A review by tehani
Behind the Mask: An Anthology of Heroic Proportions by Carrie Vaughn, Kelly Link, Cat Rambo


I'm a fan of superhero stories. I rarely read comics these days, but I seem to enjoy an awful lot of prose novels that take the superhero genre and give it a little twist. In Behind the Mask, there are 20 stories that play with what it is to be a superhero (or supervillain, in some cases). Some could come straight out of the existing comic universes we know, others are far more subtle and different. All are, without exception, highly engaging reads. From stories that are (at least on the surface) played with an edge of humour to those that swing deep into the pits of despair, these stories take on such a variety of aspects that there simply wasn't time to get bored or tired of reading.

It is very unusual for me to immerse in and like (if not love) every single story in an anthology. Statistically, it's unlikely, to say the least. But I genuinely did enjoy each of the stories in this book (16 original works and four reprints, two of them confusingly with the same title!), and can't recommend it enough. But even though I liked them all, I definitely had some favourites.

"Pedastal" by Seanan McGuire - I love Seanan's work, and her Velveteen series is a favourite of mine, so it's no surprise that I really liked this story. It's so very domestic, but still manages to deal with some bigger issues, very gently.

I don't know if I read it with an influenced eye, but "As I Fall Asleep" by Aimee Ogden put me in mind of the journey of Professor Xavier in the recent Logan film. Quite heartbreaking.

In the interests of transparency, I note that I have published stories by Stephanie Lai, but regardless of that, I loved her piece "The Fall of the Jade Sword" - it's very contained, but offers so much to unpack.

Possibly my very favourite story in the anthology was "Eggshells" by Ziggy Schutz. It is definitively young adult in feel and construction, and works just beautifully. Gorgeous characters and a gentle journey of a plot.

Honestly, though I have pulled out just a handful to mention by name, I really did like all the stories, and could go on to discuss each of them! If I have one complaint, it is that I came away from several stories wanting far more than I got! I would love to see novels come out of many of these stories (or at least a series of novellas, ala Tansy Rayner Robert's forays in her Cookie Cutter Superhero world), they were that well built and readable. As complaints go, it's a good one to have about an anthology, I reckon. Kudos to the editors on making a great selection of well rounded, thought-provoking set of stories.