Sadly, the first impression of this book has to be that it lost Larry Elmore as a cover artist, and this one just doesn’t measure up to the previous covers in the series.

But, the important part, the stories, are as good.

The anthology leads with John Hemry’s “Mightier Than the Sword”, which is a farce mashup between swords-and-sorcery, and writers wanting to strangle their muse. It makes a good start to the volume, but not as strong as it could be. The final one is Harry Turtledove’s “Of Mice and Chicks”, which tries too hard with narrative interruptions and allusions to Of Mice and Men.

So, thankfully, the rest holds up better than the tentpoles.

The top story is definitely Cassandra Claire’s “The Girl’s Guide to Defeating the Dark Lord“. It’s pretty easy to see just what kind of story this is going to be, but the writing and journey are well done. Past that, its harder to point out particular ones, as they just about all have positive points, which makes it harder to concentrate on a few. I’d go with Jody Lynn Nye’s “Protector of the Small” and Steven Piziks’ “Smoke and Mirrors”. After that, I think I wind up with a three-way tie for fourth best.