Because I've been behind on my offerings to the review gods, today I present a double sacrifice: the two most recent issues of Realms of Fantasy.
Overall, the Dec. 2007 issue is a fun and extremely satisfying issue. To start things off, Virginia Borges presents a fascinating look at the Little Mermaid fables and stories. The Disney animated film was the first movie Borges ever saw and heavily influenced her then five-year-old sensibilities. As she recounts, "I made myself a mermaid's tail from a sheet of butcher paper spangled with sequins and glitter" and wondered why "my mother always insisted on reading (the original story) aloud to me." This is a compelling mix of personal and mythical exploration and is highly recommended. The essay is published online here.
There are also a number of excellent stories in the issue, including a new Lord Yamada tale by Richard Parks. While "Hot Water" continues Park's light-hearted yet haunted journey through ancient Japan, the story isn't quite up to his "A Touch of Hell" from the April 2007 RoF. But since the characters of Lord Yamada and Kenji the priest are so compelling, this new story remains a very good read. Another good story in the issue is "The Fireman's Fairy" by Sandra McDonald, about a fire department using assistance from mythical creatures. Naturally, this leads to a pairing between an overly macho fireman and a flaming fairy called Tinkerbob. While this may seem like a buddy-movie cliche in the making, McDonald pulls off the story through good writing, pacing, and characterization. Only at the end does the tale bog a bit down when the author tries too hard to beat a moral of tolerance into her readers' heads. Still, it's a good read. The issue also features an enjoyable fantasy story along more traditional lines in "The White Isle" by Von Carr (the pen name of Siobhan Carroll, although I'm not sure why one uses a pen name while also giving your real name).
While the December issue is a good, fun read, the February 2008 issue of RoF steps things up a notch by publishing a great story in "Hobnoblin Blues" by Elizabeth Bear (see my previous review of the story here.) While Bear's story is a hard act to follow, the issue still features strong fiction from M.K. Hobson (with the adorable "The People's Republic of the Edelweiss Village Putt-Putt Gold Course") and Margaret Ronald (with the priest/wolf story "And Spare Not the Flock"). In fact, of all the fiction in the issue, the only story which didn't agree with me was "The King of the Djinn" by Benjamin Rosenbaum. While this story of a Middle Eastern father's friendship with a supernatural being starts off well, it is so short that only the father's character has the depth of a real person. As a result, his friendship and ultimate betrayal by the supernatural being doesn't ring as true as it might if the story had fleshed out the relationship more.
These two issues are the best RoF has produced in the past year (and I say that while noting RoF had a number of strong issues during 2007). My only major complaint is that the Feb. 2008 issue returns to the RoF pattern of putting movie promo photos on the cover (in this case, for The Golden Compass). I really liked the original art by Julie Fain in the Dec. 2007 and wish RoF would do this more often. But that said, with all the worry lately about failing SF/F magazines, if the choice comes down to either having a massive ad on the front cover or having no RoF at all, I'll go with the ad any day.