burhan's review against another edition

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Trying to give an average rating for an anthology is a tricky thing. The editor’s view of “best of” will not always align with that of the readers’ and that’s definitely the case for me. It was a mixed bag. Looking back over the anthology, my favourite story was “No Children”. Some others I enjoyed were “Why Aren't Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship Of The Elder Dark”, “Sin Eater” and “Canst Thou Draw Out The Leviathan”. Some didn’t work for me at all, like “The Redemption of Billy Zane”.

Despite the dragon on the cover, there was not a hint of high fantasy in any of the stories. I say this not as a positive or a negative, but merely an observation for anyone that would judge the book by its cover. All of the stories had a broad interpretation of “fantasy” which was really interesting and on occasion thought provoking. Though some stories really stretched the definition to the point of being incredibly tenuous.

I read this with a book club and so that adds a layer of scrutiny and analysis that you might not normally have when reading a story collection. We read a story every two weeks, so my memories of a lot of the stories are quite vague now!

Overall I would recommend it though as there are some real gems in there.

barb4ry1's review against another edition

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The Best of British Fantasy 2019 contains twenty-three stories. And not just any, but the best Britain has to offer. We can debate what makes the story the best, but I think I have found the key to Shurin's choices. You simply need a title longer than the story itself (like, say, Why Aren't Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark? or Birds Fell From the Sky and Each One Spoke in Your Voice).

On a more serious note, all stories are reprinted and showcase a wide variety of speculative fiction written by British authors - citizens, residents, or expatriates. They show a remarkable range of ideas, styles, and tones but most of them lean toward the literary and contemporary end of the fantasy genre's spectrum. I found most stories serious, introspective, unsettling, and realistic. There's little lighthearted material here. The quirky cover looks great, but it can mislead readers looking for another sword&sorcery fix.

The arrangement of the stories impressed me - each is different from what came before it, whether subtly or completely. As a result, the stories never start to feel "all the same" or repetitive. As readers, we get a diversity of voice, subject, and form as well as a balance between new and established voices. Additionally, most of the stories contained in this volume are literally short - you can read them in 5-8 minutes. It makes BOBF a great lunch or a break from work companion.

As for the stories themselves, I found most of them intriguing. There were, of course, a few that did not appeal to me or that I flatly disliked. With more than 20 stories, there's zero chance of a reader loving everything, though.

The ones that stood out for me include Birds Fell From the Sky and Each One Spoke in Your Voice, which follows relatable protagonist unearthing long-buried memories from a tragedy that blighted his childhood. Tom Offland's A Few Things I Miss About Skeletons is absurd but wildly entertaining. Its narrator examines things he misses about his skeletal structure in a world where, for unknown reasons, skeletons were abducted.

Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark? uses satire to show how the unwillingness to change in older generations ends up backfiring. It tackles Lovecraftian ideas, weaving together the mythology of gods of madness with humor and social commentary. Quality stuff here.

My favorite story, Sin Eater by Chikodili Emelumadu, is dark and engrossing. A normal young woman finds out that her first roommate, Nchedo isn’t exactly human. Nchedo reveals to the narrator the darker aspects of life. It turns out sinners, of all sorts, walk the streets looking for victims. Normal justice doesn't serve its purpose and sometimes you just need to use jaws to cleanse sins. A brilliant mix of humor, horror, and discovery.

As for the weaker stories, Dem Bones by Lavie Tidhar didn’t click with me. It wasn't my least favorite story in the anthology but I mention it here because I usually love everything Tidhar writes. Not this time, though. It's weirdly engaging but lacks a satisfying resolution. A pity as he's the most established author in the anthology and some readers will buy the book just for him.

As a whole, I recommend The Best of British Fantasy 2019 to readers wanting to keep up with the industry and actively looking for new voices. Plenty here for fans of the uncanny.