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C is for Chimera by Rhonda Parrish
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C is for Chimera is the third installment in the Alphabet Anthologies by Poise and Pen Publishing. Edited by Rhonda Parrish, this anthology contains 26 stories titled with a single letter of the alphabet. That letter refers to a theme, image, character, or plot device within the story, pitting the reader against the author in puzzling out what the letter symbolizes before the final page where its meaning is revealed. While the symbolism was obvious in a few of the chapters, several left me guessing, and “E” and “Q” sent me to the dictionary to look up the final word.

Many of the stories play on our assumptions about who and what is monstrous. This was most apparent in K.V. Taylor’s “B” and the gothic tale “L” by Megan Arkenberg, where men whose passion for scientific study become more monstrous than their creations, but it also occurs in “V” by Steve Bornstein, where the chimera teaches the hero, who is on a quest to recover the means of his livelihood, to question his own assumptions. “V” was one of my favorite chapters in this collection; Bornstein’s characters have distinctive speech patterns, and the lighthearted tone reminded me of comic fantasy such as Piers Anthony’s Xanth series or, more recently, Shrek. Simon Kewin’s “F” was also excellent, as he honoured the famous novel that inspired his story while delving into the mind and motivations of the so-called monster.

Becoming is an important theme in this book. Several characters shed their skins (sometimes literally) to become something that, despite outward appearances, is frequently more beautiful and certainly more powerful, self-assured or self-defined than the human form preceding it. “I” by Sara Cleto is another of my favourites; it subverts the Cinderella story in many ways, not least of which is the relationship between stepdaughter and mother-in-law. The oral tale “J” by Megan Englehardt, which draws upon Indigenous oral traditions and a lesser known but much loved mythical creature from North America, also plays upon this theme as the protagonist comes to appreciate his own unique strengths. But not all of the stories involve people (or monsters) that turn out better or wiser; in some, such as “P”, the central character commits murder as performance art to reveal the monsters within.

The cycle of life and death also permeates this book. Several of the authors portray death as an essential part in creating a chimera. In some cases, including the opening story by Alexandra Seidel, characters choose to become chimera, literally taking on the physical aspects of lions, snakes and goats to assume their mythical powers. In Michael B. Tager’s “Q”, the chimera is essential to the initiation of a novice into a caste of magic-using women who become, as the elderly master describes, “peacekeepers and queens and warriors”.

Several chapters tackle important social issues such as bullying, domestic violence, and sexual assault. I enjoyed the range of topics, settings and genres from fairy tales to steampunk and science fiction, not to mention poetry, a thriller told through transcripts of media interviews and 9-1-1 calls (“P” by Brittany Warman again), and even one by C.S. MacCath that seemed to be about physics as much as creation myths.

The quality of writing was somewhat uneven, which is hardly surprising in a collection featuring 26 authors, and I noticed a few typos. Nonetheless, I was impressed with the scope of this anthology and the breadth of imagination the authors brought to their letter of the alphabet. Some of these tales might not make comfortable bedtime reading – I squirmed when I reached the line about shutters coming down in “R” by L.S. Johnson – but if you are looking for something to read in short sittings and you’re open to many genres within the literature of the fantastic, then C is for Chimera is an enjoyable choice.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 12, 2016 – Shelved
April 12, 2016 – Finished Reading

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