Young Warriors: Stories of Strength is exactly what its title implies it to be—a short story collection centered on the subject of warriors and their qualities. Fifteen stories compiled by Tamora Pierce and Josepha Sherman examine the various situations in which young men and women find themselves, whether in fantastical or realistic worlds. These teenage “neophytes” prove their valor and noble worth through their resulting actions in warfare or in peace. Interchanging between historical and modern times in addition to having magical elements, this anthology is truly diverse. However, some of the short stories included are more prominent than others for their respective author’s wit, profound storyline, and fascinating characters.
The Boy Who Cried “Dragon!” by Mike Resnick, Student of Ostriches by Tamora Pierce, Thunderbolt by Esther Friesner, Eli and the Dybbuk by Janis Ian, and The Magestone by S.M. and Jan Stirling are five tales that can compete for being the finest and most innovative in the entire compilation. The Boy Who Cried “Dragon!” is a facetious medieval retelling of a renown fable by Aesop, but The Magestone propels the new idea of a mermaid warrior briefly joining forces with a human out of necessity. Paranormal activity enters closely into Eli and the Dybbuk, a Jewish narrative where the moral of the story and inward maturity are absorbed by the main character only after a life-changing encounter with the supernatural. Student of Ostriches features a very intelligent and inventive heroine named Kylaia, who is born in African-like surroundings. Her feministic beliefs and her resolve to learn as much as possible alone make Kylaia’s temperament unique, but it is her self-imposed training as a fighter (taught by her observance of animals practicing self-defense in nature) that declares her to be one of the most courageous and skilled warriors in Young Warriors: Stories of Strength.
Thunderbolt, on the other hand, is the unofficial “prequel” to Friesner’s later novels, Nobody’s Princess and its sequel, Nobody’s Prize. The first introduction to the author’s vision of the famous Helen of Troy, Helen is re-formed into a spirited, outspoken teenager who handles weapons and understands military strategy (compliments of her Spartan heritage) better than most Greek men. Helen’s first-person analysis of her circumstances and her attempt to rescue herself from trouble is not only humorous but also enjoyable; caustic remarks about related Greek myths and legends as well as Ancient Greek civilizations by the author are cleverly intermixed with her persuasive speculation about the characters of certain Greek “heroes.”
The remaining contributions to the anthology are remarkable for their unusual references to magic, mythology, and the history of different cultures. For example, India Edghill’s High Wind is set in colonial India and is very reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling and his familiarity with Indian customs and beliefs. On the other hand, Rosemary Edghill brings to mind the notorious ancient poem called The Epic of Gilgamesh with the content of her short story, An Axe for Men (it has a graphic sexual scene like its predecessor). Notably, that particular short story is the least tasteful in Young Warriors: Stories of Strength. Nevertheless, there are other better stories to compensate for it. African history and the Roman Empire clash in Lioness by Pamela Service, while South American culture and mythology is similarly handled by Bruce Holland Rogers’ The Gift of Rain Mountain.
Lesley McBain places her Acts of Faith in modern times during World War II, while Brent Hartinger makes Swords That Talk the second and last story in the collection to have an environment similar to that of the Middle Ages. Likewise, Serpent’s Rock by Laura Anne Gilman is alone set in Australia. Doranna Durgin’s Emerging Legacy and Margaret Mahy’s Hidden Warriors both focus on a group or couple of teenage warriors who must defend themselves and their territory from invaders and murderers. Holly Black created a “fairy tale” in Heartless; without revealing too many details about her past, the heroine only makes it evident during the course of the storyline that her heart has been magically disconnected from her body and her soul. Such an action can be compared with incidents recorded in Welsh mythology and Lloyd Alexander’s Taran Wanderer, the fourth volume in his series The Chronicles of Prydain. The main character’s personal choice to feel human again is startling and crucial to the conclusion of the story.
Every one of the stories featured in Young Warriors: Stories of Strength does follow the topics that its editors meant it to—it debates the essence of a true warrior and what worthy causes he/she would fight for. Vengeance, justice, self-defense, and survival are some of these reasons, but Young Warriors: Stories of Strength also defines human nature and justifies courage in bold individual forms. Instructive, ruminative, and manifold in every possible way, this anthology surely is re-livable for any reader.