Operation Arcana turned out to be a fairly short collection of stories that had only one directive; each short had to deal with military and fantasy- every other detail was left to the authors. While I have read themed collections before this one felt quite a bit different. It is hard to pin down but I think I am used to short stories trying (sometimes a bit too hard) to deliver a message and there isn’t much of that here. Not that there were not important things being said in some of these stories, but it was one of the loosest feeling collections I have ever read.
As would be expected from a multi-author anthology the quality varied; a couple of great stories, a couple of low points, but mostly filled with good entertainment. I never know how to rate a collection beyond ‘worth reading’ or ‘not’ so I will classify this one in the probably worth reading category for even casual fantasy fans. As is my way I refuse to rate individual short stories but instead point out a few highlights.
The Damned One Hundred by Jonathan Maberry was the second story in and the first to really catch my attention. One big heroic act is needed and damned if it doesn’t stand out. I love it when a short story gives me as much history as a novel; or at least enough to make me feel like it has.
Immediately next comes Genevieve Valentine’s Blood, Ash, Braids. Valentine is always a highlight in any collection and it is no different here; one of a couple World War II retellings and easily the best. Witches in outdated bi-planes, what else would you need to know?
Yoon Ha Lee is a new author to me but I quite enjoyed The Graphology of Hemorrage, a story that breaks away from the battle heavy theme and deals with the subterfuge aspects of war instead. I am always interested in language and it is that, along with a little bit of magic, that provides the key to bittersweet success in this story.
The absolute highlight for me though came from a very surprising place. In Skeleton Leaves by Seanan McGuire wins the collection. I was not surprised because of who the author was, I have heard many good things about her work. Rather I was surprised by the subject manor, one Peter Pan. I have absolutely no interest in the Peter Pan world but now there is one exception. This isn’t a happy Neverland story, dealing with a never ending war and child soldiers with no option of growing up. Proof that even old stories can be used in completely original ways.
Most of the other stories were serviceable enough, some of them better than others. As I mentioned there were only two I didn’t enjoy (Simon R Green’s was as over the top and unnecessary as anything else I have read by the man, Mike Cole’s story felt like something I should like but I never was able to click with it). This was also a collection that didn’t have any stories that pushed the boundary of the ‘short’ description, something I appreciated as I flew through it in a single day. Over all I am glad to have read it and once again found a few new authors to watch for.
Copy for review received via NetGalley from publisher.