calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Behind the Mask, superhero anthology, Tricia Reeks, Kyle Richardson, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: May 2017 by Meercat Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction
Source: Publisher
Available:Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Behind the Mask is an exciting collection of short stories about the everyday lives of superheroes. Ranging from laugh-out-loud funny to deliciously dark, these stories are about the ordinary day-to-day challenges facing these extraordinary individuals growing up, growing old, relationships, parenting, coping with that age-old desire to fit in when, let’s face it, they don’t.

Behind the Mask is a solid collection of short stories that nevertheless left me feeling ambivalent. Since I’m not much of a short story reader, this could definitely be more a reflection of my reading taste than the anthology itself. However, I didn’t find myself hurrying back to it.

The stories often focused on the domestic and the personal, which I rather enjoyed. They’re less about the big, flashy battles–though those make the occasional appearance, such as in Seanan McGuire’s story Pedestal. Instead, the stories use their superheroes as lenses to examine themes such as memory, chronic illness, celebrity, and family dynamics and legacies. These stories are often quite poignant, such as Destroy the City with Me Tonight by Kate Marshall.

It also means this isn’t the most up-beat of anthologies. The tone tends towards the melancholy, and while there are notes of hope throughout, they tend to be muted.

I’d like to make special mention of Stephanie Lai’s The Fall of the Jade Sword. The story provided an excellent contrast to the fare of standard Western superheroes. Instead, it offers a historical fantasy about a young Chinese immigrant living in Melbourne. Chafing under the confines of social expectations, she sneaks out and attempts to emulate the local superhero–a figure the Chinese community recognises as a skilled practitioner of Wushu. It provided a breath of fresh air in an anthology otherwise fairly uniform in tone.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Nerve Ending, Tobi Hill-Meyer, transgender erotica, Anne Rowlands, Earl Grey Editing, books and tea, tea and books

Published: February 2017 by Instar Books
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: LGBTQIA, erotica. Stories are a mix of contemporary and speculative fiction.
Source: Publisher
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A trans woman watches her sleeping lover and contemplates the moment of his departure. A genderqueer sissy fantasizes alone about connection in their hotel room. A trans woman adjunct professor and sex worker is hired for a sex party held by her colleges philosophy department. A trans boy has a Craigslist hookup with a queen embarked on detransition. A bodiless AI announces its gender, takes a lover, and works to revolutionize the world.

Presented here are thirty stories edited and with an introduction by Tobi Hill-Meyer that offer revolutionary erotic fantasies by trans people, about trans people, and for trans people at the crossroads of history, biology, anxiety, and love.

Editor’s note:I acquired a review copy of Nerve Endings on the recommendation of a friend. I thought reviewing it would be a good way to boost trans voices. However, once I started reading, I quickly realised I wasn’t the intended audience. Furthermore, this thread on Twitter from Corey Alexander made me realise I could be doing more harm than good by reviewing it. So, I invited Anne Rowlands for an Own Voices perspective on the anthology.

 


 

Transgender people are not a plot twist: the introduction of Nerve Endings reminds us of this essential point. It is a point recently discussed in Liz Duck-Chong’s essay on the play The Trouble with Harry and is also often used in more erotic novels in a way that is not only dehumanising but out-and-out stupid. A person who is transgender wants not to be treated as a special bit of “spice” or worse a surprise. They want to be wanted, loved, cared for, or just simply not to be told they are playing pretend.

The central idea of Nerve Endings is to help us realise and capture this in a way that keeps transgender stories present in our minds when we, the transgender audience, are at our most lonely. These stories keep us remembering that our lives are worthy. That we matter. Nerve Endings never shies away from being written by trans people for trans people. Anyone else who likes it, that’s fine, but it’s not for them, it’s for us. This was so clear as I read that I really understood why I was asked to write this review.

Nerve Endings is proud in its erotica and its kink, its few polyamorous tales. It is never there to shame, or to make readers feel less (or more) than what we are: a part of society, transgender or not.

Each story brings us into a universe that we can almost imagine is real. Even when the characters are a Demon and his summoner, or an AI and their partner, or just a simple trans woman, man or boi trying to make their way in the world.

I’m always a little left wanting with short stories anthologies. Each tale is almost always slightly less than perfect, ending bitter-sweet, or offering only a brief glimpse into the life and emotions of the characters. Almost every story left me wanting more. More of the characters. More of their love. More of the things they do to conquer their fears and anxieties. More orgasms. The unashamedly erotic, the consent, the kink, the characters and their needs and desires. It’s too much and not quite enough at the same time. I was left with a profound sense of needing–not just wanting–more. I really hope this is just the first serving of a new genre of positive, consensual stories about transgender people told in erotic, loving, caring and knowledgeable ways.

4 out of 5 stars.

Anne Rowlands

 

Anne Rowlands is a transgender woman librarian, in her spare time she is also an artist and poet. You can find her on Twitter as @anne_rowlands.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Defying Doomsday, Tsana Dolichva, Holly Kench, science fiction, sci-fi, short stories, apocalyptic fiction,

Published: May 2016 by Twelfth Planet Press
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Science fiction
Source: Editor
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
A few of the contributors are friends. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.

Teens form an all-girl band in the face of an impending comet.

A woman faces giant spiders to collect silk and protect her family.

New friends take their radio show on the road in search of plague survivors.

A man seeks love in a fading world.

How would  you  survive the apocalypse?

Defying Doomsday is an anthology of apocalypse fiction featuring disabled and chronically ill protagonists, proving it’s not always the “fittest” who survive – it’s the most tenacious, stubborn, enduring and innovative characters who have the best chance of adapting when everything is lost.

In stories of fear, hope and survival, this anthology gives new perspectives on the end of the world, from authors Corinne Duyvis, Janet Edwards, Seanan McGuire, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Stephanie Gunn, Elinor Caiman Sands, Rivqa Rafael, Bogi Takács, John Chu, Maree Kimberley, Octavia Cade, Lauren E Mitchell, Thoraiya Dyer, Samantha Rich, and K Evangelista.

I often have trouble with short story collections. I’ll read a story, then put the book down and wander off for a while. It takes me forever to get through an entire anthology, no matter how good the stories are.

I was surprised to find that wasn’t the case with Defying Doomsday. Robert Hoge’s introduction hooked me right from the start by providing an insightful context for the anthology and setting the tone. Corinne Duyvis then took over with an earth-shaking story that managed to be both angry and hopeful, confronting the casually discriminating attitudes that occur in most apocalyptic fiction and everyday life by examining the difference between equality and equity. It made for an epic start to the anthology.

Not all of the apocalypses featured in this anthology arrived with a bang. While some of them came out of nowhere (Did We Break the End of the World? by Tansy Rayner Roberts and I Will Remember You by Janet Edwards), others were a long time coming and seep in around the edges (Something in the Rain by Seanan McGuire). Some were brought on by aliens (In the Sky with Diamonds by Elinor Caiman Sands) and some humanity inflicted on itself (Five Thousand Squares by Maree Kimberley).

What the stories have in common is the characters’ need to survive. However, survival has no ending except one–and this is not that kind of anthology. How the stories manage this challenge was interesting. In some cases, the characters completed just one small step of their journey, survived one day that reflects the many other days ahead. Sometimes the characters managed to complete a bigger step–find a more permanent place of safety or a way to survive in numbers. Some even thrived, seeking out a way of overcoming their apocalypse for good. I’m not really a fan of open endings, so I was pleased to find the stories generally delivered a sense of resolution without needing to tie up every loose end.

The diversity of disabilities mirrored the diversity of apocalypses. There were characters who were blind or deaf. Some were missing limbs or had Crohn’s disease or were on the autism spectrum. Whatever the case, the characters were always more than their disability and were shown as fully realised people. In some stories, these disabilities posed additional obstacles to survival–such as ongoing treatment for cystic fibrosis or navigating an unfamiliar environment while blind. However, my favourite stories were the ones where the character’s disability was the reason for their survival, such as Emm’s missing legs allowing her to confuse the spiders in Samantha Rich’s Spider Silk, Strong as Steel.

I’d like to give a special mention to John Chu’s Selected Afterimages of the Fading. Written in second person, it tells the story of a genius who suffers from body dysmorphia, continually perceiving himself to be smaller and weaker than he actually is. This results in a compulsion to workout near constantly. I appreciated the way the character was both a genius scientist and a body-builder. I think the choice of second person illustrated his misperception well. And I adored that the story also manages to be a rather sweet gay romance.

There are a few stories that I felt were a little weaker than the rest, but overall it was a strong anthology and I enjoyed it even more than I enjoyed Kaleidoscope.


Quantcast


Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Ishtar, Amanda Pillar, K.V. Taylor, Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti, Cat Sparks, horror anthology, Morrigan Books, Gilgamesh Press

Published: November 2011 by Morrigan Books
Format reviewed: Paperback, 262 pages
Genres: Horror, sci-fi, speculative fiction
Source: Pulp Fiction Books
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, Once Upon A Time X, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
Available: Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: A few of the contributors are acquaintances. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.

This novella collection is powerful, sexy and very, very deadly.

‘The Five Loves of Ishtar’: Kaaron Warren Follow the path that the goddess Ishtar takes through the eyes of her most devoted worshippers, her washerwomen. Sharokin, Atur, Ninlil, Shamiran, Ninevah and Ashurina share in their goddess’ loves, losses and triumphs, as kingdoms rise and fall in the Land of Rivers.

‘And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living’: Deborah Biancotti In modern-day Sydney, male prostitutes are dying. Their bones have turned to paste and their bodies are jelly. As Detective Adrienne Garner investigates the deaths, she finds rumours of strange cults and old gods whose powers threaten her city and, ultimately, her world.

‘The Sleeping and the Dead’: Cat Sparks Dr. Anna remembers little of her life before the war, merely traces of the man she used to love. When three desperate travellers rekindle slumbering memories, she begins a search that takes her to Hell and beyond. A search for love and, ultimately, enlightenment.

Having an interest in mythology but next to no knowledge of Ishtar herself, I picked up this anthology on a whim at a speculative fiction convention in the distant past. It trends a bit more towards horror than I would usually read–unsurprising, given the authors–but it remained within my tolerance.

As the description makes clear, Ishtar is a collection of three novellas that tell the story of the goddess at different points in time. Kaaron Warren kicks off the anthology, showing Ishtar at the height of her power. Ostensibly told in first person, the point-of-view pulls towards omniscient third person. I didn’t find this a problem, but I know others may. In fact, I found the point-of-view an interesting aspect of this story. There are multiple washerwomen telling the story, but the sameness to the language encourages the reader to perceive them as the same person–much as Ishtar does. And yet, the washerwomen often have different attitudes towards the goddess they serve. I appreciated this nuance.

Being Kaaron Warren, of course there’s viscera in the seams of Ishtar’s clothing and armies of still-born babies. Despite this, I found the story a bit slow-paced and felt my attention wandering from time to time. It had a lot of work to do in laying the foundations for the other stories. Covering a lengthy period of history, it details Ishtar’s myths as well as her loves (which are usually related), bringing them to life with historical detail. I enjoyed the way it commented on the changing relationship between the genders (though I should note it was very heteronormative and subscribed to a gender binary). Likewise, it did an excellent job of showing the changes in power experienced by Ishtar.

Deborah Biancotti’s modern take was better paced and it hooked me in much more quickly. Like Cat Sparks’ story, it was told in third person, present tense. Ishtar was more of a distant character in this story, though remains at its heart. As such, her motives weren’t entirely transparent and the story lost cohesion a bit towards the end. However, I thought it connected well to the previous story and the justification for setting it in Australia was reasonable. One quibble I had was to do with the style. In places it was both show and tell, as if the author didn’t trust the reader to interpret the description correctly. However, this was a relatively minor annoyance.

Having dealt with the past and the present, Cat Sparks’ story focuses on the future. It is unclear how far in the future it is, particularly since Dr. Anna’s memory is a bit sketchy. It is also unclear where exactly it is set, other than a desert wasteland containing remnants of the present day. I liked this because it could equally have been former Mesopotamia as Australia (though I’m leaning towards the latter). I found the style a bit fussier than the previous stories, playing with language in a way that was sometimes enjoyable and sometimes tiresome. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this story most of the three. I appreciated the way certain elements of the previous stories had been reinterpreted for the future setting. As with Deborah Biancotti’s story, the ending devolved into chaos a little too much for my taste. However, it was also an appropriate finale to the anthology.

Overall, I found Ishtar a solid anthology but one not precisely to my taste.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Falling in Love with Hominids, Nalo Hopkinson, Tachyon Publications, short story collection, fantasy, magical realism, speculative fiction

Published: August 2015 by Tachyon Publications
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Speculative fiction, fantasy, magical realism, LBGTQIA
Source: NetGalley
Available: Publisher (print and electronic) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk) has been widely hailed as a highly significant voice in Caribbean and American fiction. She has been dubbed “one of our most important writers,” (Junot Diaz), with “an imagination that most of us would kill for” (Los Angeles Times), and her work has been called “stunning,” (New York Times) “rich in voice, humor, and dazzling imagery” (Kirkus), and “simply triumphant” (Dorothy Allison).

Falling in Love with Hominids presents over a dozen years of Hopkinson’s new, uncollected fiction, much of which has been unavailable in print. Her singular, vivid tales, which mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore, are occupied by creatures unpredictable and strange: chickens that breathe fire, adults who eat children, and spirits that haunt shopping malls.

I’ve been meaning to read Nalo Hopkinson’s work ever since she was the Guest of Honour at the Australian National Science Fiction Convention in 2013. This collection of short stories was the perfect starting point. It showcases the breadth of her talent through a wide variety of stories. Genres range from fantasy and magical realism to soft sci-fi and alternate history.

Diversity is a strong feature of this collection; the characters are even more varied than the genres. The protagonist of the very first story is a young disabled black girl and the rest of the stories contain all sorts of characters. Some are people of colour, some are queer, some are both. Occasionally this diversity is the point of a story. For example Shift reworks Shakespeare’s The Tempest into an interesting meditation on perceptions of black masculinity. However, more often diversity is incidental. I was particularly delighted by Emily Breakfast, which throws in casual mentions of queerness and kink into a story of fantastic domesticity.

Hopkinson has a way with language and this was particularly noticeable in her descriptions of bodies. She throws away narrow cultural definitions of beauty in favour of showing how bodies of all shapes and sizes can be desireable.

As is usual in any collection or anthology, not all of the stories appealed to me. In the introduction, Hopkinson mentions the bleak outlook she held on humanity when she was younger. This perspective definitely shows up in some of the stories, particularly the earlier ones, and didn’t especially appeal to me. I prefer optimistic stories and fortunately still found plenty to delight. Along with the two mentioned above, some particular favourites were:

The Smile on the Face: A teenage girl comes to terms with the cruelty of adolescence and her feelings about her body with a little assistance from her mother’s favourite myth.

Old Habits: A shopping centre is haunted by the ghosts of those who have died within and who are forced to relieve their death daily. A moving story about human dignity.

A Young Candy Daughter: The Christmas spirit manifests in a young girl with extraordinary abilities.

Falling in Love with Hominids is a though-provoking collection and one that will linger with the reader for a long time.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

24168051

Published: 2014 by Clan Destine Fictions
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Science fiction
Source: Review copy provided by author
Disclaimer: Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review.

Cold Comfort and Other Tales is a collection of science fiction short stories, two of which are reprints and one of which is original.

The titular tale follows Vanja, a travelling trader who seeks a reclusive settlement and hidden knowledge. Worldbuilding is a strength of this collection and is showcased nicely in this story. Heated domes protect settlements that are not necessarily safer than the snowy wilderness. Adventuresome nature aside, Vanja shows herself to be a relatively sensible character when it comes to managing the risks. The story had a nice pace to it, though the ending left me somewhat unsatisfied. Its revelation of the bigger picture gave the impression this was simply the beginning of a longer tale.

In Through Wind and Weather, Nick and his semi-sentient spaceship battle the worst solar storm on record to make a vital delivery to a planet of settlers. A very short but well-executed story. I read it without being aware of the context of this story’s original publication and so the twist at the end came as a surprise.

Our Land Abounds, the original tale in the collection, is another where the worldbuilding really comes to the fore. It is a near future tale where most of the world is wracked by food shortages and the Republic of Australasia has closed off its borders in an effort to protect its plentiful food supply. Citizens who claim this supply should be shared with the rest of the world mysteriously disappear and illegal immigrants are hanged on discovery. I’d be curious to find out how the cultural references translate for international readers, but Australians will find it chillingly plausible in the current political climate.  I found the plot a little pedestrian, being overshadowed by the worldbuilding. However, that was rather the point and it asked some hard questions about empathy and the current state of society.

Cold Comfort and Other Tales is a short collection that will suck you in and spit you out again before you know it. Perfect for commutes or dipping into when you don’t have a lot of time.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

D6cover1cdl

Published: April 2014 by coeur de lion publishing
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Genres: Sci-fi, horror
Source: Free from the publisher’s website

Dimension6 is a new electronic publication that was launched this year by Keith Stevenson of coeur de lion publishing. There are three issues a year, each featuring three short stories. This inaugural issue contained Ryder by Richard Harland, The Message by Charlotte Nash, and The Preservation Society by Jason Nahrung.

Ryder is set in country New South Wales during World War 1. Sally has come from Sydney to stay with relatives in safety. However, she’s soon bored out of her mind and finds herself drawn to Ryder, the town’s mysterious bad boy. This story was the wrong way to start off the collection for me and was almost enough to make me put the whole thing down. Although the premise was interesting, I didn’t feel there was enough done with it to justify the story. I also found the characters thoroughly unlikeable and the implications of the ending rather uncomfortable, though the story itself was reasonably well-written. It was disappointing that the author loci included afterwards only related to the story in the most distant of ways.

Charlotte Nash’s The Message more than made up for this disappointment. Set in the post-apocalyptic future, it tells the tale of a hunter who is sent into the dangerous urban wilderness to deliver a message to the enemy. Again, it had an interesting premise and one that seemed distantly related to Ryder. The story’s twists and shifts kept me on my toes, creating excellent tension. It was definitely my favourite story of the collection. I notice that Nash also wrote Ghost of Hephaestus in Phantazein, one of my favourites in that anthology. The Message has confirmed she’s an author I’m going to be watching out for.

The Preservation Society was a bit of a change after the two sci-fi stories. Set in Queensland, a human woman is auctioned off to a group of vampires. Horror isn’t generally my thing, but The Preservation Society did such a great job of focussing on its characters that it never left me feeling out of my comfort zone. In fact, the last line had me chuckling a little. The ending wasn’t too difficult to spot, but well worth the ride. Australian vampires are a preoccupation for Nahrung and he does it well.

Based on this first issue, Dimension6 is a market to keep your eye on if you’re interested in dark, spec-fic short stories. All issues are available for free at the publisher’s website.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

23011835Published: 2014 by FableCroft Publishing
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: None
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Challenges: Dewey’s Read-a-thon
Disclaimer: I know the publisher, cover artist and a couple of the contributors

In my September review of To Spin A Darker Stair, I anticipated that Phantazein would prove to be more of the same. Having now read it I can say: it is and it isn’t. Although Phantazein opens with a fairytale retelling and closes with a mythological retelling, the majority of its stories are original stories that retain a strong fairytale flavour.

The stories that make up the anthology had a nice mixture of cultures. While there were some stories that felt vaguely European, there were also some that drew on Asian, Arabic and South American influences. Not being from these cultures, I’m not in a position to judge whether these influences were handled with sensitivity. From an outsider’s perspective, they seemed respectfully done. The diversity made for a reasonably well-balanced anthology, with one exception: there were very few Australian-influenced elements. Cat Sparks’ story The Seventh Relic was the sole exception and a questionable one. Only those familiar with Buddhism in Australia are likely to identify the setting, which otherwise comes across as generically western.

There was also a nice mixture of relationships featured in the stories. Being fairytale-inspired, there were various family relationships (mother and daughter, mother and son, father and daughter, siblings etc) as well as romantic relationships and straightforward friendships. I would like to have seen a few more non-heterosexual romantic relationships. The Seventh Relic proved the exception here once again, though, as with the Australian setting, it tended to be understated.

Being the exception to both of my diversity-related criticisms, it is perhaps unsurprising that The Seventh Relic was also the only story that I felt didn’t quite fit the anthology. However, I feel this was less to do with the inclusion of those diverse elements than its tone, which came across as a little too biting in comparison to the more fairytale-esque stories.

My notable mentions were difficult to pick but include Twelfth by Faith Mudge, The Ghost of Hephaestus by Charlotte Nash and How the Jungle Got its Spirit Guardian by Vida Cruz. Twelfth was a retelling of the Grimm fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. It had wonderful heart and no easy resolution. We didn’t quite get off on the right foot, as I had some trouble with the perspective at first and felt the beginning could have used some tightening up. However, it drew me in as the characters came more to life.

The Ghost of Hephaestus was an enchantingly romantic steampunk that tapped into Greek mythology and managed to hit all my buttons.

How the Jungle Got its Spirit Guardian drew on Aztec influences and had some interesting commentary on gender roles sold by some strong characters.

Overall, I found Phantazein to be very entertaining. Despite my criticisms, it had a nice mix of stories and I’d definitely recommend it to those who like fairytale-inspired fantasy.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Cover of To Spin A Darker Stair

To Spin A Darker Stair is a short chapbook that pairs two fairytale reworkings: A Delicate Architecture by Catherynne M Valente and The Oracle’s Tower by Faith Mudge. Valente’s story is a reprint, picked specifically to complement the story by Mudge.

Thematically, the stories are well-matched. Both carry a strong fairytale atmosphere and give the reader a sense that anything is possible. Both have a similar angle on their protagonist.

However, this similarity is a double-edged sword. A Delicate Architecture is a wonderfully deft tale, full of rich detail. Pairing it with The Oracle’s Tower serves to highlight the flaws in the latter–flaws that may have been overlooked if paired with a more contrasting story.

For example, A Delicate Architecture simply launches into the tale, drawing the reader along with a strikingly unique situation. The Oracle’s Tower, in contrast, follows a worn path wherein the narrator urges the reader to listen to her tale in a somewhat clumsy attempt to impart a sense of wisdom and urgency. This approach always tends to backfire a little for me; I rarely like being told what to do. The ending was framed likewise, setting out a possible conclusion to the story without being at all satisfying. It came across as a writer’s frantic attempt to wrap up the tale before the word count blew out.

The illustrations and cover art by Kathleen Jennings deserve a special mention. They tie the stories together beautifully and help strengthen the fairytale atmosphere.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Being only 51 pages, it is the perfect travel book and I devoured the whole lot in a single bus trip. With Fablecroft Publishing  scheduled to launch the anthology Phantazein at Conflux 10, it seems certain we can expect more along the same theme from them–especially with Mudge and Jennings making reappearances. However, I also hope that  FableCroft will produce more of these chapbooks in the future to help enliven future commutes.

 

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)
It has been far, far too long since I last wrote a review. I'm out of practice!

To Spin A Darker Stair is a short chapbook that pairs two fairytale reworkings: "A Delicate Architecture" by Catherynne M Valente and "The Oracle's Tower" by Faith Mudge. Valente's story is a reprint, picked specifically to complement the story by Mudge.

Thematically, the stories are well-matched. Both carry a strong fairytale atmosphere and give the reader a sense that anything is possible. Both have a similar angle on their protagonist.

However, this similarity is a double-edged sword. "A Delicate Architecture" is a wonderfully deft tale, full of rich detail. Pairing it with "The Oracle's Tower" serves to highlight the flaws in the latter--flaws that may have perhaps been overlooked if paired with a more contrasting story.

For example, "A Delicate Architecture" simply launches into the tale, drawing the reader along with a strikingly unique situation. "The Oracle's Tower", in contrast, follows a worn path wherein the narrator urges the reader to listen to her tale in a somewhat clumsy attempt to impart a sense of wisdom and urgency. This approach always tends to backfire a little for me; I rarely like being told what to do. The ending was likewise framed, setting out a possible conclusion to the story without being at all satisfying. It came across as a writer's frantic attempt to wrap up the tale before the word count blew out.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Being only 51 pages, it is the perfect travel book and I devoured the whole lot in a single bus trip. The illustrations and cover art by Kathleen Jennings beautifully ties the stories together.

(I should note that Kathleen has been nominated for a World Fantasy Award in Art once or twice and is an acquaintance of mine. Her website is well worth checking out. I particularly recommend the Daleks.)

Four stars out of five.

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