Irish Magic II
by Morgan Llywelyn,
Barbara Samuel, Susan Wiggs
& Roberta Gellis
(Kensington, $5.99, R) ISBN 1-57566-272-8
This anthology batted a respectable .750 in my book, not bad at all for a diverse group of authors. I'm not well versed in Irish folklore, but I found the views of Celtic spirits to be refreshing, creative and entertaining.

I'd skip right over the first story, Susan Wiggs' The Changeling. An American rancher, carrying his beloved grandmother's ashes to their final resting place in Ireland, meets a fey young woman who swears she is a changeling, and a cursed one at that. Their instant attraction doesn't ring true, and the romance is sketchy at best. Ms. Wiggs is certainly capable of stronger stories than this one.

Barbara Samuel's effort, Earthly Magic, is much more satisfying. A young woman, despondent over the loss of her lover, recklessly summons a Fairy Prince to come take her away. But it is up to a young bard to convince her that giving up her mortality is too high a price. And he must do it all without his voice, as the frustrated Fairy Prince has laid a curse on him and rendered him mute. The portrayal of the magical fairy people as beautiful yet soulless is interesting, and the young woman's struggle to accept the pain of humanity is beautifully portrayed. Only a slightly jarring plot twist that temporarily separates the human lovers doesn't work.

The strongest story is Morgan Llywelyn's To Recapture the Light. The sidhe, or Celtic spirits, are again seen as selfish creatures who live a superficial life of gaiety and excess. But one young fairy, Lasair, finds true love with a traveling artist, Cormac Casey. Lasair's emerging humanity and selflessness is a testament to the power of love. Llywelyn crafts a beautifully simple yet highly effective Irish Romeo and Juliet tale with a much more satisfying resolution.

The final installment, The Bride Price, is a curious but irresistible effort. I couldn't say I cared for the hero and heroine, who had a nasty habit of withholding information from each other, but it was a fascinating tale. Findbhair (that's the heroine) and Fraoch (that's the hero) have been bonded since Findbhair's childhood but Fraoch has waited ten years to claim his bride. Once reunited, they spend three days making love amidst the purplest prose I've seen in years (a critical part of Findbhair's female anatomy is referred to as "the little false tongue in that second mouth..." I mean, really!) but then must face Findbhair's parents, who oppose the match. Actually, that's putting it mildly. Findbhair's mother, Medb, will stop at nothing to ruin her daughter's happiness her schemes run from murdering her new son-in-law to sleeping with him. This Irish Mommie Dearest makes Snow White's wicked stepmother look like Mother Teresa.

Despite Gellis' dense, often obtuse prose, I found myself fascinated by the story, trying to see what this amazingly dysfunctional fantasy family would do next. Gellis manages to pack enough into her 120 pages that I felt I had read an full-length novel.

With the exception of the first story, all of the installments of Irish Magic II successfully transported me to a different time and place where magic rules and fairies lurk in unexpected places. I'm not usually an anthology fan, so I am pleasantly surprised to be able to give this collection such a strong endorsement.

--Susan Scribner

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