Title: Alleys & Doorways: Stories of Queer Urban Fantasy
Author: Edited by Meredith Schwartz
Publisher: Lethe Press
Genre: Gay Urban Fantasy Anthology
Length: 200 pages
Rating: 3.75 out of 5
A guest review by Kassa
In Alleys & Doorways, editor Meredith Schwartz has brought together stories of the odd and mysterious ways that queer life happens in the city. Covering a wide range of styles, moods and emotions, from the poignant and erotic to the whimsical, these tales from a roster of acclaimed authors strive to create new legends for gay urbanites.
Featuring several stories that were finalists for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, this anthology promises to enchant you. Be wary where you read these stories… that train ride, that bus, that sidewalk may lead you to someplace Else… but be assured that your destination in these new alleys, these new doorways, will be an exciting one!
I originally read the anthology when in electronic form and released by Torquere. Some of the stories stayed with me since then and others I forgot about entirely. So the chance to revisit these stories was definitely welcome, but I came away with mixed feelings. Again, some of the stories stand out as fabulous and truly entertaining, whimsical delights. Others are forgettable (again) and ultimately the anthology finished considerably weaker than it starts. The actual score is indicative of the anthology as a whole but the first 9 stories so far outshine the last few. There is sure to be something for every taste in this collection and even with a few less than great stories, the fabulous offerings make this incredibly worthwhile.
The writing ranges from decent to fabulous and the settings tend to be more fantasy than modern, though as I’ve said there is something for everyone. The collection starts strong with the interesting and curious “Everlasting” about a human that becomes trapped in the park due to a passing wish. This highlights the old saying “be careful what you wish for” and shows a creepy, sad, but fascinating fae world. From there the sole f/f offering is an alternate reality where a war has occurred and changed life while keeping it remarkably similar. The haunting overtones of “The Steel Anniversary” will stay with readers for some time.
From there the anthology really picks up with a delightful and whimsical offering in “Side Effects” where a young couple must deal with an unexpected effect from using magic. The characters, relationship, and story are very entertaining and sure to please. Similarly, “Path of Corruption” stands out for its dark tones and creepy setting. The depths the main character sinks is absorbing and gripping, challenging the reader on costs of love and life. Combined with the romantic and gritty “The Reflection of Love” about a young Seer and his helpless attraction to a prostitute, these three stories stand out as my favorites of the collection. Each is well written, engaging, and creates a great atmosphere in very few words. Must reads for lovers of great fiction.
Highlights also include the funny and witty “Were” about a gay shapeshifter who is a bunny rabbit, not the most masculine of shifters yet he finds a common geeky thread with a younger man. “Lost” is a romantic and sweet tale showing the strength of love and overcoming fear and ingrained habits. “Underneath” is also humorous about a Seer and a Knight, with a lot of parallels between the men and their professions but is well written, engaging, and a quick treat. All of the above stories are worth reading and make the anthology fast to read and very enjoyable.
Unfortunately the collection slows from there with stories that are decent and clean with good settings but ultimately lacked the connection between the story and the reader. These stories tended to involve extraneous detail or slight rambling and just didn’t offer the same engaging aspects as the previous stories. “Picture Perfect” has a touch of sweet supernatural to bring two lovers together and “Flight” is a sad but inspiring story about a boy wanting to fly with a partner. “Cedar,” “Love Potion,” and “The Token” each have a good premise and are decently written but never fully developed either the setting or the characters. They felt half finished as if parts were left out.
Overall I’d very much recommend the anthology despite the star rating. I averaged the score of all the stories so that came out to be 3.75 but several of the stories are easily much higher than that. One of the best aspects if that you can pick and choose which stories to read and although you could easily read the entire collection in one sitting, you’ll want to revisit some I suspect. Take a chance and get this book, you won’t be disappointed.