It Happened at the Ball, edited by Sherwood Smith

Review copy provided by the editor, who is also a personal friend.

This anthology was conceived as a light antidote to current moods–an escape, a lovely frothy escape. Where it succeeds at that, it succeeds brilliantly. Stand-out stories for me included Marie Brennan’s “The ┼×iret Mask” (reprinted from Beneath Ceaseless Skies and no less excellent in this venue), Francesca Forrest’s “Gown of Harmonies,” and Layla Lawlor’s “Gilt and Glamor.” These were extremely different stories–one urban fantasy/contemporary–and each hit its marks very well indeed, as one would hope from a themed anthology (but as one often doesn’t find). Though I often look askance at editors including their own work in an anthology, Sherwood Smith’s own “Lily and Crown” was a very strong element of this volume, which wouldn’t have been half as good without it–I’m a sucker for stories of revolution and independence, and this was one.

Some of the stories that were not as much for me were more a matter of personal inclination–nothing wrong with them, just not my sort of thing. A few more were on a weird line–acknowledging the reality of slave ownership for slaves but continuing to focus on the slave owners’ fancy parties is not really going to work for me, and I feel that while it’s entirely period that people were insensitive about terms for Roma people, we need to be careful about how and when we think it’s necessary to do that in stories written now. I had some larger issues with Marissa Doyle’s “Just Another Quiet Evening at Almack’s,” though. It had assault as a central event but not, in some senses, a central theme; the way it was handled was simultaneously light-hearted (which is far better for the anthology topic than for this story element) and victim-blaming. Young girls cast attraction charms on themselves, the silly things! and then get assaulted by men of all ages, with a strong attitude of “they should have known better, this is what they get.” This is the razor blade in this particular dish of sherbet. I wish there wasn’t one. I wish we could have an entire anthology of light-hearted stories about dancing without this particular element. Maybe in the next try. There’s a lot else that’s good in this book; I just could do without this one element.

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