Review of Gunsmoke & Dragonfire
Fantasy is probably the most broadly encompassing genre in fiction because you can create so many unique stories in a limitless number of settings. Mix that with the Western genre, and you get a wonderful blend of stories. Diane Morrison’s Gunsmoke & Dragonfire anthology pulls together twenty-five of these stories into a single collection that just blows me away. The variety of stories presented, and the skill of the authors (from well-established authors to those just starting out), really stand out in this anthology. There are stories here of gunslingers and spellslingers, stories featuring magic and myth, and those set in the far future on worlds that are like the Old West.
As with most anthologies that I read there are stories that stand out to me. And that’s the nice thing about an anthology; the stories that inspire me and really struck a chord with me may be different than the ones that do the same thing for you. Below are five of the stories from Gunsmoke & Dragonfire that really stood out to me.
“When the Bell Strikes Three” by Joachim Heijndermans is not only a great fantasy western, but a wonderful slipstream story as well. I had shivers reading it and honestly, somebody from the Twilight Zone needs to make this story into an episode.
“No-Sell” by Ricardo Victoria was a fun story that reminded me very much of Dragonheart, but in a Western setting and blending in a bit of Aztec mythology. I really enjoyed the slow reveal on this story and the twist at the end.
“The Burning Plains” by Brent A. Harris mixes fantasy and western with historical fiction to create a wonderful tale of pioneers trying to deal with a dragon aided by Bass Reeves, who was the first African American US Marshall. I really enjoyed the blending of facts with fantasy in this story that creates a fun alternate history tale.
“A Prayer for the Reaping Season” by Mackenzie Kinkaid is a great coming-of-age story as a young girl must step into her older brother’s shoes to protect the family farm from the monsters that stalk the land. This story blends western action with fantasy really well, while showing that whether in the real world or in fantasy life often forces young children to grow into adulthood sooner than they’d like.
Finally, “Riders of the Rainbow Ridge” by Diana L. Paxson blends a western with mythology to tell the tale of a landscape painter who stumbles into a quiet village with a secret. Being a fan myself of artwork by famous western painters such as Albert Bierstadt I enjoyed this story of an artist who starts to mistrust his own eyes, and then learns the truth. The mythology is revealed subtly and is more enjoyable because it is not in your face.
I enjoyed many of the other stories in this anthology beyond the five mentioned above, but those are the ones that spoke to me the most. I do have one quibble about the anthology, and it has nothing to do with the stories, but with the layout. While done very well, it was none-the-less tiring to read because of the small font size chosen to fit so many stories into a single volume. As a publisher myself I understand the need to balance readability with production value and costs, and at 372 pages in length, this is a massive anthology. I guess it’s a sign of my own age that I had to pace my reading to avoid eye strain. (If you pick up a copy as an ebook you will not have this problem.)
Gunsmoke & Dragonfire is an amazing anthology highlighting some of the best in fantasy westerns today.