Review of the short story anthology Chicks in Chainmail edited by Esther M. Friesner. Do you remember when every computer game, heavy metal album, roleplaying game and cheep fantasy book had a chick in chainmail on the cover? Those were the inspiration for Chicks in Chainmail. The anthology looks a the stereotypes that surrounds the female warrior and has a humours feminist go at them.
My review of Chicks in Chainmail
Short story collection of humours feminist takes on the concept of warrior women.
The stories take the stereotype of the Strong Confident Never-budging female warrior to task and make us laugh about the silliness of some of the stereotypes.
Don’t let the cover fool you, this is a feminist book, but it is is feminism with a big smile on it’s face and a wink. It is clever and it is funny. The stories are read out loud funny!
My review from 2014 of Chicks in Chainmail
Title: Chicks in Chainmail
Editor: Esther M. Friesner
Short story anthology
Genre: Humor, feminism, metafiction, fantasy, portal fantasy, magic realism, fairytale, historical fantasy, mythology, epic fantasy,
I just got Chicks in Chainmail in the mail today, I ordered it after reading Tansy Rayner Roberts great post On Influence. I wanted to read some of the older works in the genre (this is 20 years old by now) so I decided to order it.
Don’t let the cover fool you, this is a feminist book, but it is is feminism with a big smile on its’s face and a wink. It is clever and it is funny.
The stories take the stereotype of the Strong Confident Never-budging female warrior to task and make us laugh about the silliness of some of the stereotypes. Reading this more than 20 years later, it sigh that some of the stupid crap still prevails in fiction. The warrior women of today in large still have no chinks in their armor and never shows any weakness or humanity really. That stereotype makes the characters less interesting, so join me in laughing at it and support better female protagonists going forward.
Oh yeah, and the stories are read out loud funny! I am giggling and eating my way through the stories so fast!
Introduction by Esther M. Friesner
A great introduction that explains the title and why we should definitely use humor to examine what is going on in our genre. She writes about the stereotype of the strong female protagonist with no softness her at all.
Individual mini-reviews of the stories of Chicks in Chainmail
Lady of Steel by Roger Zelazny
Almost a piece of flash fiction. The story turns the female dress up as a man to show the men that females can compete on its head and plays with it. It is funny and made me giggle.
And Ladies of the Club by Elizabeth Moon
It has been some time since I read anything by Elizabeth Moon and I had kind of forgotten why I like her writing. It is so well written. The plot in this story is about a tax law on female armour trying to force the females to stop being warriors or pay through the nose to keep their profession. That sound dull doesn’t it? It isn’t! It is so funny high fantasy that really plays with high fantasy’s ideas of how the world works. The female protagonists are awesome. It reminded me a lot of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld stories. It is the same kind of humor – oh and there is great snark.
The Exchange Program by Susan Shwartz
The plot summed up: Hillary Clinton is taken to Valhalla and is awesome. This is classic portal fiction. Unlike so much of the genre, the home world is actually relevant to the whole of the story and isn’t just a bit of wrapping to make the story relatable.
Imagine that Hillary Clinton in the middle of Bill’s first term of office was swooped away to Valhalla and that she does not like what she finds there. The men are brutes, the women are kept ignorant and she sets out to do something about it.
The story had me laughing and giggling and reading pieces of it out loud to my boyfriend. Awesome stuff. It was however quite confusing for the first three pages, but I think that was on purpose.
Goddess for a Day by Harry Turtledove
Content warning: Rape attempt by a satyr
This story takes us to ancient Greece where Phye is dressed up as Athena for a day, to help a man become the leader of Athens. I really like that we are inside the head of Phye who believe in the gods and is deeply uncomfortable taking on the role of the goddess. This is not a funny story but it is a strong one. I really like that it both shows how religion was used but that the gods and creatures are real in the story. The religion does not get dismissed as a make-believe tool used by the people in power, as is so often the case both in fiction and in the study of history. If religion was not real for at least some of the religious people it would hold very little power. It is powerful because it is real to the people who believe. I like that the story respect that and take the consequence of that.
Armor-Ella by Holly Lisle
By now you might know that I adore stories that plays with the tropes of fairy tales or tells metafictional stories around fairy tales. Armor-Ella is no exception. I know very little of what the fantasy genre was like in 1995 but the story must be among the first to admit that the classic fairytale princes are really asshats. El of the story is a really prematic woman who knows what she wants and just how to get it. She creates an alliance with some of the fair folk in her forest and take on the prince and end up having him just where she wants him. Clever, funny and quite meta. I like it!
Career Day by Margaret Ball
So our protagonist is living on Earth raising a young girl while working as a mercenary in another dimension (aka epic fantasy land). Well her daughter’s class needs to go on a fieldtrip and the teacher kind of strong arm her into taking the class with her to work… and the comedy starts. It is not the best story in the collection but it is kind of cool and kind of funny. And I can’t find a good picture to illustrate it!
Armor/Amore by David Vierling
This was not my favorite story. It was short and kind of cute, but also had some annoying issues. Apparently princesses don’t mind dumb men as long as they marry them and isn’t just a one night stand. Am I the only one who would rather have a one night stand with the barbarian dumber than a brick hunk than marry him? Perhaps I am weird wanting a partnership with life partner. But it was kind of cute.
The Stone of War and the Nightingale’s Egg by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
We are in a harem somewhere in Asia. The warrior woman is the maid of one of the wives of the harem and she gets to train the harem women to fight. It is all very cute and fairly entertaining but not all that funny and not up to the same level of cleverness that I have gotten from the first stories. But still enjoyable.
The Growling by Jody Lynn Nye
This was a stupid story. I didn’t like the set up and it wasn’t funny. If it had been funny I might have been won over, but it wasn’t.
The New Britomart by Eluki bes Shahar
I was kind of bored with the story, it did not engage me, so I skipped it.
On the Road of Silver by Mark Bourne
A sweet little story. Somewhere between magic realism and urban fantasy with some Irish fairies thrown in for good measure. The story is about a middle-aged woman who loses her job and has a really absent-minded husband (English literature professor). The first half of the story very much reads like a realistic story until the fay shows up.
The story made me smile and feel for our protagonist, but it was far from the best in the book. I think the problem is that compared to the other stories in the anthology it is just so very mundane. And that does makes it feel bland by comparison. In another venue I might have liked the story quite a bit better.
Bra Melting by Janni Lee Simner
This is the story of a male armorsmith who is so proud of his beautiful chainmail bikinis that when he gets a dissatisfied customer complaining that his armour covers nothing vital genuinely does not got what the fuck she is complaining about – she looks so good in that amour.
The story is laugh out loud funny and like so many of the comics that has made the rounds over the last few years, shines the light on just how stupid much of female amour is. It is really well written and made me want to dig into the next story right away!
The Old Grind by Laura Frankos
So, you know why the water is salt? Why because the giant women (jættekvinder) grind up rock salt in their giant queen and throw it into the oasian, of course. Oh you didn’t know that? Well neither did I. This story is about a young giant woman leaving home to seek adventure, finding the norsemen and going on viking with them. I think the story is better as a concept than as a story, but I am a bit tired so I might judge it harshly. It was a nice enough story though. But it had the feeling of an Icelandic saga – all telling and now showing and not much flavour. Just the bare plot bones. It might be deliberate, but it is not a style I care for all that much.
The Way to a Man’s Heart by Elizabeth Waters
I really had fun reading this story. All the princes want to marry shieldmaidens, so the princesses train to become what the princes want. Not all of them are suited to be shieldmaids or wants to. The story is very much about the stupidity in expecting every woman to be the same stereotype – being that the princess bride or the warrior woman. The setup and style are quite silly but also quite funny. The story has almost only female characters and the one male in there is as shallowly drawn as the stereotypical female character.
Whoops! by Nancy Springer
Opel is a guardian angel for a young woman modern day named Maggie. Who is sort of a softy, Opel isn’t. Meggie is driving really slowly on the highway and Opel is guarding her. Not a fun job. It is a cute little story.
The Guardwoman by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Now this was fun! The story is written as a series of letters from a new guardswoman to her mother – she is trying to fit in and is finding it hard. The guard is supposed to be open to “anyone over sixteen who can do the tests”. It seems that the tests are ad-hoc and that the people in charge choose them so that they are harder on women, so that they will not pass them. Our protagonist however is so large they are no problem for her.
It seems that is how it have been in a lot of careers for quite some time. Sure we are open for anyone, we will just make it so you don’t really have a chance. The story is funny and frank and I pretty much loved it.
Teacher’s Pet by Josepha Sherman
Ha! I liked this! A fine little enjoyable short story! The female knight of this little tale is out hunting kidnappers when she runs into a teacher riding a wagon. He is stuck in the mud and it starts raining. If I tell anymore of the plot I will spoil the story. I was smiling quite a lot while reading it. Somehow it seemed a bit like a children’s story – it very well could have been that is for sure.
Wer-Wench by Jan Stirling
Another enjoyable little story. There is a curse, wizards, a female mercenary and a lot of excitement.
Blood Calls to Blood by Elizabeth Waters
Urban fantasy set in a slightly altered version of our world. More religious and with elfs. One of the protagonist’s children has been taken by the fair people and she goes under the hill to get him back. There are some quite funny and cool interactions between the parents and their children – banter style. Nobody are panicked over the taken teenager and it is all handled like the Buffy crew would deal with the situation.
Maureen Birnbaum in the MUD by George Alec Effinger
Ok, I did not like this story and I did not finish it. The story did everything in it’s power to make me dislike the poc from the get go. And it was a silly pastice of online roleplaying games. So sadly the book ended on a dumb story, which is really a shame.
Most of the stories in Chicks in Chainmail are really good, funny and clever. I have already brought the next volume and I have read a few stories in it. The first volume is definitely worth reading. It is clever and funny and the women in it kick ass! Go find it – you can buy it used online!
The stats: Chicks in Chainmail
Published:1995 by Baen
Read: marts – 21. April 2014
This review was originally posted: April 21, 2014. Updated and edited June 26, 2023