Fight Like A Girl - edited by Roz Clarke and Joanne Hall

Publisher - Kristell Ink

Price - Out Now £3.99 e-book £9.99 Paperback

What do you get when some of the best known women writers of genre fiction come together to tell tales of female strength? A powerful collection of science fiction and fantasy ranging from space operas and near future factional conflict to medieval warfare and urban fantasy. These are not pin-up girls fighting in heels; these warriors mean business. Whether keen combatants or reluctant fighters, each and every one of these characters was born and bred to Fight Like A Girl.

The title to this fascinating anthology was an insult I'd heard many times growing up. A gendered slur saying women don't know how to fight as that's the man's job. In fantasy there was for many years a belief that women could either be there to be rescued or just have a single woman (likely in armour made to shapely display breasts) who would be allowed to play with the boys provided that at certain moments all competence would vanish; to allow the male hero to win/woo. Happily the genre is waking up the reality that women can be just as brave, focused and as skilled in violence as any man and in this collection we have a vast array of interesting writers to tell some storiesexploring what the phrase really means..

For me several highlights were

Coins, Fights and Stories Always Have Two Sides by Juliet McKenna- A strong opening sequence where a wily warrior camp chef in the winter season attempts to make some money as various warriors try to work out who is best and who is leading which gang in the future. It feels dirty, grimy and an air of scheming behind tent walls abides but you should be careful about who gets under-estimated....

The Women's Song by Nadine Andie - A training school of warrior boys has selected the next worthy male to face the final task. Trained in both the art of magic and battle the young warrior believes all he has left is to spend the night in a room with a young woman to make himself a man. He finds she has far more to teach him than he expected. Andie does some impressive re-telling of the rite of passage myth and gives us a modern, refreshing and impressively choreographed story with a clever final scene that lingers in the memory.

Arrested Development by Joanne Hall - Moving into the far future of a conquered Earth Hall delivers a tale of an aging cage fighter putting everything on the line battling regularly super powerful alien races. Her desire is to win not just for the joy of battle but for the future of herself.  When you realise what the story title signifies you will understand how much some people are prepared to risk. A grim world of concrete and decay is painted too to make you understand why this life is chosen.

Asenath by Kim Lakin-Smith - Probably my joint favourite story in the pack.  Almost calling to mind Italy's warring city states we have a young Doctor trying to bring in one of a future city's best mercenary gangs to help protect her patients. The mercenary gang's leader is a fascinating woman who balances traditional belief with a love of life and violence. There is double-dealing; beautifully created fight scenes and some tender moments of regret.  Just a fascinating world that isn't quite SF nor fantasy but a pleasing mixture of both.

The Quality of Light by K T Davies - This is a gracefully told story of one warrior preparing for her next battle. It balances working out how to survive the first encounter with the enemy with flashbacks to a more gentler moment from her childhood. It's all about the emotions felt by the warrior where they go to in such times; a desire to survive against all else and you feel the mud suck at your shoes as you read it. There isn't any debate of which side you're on being right this is about your survival this day.

Fire and Ash by Gaie Sebold - My other favourite tale looks at consequences. We find a warrior who has won her final battle at the cost of losing all her friends. She has nothing left and we meet her broken, traumatised and drunk. It's a well told story giving you a glimpse of an amazing warrior troupe now defeated and a character who is in grief that they are no longer in her life. It asks the question many fantasy stories ignore - what is next? A fine way to end the collection.

A good collection must offer variety and I think explore a theme and this easily manages it. Any of these stories could be a novel and you appreciate how many variations on a lead woman in the story there can be and how many worlds there could be to explore. As someone who strongly pushes for a bit more open mindedness in genre I really think this is an excellent way to start exploring outside of the stereotypes plus some more great authors to find!


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