Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s 1979 Amazons! is an anthology of fantasy stories. Special ones. Each story features a woman protagonist who is not support staff or arm candy for the hero. Almost but not all of the stories are by women. The anthology won the 1980 World Fantasy Award, as well as nominations for both the Locus and the coveted Balrog.
This is a reprint, year unclear but it can be narrowed down. The cover is the same Whelan the first printing got, the $2.50 price tag suggests no later than 1985, and the lack of the iconic yellow spine suggests it saw print after the 1984 edition of A. E. Van Vogt’s The Book of Ptath, which as we all know was the final example of that eye-catching yellow spine.
It matters to me!
For the most part these are sword and sorcery stories. Their scope is limited. individual fates may depend on the outcome; sometimes the fates of small kingdoms do; but none of these stories are of the “we must win or the world will be destroyed” variety. There are some fairly slight stories — every reader will see the twist in Lee’s story coming for miles, and there is not much to “The Rape Patrol”. These are more than balanced by stories like “Agbewe’s Sword,” “The Sorrows of Witches,” and Cherryh’s “The Dreamstone” (which reminds me that I’ve never read the novel length expansion, or the sequel, although I think I own both). “Sorrows of Witches” is a little odd because that it seems to accept the premise that witches are by definition bad people who deserve what they get. Or in this case, do not get1.
Of particular interest to me is the reading list at the end, which has suggestions unfamiliar to me. Because of course I needed a longer TBR list….
Amazons is long out of print (as I will also remind you at the end of the review). Anyone who happened to own a publishing firm could do a lot worse than reprinting this anthology. Not to mention the sequel.
A longer take:
Amazons • (1978) • poem by Melanie Kaye
Poetry is one my huge blind spots. If readers want to explain this to me, feel free.
Introduction: Our Amazon Heritage • essay by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Salmonson believed that it was necessary to show that there actually were real historical warrior women, women adventurers, and their kin. She did so at some length and with great energy. Although I do not at this moment have the time to check, no doubt this essay ended forever any debate over whether strong women ever existed in real life or could plausibly exist in fiction.
“The Dreamstone” • short story by C. J. Cherryh
Determined to get revenge on a young harper, an arrogant lord pursues the boy into the Ealdwood. The fae lady whose woods they are disapproves of his quest. Events do not play out to the benefit of Sir Not Appearing in Any Sequels.
“Wolves of Nakesht” • short story by Janrae Frank
Chimquar the outcast, mother of two and epic-level swordsperson, leaps to the defence of the outnumbered Amazons, entangling herself in her people’s affairs once more.
“Woman of the White Waste” • short story by T. J. Morgan
Raped by Yarl invaders, Ellide embraces a cold power against which no mortal can stand. Revenge comes with a price she willingly pays.
The Death of Augusta • poem by Emily Brontë and Joanna Russ
Fragments of a poem about dynastic revenge. The full text was lost after Brontë’s death.
“Morrien’s Bitch” • short story by Janet Fox
Riska’s knowledge of the secret ways into the walled city of Ultebre made her potentially useful to Morrien. Her grudge against the city’s ruler made her an ally. But what will happen to the alliance once the pair have won the battle?
“Agbewe’s Sword” • [Dossouye] • (1979) • novelette by Charles R. Saunders
Dossouye and Nyima are determined to save Abomey from the invading Ashante and their hireling sorcerer. Nyima, however, has a secondary agenda; eliminate the hated Dossouye by any means possible.
“Jane Saint’s Travails (Part One)” • [Jane Saint] • short story by Josephine Saxton
For most people, being executed is the end of the story. Death sends Jane on a dream-quest.
I am intrigued by that (Part One) in the title. ISFDB says that the Jane Saint series consists of “Jane Saint’s Travails (Part One)” (1979), “The Travails of Jane Saint” (1980), and “Jane Saint and the Backlash” (1989). It’s not clear if the 1980 piece is a reworked version of the first story.
The Sorrows of Witches • short story by Margaret St. Clair
Morganor was an all-powerful witch-queen (well, almost all-powerful). She found that she couldn’t always get her way where matters of the heart were concerned1.
“Falcon Blood” • short story by Andre Norton
Two castaways must cooperate to survive. That’s tricky, when one is a woman and the other hails from a culture of obligate woman-haters.
“The Rape Patrol” • short story by Michele Belling
Heidi and her friends have a simple pastime: tracking down and killing rapists.
“Bones for Dulath” • short story by Megan Lindholm
A chance encounter on the trail leaves Ki’s partner on the brink of death. Saving him means confronting the mysterious “Dulath”, about whom Ki has some fundamental misapprehensions.
“Northern Chess” • [Jaisel • 1] • short story by Tanith Lee
How could a mere woman help take a mystically defended castle, one that has withstood entire armies of men?
“The Woman Who Loved the Moon” • novelette by Elizabeth A. Lynn
Two sisters fell to the mysterious woman’s prowess in combat. The third fell to her enchanting beauty.
Additional Reading • essay by Jessica Amanda Salmonson and Susan Wood
What it says on the tin.
Amazons! Is very much out of print. Mass market books used to get massive print runs in the long long ago, so finding a used copy should not be that hard.
- Morganor almost always does get her way with men. She might have done so in this story if she’d been willing to engage in a spot of homicide.