Thanks to Netgalley for the Arc!
This collection of short stories from relative newcomers in the fantasy field is a great introduction to some very talented new authors, only one of which I’d read anything from before. All of the stories, as the title of the collection would suggest, are fantasy. However, the vast majority of the stories are set in the modern day, with little in the way of classic sword and sorcery. There’s also a lot of speculative fantasy and stories verging on the horror genre. Regardless of the similarities in genre, however, all of the stories are original and enjoyable, written and edited well.
Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers
The first story in the collection had me instantly engrossed, introducing us to a woman who uses tinder for something other than casual hookups. This story is dark, creepy, and more than a little gross, with some interesting characters and imaginative writing.
Selkie Stories are for Losers
Based on the selkie legends – seals that can shed their skins to become human – this story has some sympathetic characters but was a little vague and lacking in magic for me. However, stories within a story are something I always enjoy thanks to my incredibly short attention span, so it kept me reading up until its conclusion.
Brooke Bolander was the only author whose work I had read previously (And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead) – which I loved, so I was super excited for this one. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed by this one. It was whimsical and open ended, things which I enjoy, but I was hoping for a little more substance and grit from Brooke.
Left the Century to Sit Unmoved
This story was a little creepy, about a woman obsessed with jumping into a lake which sometimes appears to swallow the jumper. A list of rules for the lake provided towards the beginning of the story filled me with anticipation:
2. No skinny dipping, so your friends will know if you were taken or if you just drowned. (Clothes don’t get taken.)
A Kiss with Teeth
This was probably my favourite of the entire collection, imagining Vlad the Impaler/Dracula as a married man in modern day New York. We are treated to how he adapted to his new life with his terribly badass lady love and his young child, who is having some trouble in school. I’m a fan of Dracula anyway, but I enjoyed the breath of fresh air this imagining gave him.
Vernon is clearly a very talented author and here weaves a wonderfully moral folk tale style story about a grandmother who has to deal with her foolish grandson’s mistake of trying to catch himself a Jackalope wife. The less said the better about this one – rest assured, it’s beautiful and surprising and original.
The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees
E. Lily Yu
I loved the fantasy of this short; a sad, politically charged story about wasps and bees who make incredibly intricate maps within their nests while exploring the world around them. It’s ruthless and the writing is beautifully rich with wonderful imagery.
The Practical Witch’s Guide to Buying Real Estate
This one I found a little disappointing, but it was a nice break from a collection which is otherwise fairly serious. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a guide to real estate for witches, with many humorous anecdotes and fun ideas.
The Tallest Doll in New York City
Maria Dahvana Headley
Probably one of the most original stories in the collection, The Tallest Doll is set on Valentines Day, when the Chrysler Building decides to go on a date with the Empire State Building. It’s sweet and utterly unique, a nice little romance.
The Haunting of Apollo A7LB
About a supposedly haunted moon suit who turns up at the house of the woman who helped sew it, this story is a sweet commentary on romance with some commentary on race and class. Enjoyable.
Here Be Dragons
This was probably my least favourite story in the collection, which was a little surprising because it’s also one of the only stories not set in the modern day, and I’m a big fan of medieval fantasy. However, the reason I didn’t enjoy it is not because of the story or setting, it’s because I found the characters so horrendously unlikeable that I simply did not want to spend a spare moment with them.
The One They Took Before
A young woman is driven to look for ads and listings regarding rifts in the universe, faerie queens, and missing persons, fighting the urge to follow them up. I wholly enjoyed this strange story about this person’s foray into the fae realm, and loved the strange, ambiguous hints interspersed throughout.
A short story about a woman who believes she is a tiger, I was totally into this one up until the very end, but may be alone in that.
I adored this very short and sweet fable about a duck that falls in love with a rock. Yes, really.
This one is even shorter than The Duck, and written very, very beautifully and sincerely. It’s a quiet story about love, soul mates, and secrets, and has convinced me to look for more by El-Mohtar.
Adam Erlich Sachs
Another favourite of mine in this collection, The Philosophers is actually 3 short stories about fathers and sons, each with just my kind of dry, Neil Gaiman-esque humour.
My Time Amongst the Bridge Blowers
Honestly, I skimmed through this one a little. It follows a scholar who meets a strange village tribe with incredible abilities in the mountains. The writing was a little stuffy and slow for my liking, reminding me of Jonathan’s diary entries in Dracula. Not for me, unfortunately.
The Husband Stitch
Carmen Maria Machado
I wondered where this one was going for a little while, but it had me hooked with its wonderful, flowing prose so instantly that I didn’t care. A wonderfully feminist story about a young woman with a ribbon around her neck which she forbids her husband to touch. Even the more ordinary aspects of this story were written with such easy readability and such a quiet yet relentless note of tension that I couldn’t put it down.
The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn
Usman T Malik
The last, and the longest story in the collection, this is a fun, twisty story about a young Pakistani man who tries to discover the secrets of his late grandfather. It’s a fun story with a beautiful ending, worth the word count