstiltskin” retelling, and Hamm just leans into the ridiculousness of it all. I appreciated the humor.
I think the negatives outweighed the positives for me in this case. Honestly, I was kind of bored most of the time. However, if you’re more of a fantasy reader than a romance enthusiast, you may not be bothered by all the stuff about dragons and evil forces and magic swords that had me skipping pages.
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