A Mixed Bag, But Worth It: Transmogrify ed by G. Haron Davis

Posted 27th April 2023 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

Transmogrify!: 14 Fantastical Tales of Trans Magic by g. haron davis
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Trans and nonbinary MCs
Published on: 16th May 2023
ISBN: 0063218828

Perfect for fans of All Out and Cemetery Boys, this anthology claims a seat at the table of fantasy literature for trans and gender nonconforming stories.

Transness is as varied and colorful as magic can be. In Transmogrify!, you’ll embark on fourteen different adventures alongside unforgettable characters who embody many different genders and expressions and experiences—because magic is for everyone, and that is cause for celebration.

Featuring stories from:
AR Capetta and Cory McCarthy
g. haron davis
Mason Deaver
Jonathan Lenore Kastin
Emery Lee
Saundra Mitchell
Cam Montgomery
Ash Nouveau
Sonora Reyes
Renee Reynolds
Dove Salvatierra
Ayida Shonibar
Francesca Tacchi
Nik Traxler

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Reviewing anthologies is hard; rating them, imo, even harder. So instead of giving this a rating, I’m going to write a little bit of my thoughts on each story in the book.

The Greats

Origin Story by Saundra Mitchell – this is hands-down the best story in the book, so I’m not surprised they decided to open with it! A ‘trailer trash’ enby kid has been kicked out of magic school, but their adventures aren’t over. Fierce, bold, bright, gorgeous. Daisy, the MC, is fucking epic, and the take on and description of magic was beautiful. I would happily devour a series of novels, or novellas, if Mitchell decided to expand Daisy’s story! 10/10

Bite the Hand by Nik Traxler–Pinar Ateş Sinopoulos-Lloyd – dreamy and surreal and gorgeous, like honey dripping from broken glass. It fit perfectly into its page count, but I would love to see it expanded a little into a novella. The way the blurred lines between gender echoed the blurry boundary between monster and not-monster??? *chef’s kiss* 10/10

If I can’t have love, I want power. by g. haron-davis – if this story were a person, I would dance with them and twirl them. I loved loved LOVED how haron-davis gave a middle finger to how magical-bargain stories usually go; I loved the healthy selfishness and the sharp edges and how much the MC deserves the magic they ask for. 10/10

Espjismos by Dove Salvatierra – slow and simmering, a tale of old fears and new loneliness and growing into hope. Also, very wonderful shapeshifters. 9/10

The Goods

High Tide by Francesca Tacchi – a very cool premise built around water magic in a kind of island nation, with a MC who has to get a goddess’ approval to be allowed to take part in their people’s strictly-gendered traditions. I think it would have done better as a novella, or ideally a full novel; it felt very rushed, and could have done with a bit more polishing, but I appreciated the unconventional love interest and an ending that went against expectations. 7/10

In a Name by Ayida Shonibar – another with an excellent premise, and possibly the best opening line in the book; On the eve of my seventeenth birthday, I prepare to earn the seventh–and final–letter of my name. Gender is determined by whether your chakras spin clockwise or counter-clockwise, and you earn a letter of your name for every chakra you learn to control. But what if you can’t, or don’t want to? 8/10

The Hallow King by Jonathan Lenore Kastin – a summon-a-monster revenge fantasy, wherein a young trans man sets the titular Hallow King on various transphobic assholes at his school. I liked it a lot, right up until the very wishy-washy ending. I felt particularly let down by the advice the MC’s witchy (and ghostly) ancestor had on dealing with transphobia. 7/10

Seagulls and Other Birds of Prey by Ash Nouveau – this was so cute!!! About a young witch whose passion is customising their broomstick, and just wants to be allowed to play in the local tournament. I’m a complete sucker for characters who have a hobby they’re passionate about, and I loved seeing them find a team of fellow misfits to play with. Absolutely nailed the tone it was going for. 8/10

The Okays

Halloween Love by Sonora Reyes – very basic, really dull. A lovely opening where the MC and their mom are brushing the MC’s hair, looking for the coloured hairs that will announce what kind of magic the MC will have, but it got boring very quickly. An attempt is made at humour – the MC initially thinks the girl they’d like to date is also a witch – but it fell very flat. Meh. 5/5

Dragons Name Themselves by R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy – amazing concept (a sentient magic school! Narrating the story! And also shipping the students and helping them get together!) that flopped. You’re setting your story in a magic school, but a big part of the story is them doing The Baby Assignment? (Two students sharing an egg that they need to take care of like it’s a baby.) That was a huge let-down. I wish this had been a novel instead, with a less cringey voice for the school (it’s clearly supposed to be funny, but again, I did not find it so). 6/10

Genderella by Mason Deaver – very obvious, very simple, the magic felt shoe-horned in. I guess not actively bad, but pretty boring. 5/10

Bend the Truth, Break It Too by Cam Montgomery – this was trying too hard to be beautiful, and it ended up becoming confusing instead. I think a good editor would have encouraged Montgomery to streamline the premise a bit – couldn’t the jinn have been a simple curse or something instead? – or alternatively, this was too big a story to fit into a short story. It might have done a lot better as a novella. 5.5/10

The Awfuls

Verity by Renée Reynolds – a magic mirror that shows the truth of the viewer is rediscovered after being cursed into darkness. Great concept, poor execution. Things happen randomly without explanation (how was the curse broken exactly??? Who knows) and I thought the pop-culture references felt very forced and out of place. Very lecture-y. Not impressed. 4/10

The Door to the Other Side by Emery Lee – a pretty interesting premise – a family that are the guardians of The Door, which is literally the door spirits pass through to reach wherever the door thinks they should go – that needed to be a novella or better yet, a full novel. That would have given all the elements space to breathe. As it was, there was too much info-dumping and hand-waving (it’s never a good sign when the narrator goes ‘oh, why is this makes-no-sense thing like this??? Just because!’ I paraphrase, but only a little.) The big reveal at the end made no sense and didn’t seem to actually mean anything – it wasn’t nearly as life-changing as it was trying to be. 4/10

A Note Overall

One thing that didn’t help was that by the end of the book, I’d been lectured on the same topics half a dozen times, which was both boring and frustrating. I think Davis should have decided which stories did the lecturing best, then edited it out of the others, because it made the later stories seem worse for ‘repeating’ the same lectures – except they weren’t repeating, because each story was written separately, in isolation from the rest, by different authors. And yet the effect on the reader is getting the same lecture over and over. And not particularly gracefully, in most instances.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, I do think the Greats are great enough to be worth the price of admission, and I suspect less obsessively picky readers than I will have a higher opinion than I did of some of the Okays. Plus, Transmogrify! makes no bones about being aimed at teenagers; it’s not intended for adult readers, and although we can enjoy it, I think a lot of what I didn’t enjoy is what will make sure this book does click with younger readers. Which I can’t fault it for.

I think Transmogrify! is what it wanted to be, succeeds at doing what it set out to do, and kudos to the editor and writers for that. Enthusiastically recommended for readers of fantastical YA!

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