Fantasy stories make for some of the best means of escape from reality. Journeys of self-discovery, epic battles of good versus evil, and unbelievable lands fuel the imagination and normally end in “happily-ever-afters.” However, not all journeys end well and not all characters receive happy endings and, to be honest, these bittersweet stories can be just as enjoyable to read as the aforementioned tales. The recent Petals and Blades Anthology by Dreaming Rabbit Press holds five such fantasy stories by five incredibly talented authors. Each tells a tale of fable and fantasy that may start out as soft as flower petals, but ends in these petals being cut by sharp and unforgiving blades of tragedy.
To start this anthology, author A.P. Sessler has a beautiful talent of writing a poem that almost reads like a ballad a troubadour would have performed in medieval times. “The Maiden’s Heart” is a poem that tells the tragic tale of a man who was rescued from certain death from a wizard’s curse by the love of a young maiden. Sessler’s poem flows smoothly and his eloquent use of detail paints a beautiful picture within the mind. “The Maiden’s Heart” may seem like a traditional fantasy tale at the start, but Sessler inserts his own morbidly twisted, yet surprisingly heartfelt take that no reader will see coming.
“Sacrifice for the Gods” is written by author Colby Bettley and is another poem to grace this anthology. A very short poem that carries much weight and much heartbreak, Bettley writes about a father and his son who wish to make offerings to the gods; however, each has a different offering in mind. This poem almost has a religious take as it reads similarly to a story in the bible: Genesis 22. Yet this melancholy poem is a short and delicate piece of literature that houses both mystery and sadness. Bettley’s writing will make readers come up to their own conclusion for “Sacrifice for the Gods” shows the end of a story already told, but what could have transpired in life for someone to fall so far? What led to this unfortunate conclusion?
Author Katherine Leonard has made her debut with her first published work “The Legend that is Azalea Darlor” that can best be described as a tragic comedy, for she gives attention to a character not normally focused upon in fantasy stories: the bard. Bards can make for very entertaining characters, just look at Andrzej Sapkowski’s Dandelion or Dragonheart’s Brother Gilbert. Leonard’s bard Azalea Darlor carries her own wit, humor, and heart as she travels with an unlikely band of comrades as they march off to defeat a dragon. “The Legend that is Azalea Darlor” has the fun traditional feel of a fantasy story, but what makes it even more fun are the small things not normally expanded upon in other stories, such as Azalea, rather than thinking about the dangerous dragon ahead, is too consumed with thinking about the stone that is in her boot. With bittersweet parts thrown into the story to match the tone of the anthology, Leonard’s fantasy is perhaps the most lighthearted of the five stories readers will come across.
Author Russell Hemmell’s “The Leper King of Thessalia” is a praiseworthy story that focuses on the power of sacrifice. A young boy has the ability to see into the past and the future. He learns of the Leper Queen of Thessalia, a monstrous being that kills young virgin men to continue living, and also learns that his mother may very well share the same terrible fate of the Queen. Hemmell is a deep thinker and has created a complex fantasy world that reads more realistically than the other stories of the anthology and a world that houses characters just as complex as its story. Readers will become entranced by the author’s writing style as they jump between different moments in different times, as they read about a boy with the ability to see into not just the future, but the past as well, and as they read about a very complex Queen that is viewed as a monster, but is actually plagued with a terrible life to live. “The Leper King of Thessalia” is a complex story that does not confuse, opens the eyes to a fact that myths could be reality told in a mystical language, and that true love is not always just between a man and a woman, but can also be found between a mother and her child.
“Lionhead Rose” by author Xaneria Ann finishes this anthology with another strong and complex tale about a queen being accused for adultery, her lover and her son being sentenced to exile for the crime, and the queen’s guardian wanting to put an end to the unjust plaguing the line of royalty. Ann has placed an excellent mix of elements readers enjoy in fantasy stories: drama, suspense, magic, and more. The characters are very well written and Ann portrays their emotions and actions with excellent descriptive detail. “Lionhead Rose” also proves to be a powerhouse woman story for a majority of the characters are women, but even with the women fighting so hard, they discover that they cannot fight fate. This story would have actually been wonderful to read as a full length novel for there are times when it did become difficult to follow and readers would be very interested to learn more about how Ann’s royalty system works and how her main character Njemile became the hardcore guardian that she is.
The five stories found within the recently published Petals and Blades Anthology do have a more morbid take on modern fantasy stories; however, fans of fantasy will enjoy the changes and twists these five talented authors bring to traditional fantasy tales. Each author tells a tale of love, each includes an element of the mystical or of magic, each shares their own unique stories for readers to enjoy, and each ends their tale in tragedy. The cover art, done by 14-year-old Kiley Bishop, portrays the title of the anthology beautifully for even in the wonders fantasy offers, dangers also lurk. Readers can find these five exceptionally written stories in the second Anthology by Dreaming Rabbit Press and experience the tragically beautiful stories within today.