A werewolf fighting for her humanity.
A gladiator fighting for love.
A blind mage, a human sacrifice and a big, buff fairy, all fighting off demons to save the world.
Twelve writers. Twelve worlds. Twelve warriors.
WARRIOR is an anthology of twelve exciting science-fiction and fantasy short stories, bursting with unstoppable characters that happen to identify within the LGBTQIA spectrum.
First of all, I completely love the story-by-story trigger warnings listed in the front of the collection. These stories do deal with dark themes, and it creates a sense of trust in the collection as a whole right from the beginning, that it will never present you with anything more than you can handle. I’m going to do a brief-ish review of each story, because they’re all great and I need to tell you why. I’ve included the LGBTQIA+ specifics of character identity where I know them.
These Bodies are Battlefields by Tash McAdam – queer romance, genderqueer/non-binary pit fighter and their admirer freeing each other from danger and abuse. This was such a gorgeous way to start this collection, and it’s probably one of my favourite stories overall. There are so many beautiful lines in it that I actually had to pause and just let the whole thing sink in. It’s about defending yourself and others, to not be ashamed of needing help, or having survived trauma. But I think on a deeper level it’s about the difference between surviving and living. Alone, our protagonist is surviving, and with great strength. But together, defending one another, they have the space to actually live, and live joyfully. This is only the beginning, the moment they find one another, but I would absolutely read more about these two.
Sole Survivor by Lewis Bright Rees – m/m, though they’ve been separated by the zombie apocalypse. The ‘zombies’ are actually terrifying. I’m honestly still scared of walking around the house at night in case of Smilers. Until I worked out who everyone was, the flashbacks were a little confusing, but this story is in the best tradition of zombie apocalypses, with that yearning for safety, and for the people who mean safety to you.
The Seeing Hands of Captain Zerach by Kayla Bashe – blind lesbian mage captain copes with her recent disability, and realises that, in the battle they’re fighting, blindness might actually be an advantage. It’s a beautiful story. Zerach has lost the love of her life and her sight, but she refuses to let others cast her aside. Her blindness will always be a difficulty, but the people around her will not be allowed to forget her skill, and her dedication to winning this fight. Most of the story is away from the battlefield, so there’s space to really feel the depths of these characters.
Seida the Fairy-Troll by Claudie Arseneault – the big, buff fairy in the summary above. She likes girls, but the one she has a crush on asserts that she’s asexual, and maybe aromantic. Seida was injured in a childhood mistake and is now ignored by most of the fairies because she has no wings. But when the portal to Hell begins to rip open, only Seida can save the Great Tree, and everyone who lives there. Seida already knows that she’s great, which means that she’s really good fun to read. But it’s time that everyone else realised that she’s great too.
Colossus of Ephesus by Tyler Gates – m/m gladiators. This one’s probably one of the sadder ones, but it’s also as literal as you can get in fighting for your love. Helios is just trying to do his best, to live as long as he can. But the gladiator’s life was never going to be easy in that regard, and everything he loves and lives for is on the line.
The Metal Mermaid by Kelly Matsuura – lesbian cyborg soldier fights for her friends, for her betrayers, and for her skill and experience to be recognised. I think this was one of the worlds I enjoyed reading the most, and there seem to be some much bigger stories at play here. Reiko has been saved by so many metal parts that by now she’s mostly machine. And that comes in handy on the battlefield, such as when a valuable enemy weapons drop appears to be unguarded on the other side of the river. A river which is deep, and cold, and full of flesh-eating alien monsters. I loved this one, especially when Reiko realises that even though everything doesn’t always go her way, she maybe has more friends than she thought.
Howl by Natalie Cannon – werewolves, and not the cute kind. This kind of infection takes your humanity, no matter how hard you try to control it. But when Heather is bitten, there is one thing that might be strong enough to remind her who she really is. Heather has an ex-girlfriend, and her housemate (boyfriend?) uses male pronouns but seems genderqueer in some way. It’s a desperate story of clinging to what really makes you human, and it has this very tangible tension about it which is completely great.
Things We’ll Never Know by B R Sanders – black MCs, Aunt Cam is trans. Story of an alien invasion that went very differently to how you’d expect. It’s probably one of the more accurate ideas of how aliens would react to us, and it’s bedded in some very strong family relationships. It’s funny, but it’s also full of sadness and fear, and an unresolved ending – because there is definitely more to this than is on the page.
Glass Bones by Kirstie Olley – a completely wonderful mash-up of so much fairy tale tradition, and also magic rings to other-world portals, and at least two gay couples (f/f, m/m). Predictably, given the fairy tale content, this was one of my faves. Mizzy’s brother is cursed with glass bones, and she’s determined to find him a cure. But she might have to sacrifice one person she loves to save the other… Be still, my beating heart. This was so much fun to read.
Unnecessary Risks by Abigail Rosenhart – bisexual MC, an old warrior lady sets the story straight. She’s dying, and she demands that this retired scribe copies down the truth of all the tales people tell about her. This is a great way to tell a long story in a short space of time – and it’s unlikely that the legends of Mathilda, the Braided Menace, will die with her – especially given the way she imparts them. There’s such emotion and passion in this story, it’s incredible.
Nothing Good to Say by E H Timms – aroace, cursed warrior knows that the fort can’t fend off the approaching raiders – especially since the guildmaster refuses to believe him about the seriousness of the threat. But Cuss is not in the habit of letting innocents die. Through some skilful narrative to-ing and fro-ing, we learn stories from his life. This man has never been interested in relationships, of any kind. But there’s a child in every town who wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for him. Honestly, this one broke my heart. It’s especially precious to me because of the ace rep, of course, but the writing is so strong that I don’t think anyone could be unaffected by it.
From Dust ‘Til Dawn by Hellie Reiersen – a human sacrifice is led across the sands towards her death. At least, that’s the plan. The Daughters have chosen her because she’s trans, but she’s going to prove them all wrong. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s going to take me a second read to work out exactly what happened at the end there, but I absolutely will read it again.
There is not a single weak link in this collection. As promised, twelve warriors, and each one is distinct, strong in different ways and fighting for different causes. Their orientations and identities are not at the forefront of many of the stories, but they matter. If you’re struggling to feel like you belong in stories because of your orientation or gender identity, you should be able to find something for you here. I’m obviously biased to favour the aroace representation, but I connected with so many of these stories. It’s a glorious showcasing of the sheer strength and talent of these writers, and their passion to tell stories which belong to everyone – but, more importantly, stories which represent those who find themselves excluded from mainstream narratives. Honestly, I’d give this six stars if I could.
Warrior: a collection of short stories was published by Ink & Locket Press in April 2017.