skjam's review

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Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

This fantasy anthology has a dual theme, as indicated by its title; magic as transaction, and magic while traveling. The former theme brings to mind the classic Faustian bargain story, and the preface mentions that the editors got a bushel full of them, only a few making the cut.

There are eighteen stories, nine for each theme, divided into groups of three by subtheme, such as “Bad Roads.” Most of the stories are new, but some have been previously printed. Some standouts include:

“Ghost Diamonds” by Scott Hungerford. A woman and her niece discover that compressing crematorium ashes into a diamond allows calling the ghost of the deceased. But they aren’t the only ones who have made this discovery, and someone’s been switching the ghost diamonds with fakes. But why?
“Across the Darien Gap” by Daniel Braum. A guide attempts to take a hunted woman through the rain forest between Central and South America. His two-dimensional thinking may doom them. This one has been made into an episode of Psuedopod, a horror podcast, and is now being lengthened into a book.
“Only a Week” by Joyce Chng. This one might actually be science fiction, set in a futuristic Chinatown. A courtesan seeks to regain her youthful beauty, but the medicine has side effects and can be taken only for one week….
“And the Deep Blue Sea” by Elizabeth Bear. A courier must cross the postapocalyptic Southwest to deliver vital supplies. But a deal she made years ago is coming due. Can Harrie finish her delivery with the devil himself in the way?
There’s a good diversity of protagonists, and both happy and sad endings. A couple of stories are perhaps a little too cliche, but the quality is generally good.

Unlike many small press books I’ve read lately, the proofreading is excellent.

I would recommend this book to fantasy fans in general, and modern fantasy fans in particular.