Borderland is the very first installation in the series of the same name—a corpus of shared-world short stories and novels which collectively serves as a foundational text for the urban fantasy genre. Written in the 1980s, the books meld punk sensibilities and old-world high-fantasy glamour.

Borderland (this volume) is an anthology of four pieces of short fiction by Steven R. Boyet, Terri Windling writing as Bellamy Bach, Charles De Lint and Ellen Kushner. As with Bordertown, which I read and reviewed out of order, each of the stories serves as a conceptually self-contained aspect of the shared world. The stories are unified by setting—Bordertown, the city nestled between the Elflands and the human World. Three of the four stories as further connected through the youth of their protagonists and their occurrence in Bordertown’s history. The first of the set, “Prodigy”, bucks the trend: its protagonist, a formerly famous musician named Scooter, is notably older than many of the other POV characters scattered amongst the stories, and the story itself is set in the early years of Bordertown, likely some ten or fifteen years at least before the following entries.

As with any multi-author anthology, the mix of voices and approaches means your mileage will vary. The nature of shared-world creations means that inevitably a reader will find installments somewhat uneven. Taken as a whole, I think the stories in this collection are more polished than those in Bordertown—these stories have greater clarity, more concision in their language, and better consistency of perspective.

This volume spends more time than Bordertown exploring the fuzzy borders of magic, embodied and otherwise. In “Prodigy,” a man’s musical talent becomes a literal form of magic which rages through Bordertown. “Gray” tells the story of a runaway girl with strange magical abilities who trades her human street gang for the friendship of a well-meaning if vapid elf girl. While Gray toys with the problematic position of halfies in Bordertown, Gray is revealed to be fully human (though still in possession of magic). “Stick” confronts the precarious lives of halfies more directly—when Stick, Bordertown’s resident martial artist/vigilante, saves a halfie girl from a gang bet down, she ends up saving him in turn with the help of Farrel Din (an elvish wizard) and the Horn Dance (a rock band). “Charis” takes us up the Hill, to where the dignitaries and wealthy live. Here we get a glimpse of interworld politics when Charis, the naive daughter of two human politicians, gets dragged into a complicated elfin plot.

I especially liked “Gray” and “Charis” in this volume. The two stories pair well together, actually, working as sort of mirror images of what elf-looking human teenage girls in this world might do and deal with. “Stick” is a bit…optimistic for my particular taste, I think. And “Prodigy” fell quite flat with me. In both “Stick” and “Prodigy” the characterization could have been stronger. “Prodigy” also felt overly long for the story it told. But all in all, this book serves as a very strong introduction to Bordertown.

4/5 stars

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