Magical Meanderings (Irene Radford)

Magical Meanderings is a short story collection by Irene Radford, some published under the names Rachel Atwood, C.F. Bentley and Phyllis Ames, and some written in cooperation with Bob Brown.
Finished on: 31.12.2020
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer contest.]

The collection gives us a broad variety of stories, showing how prolific a writer Radford is. Some of the stories are connected to novels she has written, which have a tendency to be unclear for the uninitiated like me. I have to say that while I enjoyed some stories, and didn’t enjoy some others, overall I didn’t fall in love with any of them. Despite the great variety here, I don’t think I will check out more of Radford’s works.

The book cover showing a pixelated photo of a forest with a drawn figure wearing a hat standing in it.

Read more about each of the stories after the jump.

Humming Along

A humming bird defending its bird feeder. Only it didn’t use to be a humming bird and it still dreams of drinking the blood from its prey.

I liked this story. The idea is cute and the execution was really nice. It was a good start to the collection.

Illegal Citizens

Mariposa Santiago del Santa Cruz needs to cross the border of the country that is her home, and she needs to do so fast – before her corrupt government catches up with her. And all because she dared to do her job.

Illegal Citizens is the only story in the collection (and the only one of Radford’s in general, as she says herself in the comment to the story) that doesn’t have any fantasy or sci-fi elements – although it is still speculative. I liked it and the political statement it makes.

The Natural Order

Dore is one of a group of soldiers accompanying a group of refugees to a new planet. The soldiers’ task is to make sure that the Natural Order is being kept up.

This story is pretty short, but also rather sweet and also nicely political.

Little Miss Steam Engine

A writers’ camping retreat with one of the main stars being Miss Julie, a pug who has something to say to Mandy. Fortunately Mandy listens.

That story was fine. Not amazing, but cute and entertaining. Definitely a nice read, albeit not a story I fell in love with.

Forest Law, Wild and True (as Rachel Atwood)

It’s 1215, and the Magna Carta is about to be signed. Only there is a clause there that will cause problems with the Wildfolk. Unless Nicholas Withybeck makes sure that it doesn’t happen.

This story is connected to the novel Radford published as Atwood and that I haven’t read. And it’s also connected to Robin Hood and to the Magna Carta and I may not know enough to get all the references here. But if I ignore that a lot of the story passed me by, it is enjoyable.

Pixie Crystals (as C.F. Bentley)

Strange things are happening aboard the First Contact Café and Jake Devlin is convinced it’s Pixies, although spymaster Pamela Marella is less convinced of the fact.

This story is connected to The Confederated Star Systems series by Radford that I also don’t know. Unfortunately this meant that I had trouble understanding the two protagonists Pamela and Jake who obviously have a very complicated relationship and the story only teases at it without really explaining. This took away too much of the story itself, and left me mostly confused, although I liked the idea of alien pixies.

Hot Time in the Crop Circles Tonight (with Bob Brown)

Dragon Ebon has put all his heart and love into the proper configuration of the crop circles to finally woo Ivory. But unfortunately the humans came and ruined it.

For this story and the next, Radford writes that she and Bob Brown were both stuck with the beginnings of a short story and decided to make a swap and finish each other’s beginnings. I got the sense that I still felt the split – it didn’t become quite seamless unit. But that’s okay and I did enjoy this one.

The Orange Muskrat (with Bob Brown)

Three siblings are trying to get into a dragon’s lair and to take at least some of his treasure. Their eyes fall on a muskrat among the treasure that would at least be something they could eat. But with the muskrat comes trouble.

This is the second swap-story and it worked less than the first one, I thought. It got a little confusing towards the end and left me rather cold overall.

Pave Paradise and…

Barque has a special connection to the forest and he is there to help it defend itself against real estate developer Jacob Loverly. Althought the forest does a lot of defending itself.

This story felt a little … naive, maybe. Like a story that a teen would write. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I did wish for a little more depth.


Adam and Eve have recently been kicked out of paradise and while Eve is hard at work to make their new life work, Adam is rather useless.

Ugh. This story… it shows so clearly how men ride on the coattails of women’s care and hard work, and Eve is rightly pissed at him and then they invent beer and suddenly, everything is okay and patriarchy is … solved? Or something. I just really hated that ending.

Pirate Tea

Content Note: orientalism

Captain Trude is looking for a very special crystal and she thinks that Li Ping can help her procure it. But she might have to make Li Ping willing first.

Captain Trude is apparently a recurring character and here, too, I felt like I was missing context for the story. Also, I take exceptions to the fact that Trude is painted as the greatest pirate of Asia since she’s a Brit. Generally, the way the setting in China is handled is not good – exoticism and stereotypes say hello here.

Dancing Bangles

Captain Trude is visiting her sister Elise aka Madame Magdala. Elise has some guy problems and she needs Trude’s help to solve it. To Trude’s horror that means attending a ball. In a dress and uncomfortable shoes.

Here Captain Trude is joined by her sister Madame Magdala and things got even more confusing for me as somebody unfamiliar with these characters – apart from the one story I just read before this one. I think that there is a fun heist story buried here, but it is not really accessible to me for all the references to things I just don’t know about.

Garbage In, Monsters Out

Debris and Detritus are the youngest gods on Mount Olympus, tasked with cleaning up behind their older siblings, a rather thankless job that gets no recognition. Is it any wonder that they start shirking some of their duties?

I liked this riff on the Greek gods and the ending of the story, though I did feel that it ran a little long here and there. And I kept mixing up Debris and Detritus.

Roomba vs Ouija

Zack’s mother just died and he is trying to renovate the house and just deal. That is when he discovers a ouija board set in the floor of the house. When he sets up the roomba during the night, it seems to contact something through the board.

I liked the idea here of a roomba conjuring something up, but the story overall didn’t get past “nice” for me. It’s fun, it’s cute, and I will probably not think about it again.

Sniff for Your Life (as Phyllis Ames)

Daniel Rathbone is a WerRat and he can smell out anything and everything. But usually he occupies himself with bookkeeping. When he is asked to find a big threat, though, of course he will help.

Daniel Rathbone is also a characters from another world Radford already wrote about, but this time I thought that the story could stand on its own very well. It’s a good story, albeit with maybe a little too much pathos. But I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Den of Iniquity

Lily has a bar, the Den of Iniquity. The Den shows up wherever it is needed and tonight it is needed in a very special way.

A very Christian, I think Catholic, story to finish the collection and I found it a little confusing in the who what and why. Maybe I’m just not Christian enough. I did like the general gist of it, though.

Summarizing: a mixed collection with no stories I fell outright in love with.

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