Wicked Women. Book Review

Edited by Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber
Fox Spirit Books, p/b, 226pp, £6.99
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (@mangozoid)

Dubbed “twelve tales of women who gleefully write their own rules, bend or break the social norms, and generally aim to misbehave”, one can be forgiven for thinking Wicked Women promises much. Alas, in this instance I couldn’t help thinking it failed to deliver on this promise, and that’s both unfortunate and disappointing.

When I pick up an anthology, I at least expect an introduction to the volume by the editor(s) offering some form of commentary as to why various stories were picked to be included, maybe get some idea of the thinking behind some of the selections chosen, etc. Alas, there’s no sign of any of that here, and working through all the stories feels loose and wayward, moreso if they vary so markedly in quality.­­

Of the twelve stories herein, only “This Blessed Union” by Adrian Tchaikovsky and the somewhat disturbing “How To Be The Perfect Housewife” by Chloë Yates really stood out for me as being excellent. And while Gaie Sebold’s “Change of Heart” sits quite smartly as a great introduction and prequel of sorts to her Babylon Steel debut series, the rest varied widely from distinctly average (“The Book of the Gods” by Sam Stone and “No Place of Honour” by A R Aston), to reasonably good (“The Shabti-Maker” by Christine Morgan, “Down at the Lake” by Jaine Fenn, and Jonathan Ward’s “A Change Of Leadership”), with some proving simply unsatisfying (“Win Some, Lose Some” by Juliet McKenna, “Red Ribbons” by Stephanie Burgis, and Tom Johnstone’s “Kravolitz”).

Jaine Fenn’s “Down at the Lake” was interesting and promised much but proved way too short, I felt, as did Juliet McKenna’s “Win Some, Lose Some” which felt like the start of something bigger but then just stopped. And much as I tried (twice), Zen Cho’s “The First Witch of Damansara” just left me feeling puzzled and frustrated.

Whether it’s the intention of Fox Spirit to bring out further volumes in this series, I’m really not sure, but much as I’d be interested to see them, I think there needs to be a positive upturn in quality if it’s to stand any chance of doing justice to the theme. I’m all for kick ass women behaving badly, but let’s bring some context and backbone into the mix, and share some of the thoughts behind the editor’s choices.

Overall this was a tad disappointing, but by no means a false start — it’s a theme with huge potential, deserving of support, and ripe for development: I would’ve appreciated knowing a bit more about the thinking behind some of the choices, that’s all.