Jim Butcher and Kerrie L Hughes (eds.) | Shadowed Souls (Penguin)

The characters are not made exceptional or interesting because of external forces, but just because.

I love themed anthologies. They introduce me to new authors and allow me to stay in one emotional place as long as I’m reading the stories. Shadowed Souls admittedly drew me in because it featured a new Dresden Files story by Jim Butcher. I kept reading past it, though, because this anthology has several things going for it.

First, the women aren’t tropes and idiots. I can’t tell you how often I run against the Potato Girl character, one who is imbued with interesting features as soon as she meets a partner or discovers a magical trait. This type of character is pervasive, and makes me want to bleed out the eyes every time I find her. As a parent, I need my son and daughter to find female characters who are flawed yet strong: just like all women. I want them to read about this woman so often that when they do run across the Potato Girl, they get annoyed and toss the book back on the shelf.

Dresden’s character, Molly Carpenter, is a strong woman. She’s also brutal, emotionally busted, and kind of an asshole. She is flawed. She is good and she is bad. Her story, “Cold Case,” starts off the anthology wonderfully. The next three offerings by Seanan McGuire, Tanya Huff, and Anton Strout treat women similarly. They’re flawed. They’re strong. They are not made exceptional or interesting because of external forces, but just because.

The theme of this anthology is the dark side of folks, but I think it could make a stronger case for being a collection of anti–Potato Girls.

The stories hold true to their primary theme, however, and we meet my favorite kind of character: antagonistic protagonists. You don’t have to love the hero to make them the hero; you just have to love their motivation for doing the right thing. Or for doing the wrong thing, for all of the right reasons. | Melissa Cynova

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