Hellebore and Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic – Joselle Vanderhooft and Catherine Lundoff, eds. – Lethe Press

Buy it now at Lethe Press.

I cut my reading teeth on horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and
speculative work—but as I moved into my early twenties, I turned my back on
those genres, thinking there were more important books in the world. And
indeed, there were. But as I get older, I realize there’s room on the shelf for
everything. Or at least on the Kindle. So every time I review a book of fantasy
or magic, a little bit of my childhood comes back to me. So, thank you Joselle
Vanderhooft and Cathering Lundoff, for filling me with Hellebore and Rue.

When I was a kid, however, tales of strong women weren’t
readily accessible. No matter. I can now thrill to a wonderful story of rescue
and redemption like “Counterbalance,” the leadoff story by Ruth Sorrell. Or
savor the foreboding and danger of the arrival of an ancient magician in C.B.
Casling’s deliciously dark Cajun tale “Trouble Arrived.” At that age, I
wouldn’t have appreciated the masterful weaving of demon-hunting and
relationship problems between an exorcist and her girlfriend in Jean Marie
Ward’s “Personal Demons.” But I can now.

But those aren’t the only treats in store here. One of my
favorites is the nicely veiled eco-theme of Connie Wilkins’ “The Windskimmer,”
which sees a practitioner of plant-based magic teaming up with an old airborne
friend to right a wrong done not only to them, but to the land. This story,
brilliant in its simplicity as well as its metaphor, is a lovely yet cautionary
tale. And what fan of swords and sorcery could resist the tale of a young woman
heroically challenging a wyvern on its own turf in Kelly A. Harmon’s “Sky Lit

Steve Berman, author of the teen ghost story Vintage
and so many more interesting stories also turns in a bravura performance with
his Ray Bradbury-esque “D is for Delicious,” a delightful tale of a retiring
school nurse who must face the fact that she is actually a child-eating witch.
Not only is the concept wonderful, but Berman’s Mrs. Grackle is a marvelous
character both repulsed and intrigued by the idea of needing her beloved
kindergarteners for support as well as sustenance. Lisa Nohealani Morton’s
surrealistically beautiful story of a clandestine affair between a witch and an
angel, “And Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness” is another winner, keeping
you guessing until the last minute whether or not these natural enemies would
be forced to destroy each other or encouraged to love each other.

But perhaps my favorite is the tale which ends the book,
Rachel Green’s stunning “A State of Panic,” an irresistible blend of fantasy
and detective story that has newly-arrived Sergeant Anna Wilde using her dark
gifts to not only best her chauvinistic co-workers but to solve the mystery
behind a series of suicides. Wilde is both new school and old world, and Green
works the combo for all she’s worth, coming up aces with a character she could
easily build a longer work around.

So if you’re looking for a read to take you out of yourself
and away from a world where you have to make your own tea, give Hellebore and
a whirl. The problem is you might never want to come back.

Review by Jerry Wheeler

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