A collection of 15 stories of fantastical transformation, Clockwork Phoenix 2 walks the line between readability and art to build a collection which is haunting, inspiring, and glorious. As with most short story collections some stories are more successful than others, but as a whole these are all far above par. From a girl who was once a goddess's avatar to a lover made of glass to middle-aged Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the wildly different content disrupts the flow from one story to another, but be patient with the transitions and you'll be rewarded. Fantastical, beautiful, harrowing, and all of them vibrantly unique, the stories in Clockwork Phoenix 2 are a delight to read, and this collection is a resounding success. I recommend it.
Coming into this collection, I had not read the original Clockwork Phoenix and worried that I would miss something for being new to the anthology. Rest assured, this volume stands alone, although it can take a little while to divine from the title and the stories just what it is meant to be. For me, the uniting theme that emerges is transformation. In "Once a Goddess," a woman transitions from goddess's avatar to ordinary human; in "Angel Dust," a stone statue comes alive; in "Never Nor Ever" Tweedledum and Tweedledee meditate on death. Transformation--be it a change role, shape, or place or the cycle of life, death, and rebirth--is a broad and weighty theme. But this theme may not be intentional--Allen never indicates one way or the other, instead commenting on the style of the stories, which he describes as "adventures both in how they read and what they said." This too unites the collection: all the stories are imaginative and brave both in style and in content, and so the 15 wildly disparate tales nonetheless feel at home together in a single volume.
Indeed the joy and the danger of this collection is the great distance between each story. Each one is a sight to a magical world (even if it looks like modern America) in which a great event (read: change, read: magic) is not only possible, it may be happening right now. From comic book settings to a steam-powered spaceships to Middle Eastern villages; from child superheros to magicians to mirror-making lesbian nuns; steampunk and mythpunk and epistalory--the setting, content, and style of each story is unique. And while the quality of the stories varies, there are no duds. "Once a Goddess," "At the Edge of Dying," "Never Nor Ever," and "each thing i show you is a piece of my death" were my favorites, but each selection is a joy to read. The magical worlds and transformative events of each story make them wondrous and eye-opening twice over. However, the transition between these different worlds can be disorientating. The danger of short story collections is the temptation to finish a story and jump right into the next, which is exacerbated here by Allen's skillful arrangement. Hurry onto the next story in Clockwork Phoenix 2 and you'll forget to appreciate the previous and have a difficulty adjusting to the next, and the collection may feel cobbled together. Better to force yourself to pause at the end of the story and let it sink in.
But do that, and Clockwork Phoenix 2 is wonderful. Unfamiliar to the series, confused by the title, I came to it knowing only that I liked two of the authors. I was entirely unsure what I was getting into, but Clockwork Phoenix 2 delighted me. Pacing myself and reveling in the phoenix-like transformations and imaginative styles that unite the collection, each story came alive. They are vivid, fantastical, magical; some are escapist, many are dark and twisted; each story is a pleasure to read and the collected volume is an absolute success. This is one of the better short story anthologies that I've read, and I'm pleased that I had the chance to do so. For something unusual, magical, and transformative, seek out Clockwork Phoenix 2. I recommend it enthusiastically .