Yes, it is quite inventive: with carriageless horses and many types of magic. Yes, there is some interesting central plot about Fairyland stealing tithes from other worlds. There is a simply lovely introduction about the concept of history.
But I was hoping for more backstory on Mallow, maybe even dating back to the Maud days, and overall, I just don't think that the short story format is well-suited for fairyland, which I enjoy because of the perception of a vast, rich world. ...more
It's been a week of disappointing sequels in my life. Not that the Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two isn't good. It's good, it'sIt's been a week of disappointing sequels in my life. Not that the Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two isn't good. It's good, it's just the two prior novels are Oh My Goodness, turn cartwheels, no scoring system goes high enough, amazing. And The Girl Who Soared is good. Maybe even very good, but no better.
Valente's previous works have been a patchwork of disparate settings and characters all loosely bound together in service of a plot, and somehow it just seems to work. Here, the settings are just as magical: a lizard made up of coins guards a cash register that determines your occupation, a whelk has made its shell into a city fueled by its love, acrobats made of paper fold and unfold as they do tricks, and an entire world made up of photographic negatives feature (sadly, while much is discussed about the city of Orrery, which is an Orrery and has every type of "-scope" imaginable, we spend very little time there.) But the threads tying them together feel looser. Zooming from one place to another felt organic and natural in the earlier books. Here it feels frenetic, and I found myself having trouble following why this or that was happening.
Similarly, the other Fairyland books center around themes of Coming of Age and particularly issues of adolescence, in a way that is central, but not overbearing. Here the central theme -- how one develops an identity and how volitional that identity is -- is equally universal and equally foundational to the book, but its inclusion feels more heavy-handed.
I certainly enjoyed the book, and I certainly will keep reading the series, but just as certainly, it pales by comparison. ...more
Fortunately, the Milk is a completely adorable, charming slip of a novella with clever & wild illustrations, plenty of time-traveling romping, jusFortunately, the Milk is a completely adorable, charming slip of a novella with clever & wild illustrations, plenty of time-traveling romping, just-in-time saves and the world's smartest, most scientific stegosaurus (who is parenthetically female). It is perfect for putting a smile on anyone's face. ...more
This is like a high-end restaurant's classy, deconstructed version of one's favorite childhood dessert: it hits all the warm and fuzzy notes that a fuThis is like a high-end restaurant's classy, deconstructed version of one's favorite childhood dessert: it hits all the warm and fuzzy notes that a fun, romp-like, young-adult faerie tale should, while also having very worthwhile commentary on such topics as security theatre, the advantages and lack thereof of growing up, and the importance of feeling that you have agency over your own life.
Despite trying to cover some Big Ideas, and despite having some of the best world-building I've ever read, I barely noticed either of those things until I finished, because ultimately, The Girl Who Circumnavigated [etc] is, at it's heart, a faerie tale, and it reads like one: seamless and mythic. I felt wrapped up in the plot and the characters, with some room spared to appreciate the atmosphere. It was just once I finished that I realized how novel the book was. This is the type of book that I'll want to reread over and over again, and I am completely confident that I will find more each time I do.
It's worth noting, as an aside, that Valente's work is also extremely strong from a gender perspective: she has self-sufficient, interesting female characters who have myriad personalities and goals besides romantic ones. And unlike some books that have gotten critical acclaim for strong female characters, The Girl Who [etc] stars characters who break the bookish-eager to please-sidekick mold of female characters: the titular September is brash, nosy and heartless as well as brave, inventive and persistent; her mother is a mechanic.
There are so many other positive things to say: the denouement is clever (and extremely obvious once you know it, but so brave that I never expected it to be true!) and profound and sad, all at once. There is a Wyverary - a mix of a wyvern and a library who knows everything about everything as long as it starts with the letters A-L. There is a soap golem, who of course, has Truth inscribed on her forehead, and is of course, named Lye.
It's like the Phantom Tollbooth crashed into a faerie tale and it is absolutely delicious....more
This book was simply delicious in every way possible. I loved the first book in the series, but felt hesitant about the rest of the series: sometimesThis book was simply delicious in every way possible. I loved the first book in the series, but felt hesitant about the rest of the series: sometimes a great first book is every good idea that the author had, and the rest of the series merely tries to scramble along on the coat tails. Moreover, one of the things that I loved about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was its depiction of childhood, and I worried it couldn't be continued in a sustainable way and also have the heroine grow.
I should have put more faith in Catherynne M. Valente. First of all: I am insane with jealousy over her imagination. Every page of The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland... was just as inventive as the page before, and it all seemed to flow effortlessly. We met characters that I never would have thought of: a beautifully inventive family of coffee and tea people, and turquoise kangaroos that wear their memories in pouches, and allusions to classic mythology that seem Just Right, only no one's ever thought of them before, like Valente's take on the minotaur, and what seems like it will one day be classic mythology, like Queer, Questing and Quiet Physicks and in between are beautifully depicted characters, who are neither deeply inventive, nor cleverly allusive so much as they are wonderfully depicted, almost real people, who are flawed, and brave and everything else I could ever ask for.
One of the things I love about Valente, as mentioned above, is her depiction of childhood. Her depiction of young adulthood/early teen years is just as spot on. She treats it with Valente whimsy, talking about how September has a Heart, but it is new and raw. And underneath the whimsy she is just so spot-on about the ways that Right and Wrong feel so intense in those early years, and how raw betrayal feels, because you aren't emotionally scarred down from years of them same yet. It's a magical combination of lovely prose and deep insight. I love how it flows clearly from her depiction of child September.
I can't review this book properly without talking about the shadows. I loved this plot: that Fairyland needed its shadows in order to have magic, but the shadows needed to be free and not have to do the bidding of their person. I felt the moral tug in both directions, and I loved that September felt equally torn. I won't give away the ending, but I will say that I worried that it was going to end uncomfortably: I felt like Valente had set up an unsolvable quandary and that any solution would either be morally offensive or seem like a deus ex machina to the beautifully set up puzzle. Again, I need to learn to have faith: Valente did not disappoint.
Although these are young adult books, they are challenging in terms of the morals they present, both in the world-savingly large, and in the romantically-inclined small and they examine teen-years in a way that I'm not sure I would have tolerated from up-close. I think that they are books that absolutely should be read in adult years, but I think there is probably much to be enjoyed here by young readers as well. I know I plan on reading them to my daughter early and often. But before that: must read book #3. Preferably right now. ...more
There were a lot of books this could have been and I think my opinion of it suffered from having heard so much about it and wanting it to have been thThere were a lot of books this could have been and I think my opinion of it suffered from having heard so much about it and wanting it to have been those other books. I wanted this to be a book about the unreliable memory of childhood and how age gives a mundane tint and banal explanations for the remembered magic, both awesome and awful. I wanted this to be a book about the adult that we become and how that holds up to the children that we were and the continuous source of identity.
Instead, it's a modern fairy tale. I love modern fairy tales and this is a great one, but I can't forgive it for not being the book I wanted it to be....more
This was really cute and unique. A perfect blend of tenement historical fiction, with really spot on accurate Jewish American history with a kid's fanThis was really cute and unique. A perfect blend of tenement historical fiction, with really spot on accurate Jewish American history with a kid's fantasy book, with all the bells and whistles of typical YA fantasy.
Major props for the creativity - this is probably the only book ever written to combine a Dybbuk and Thomas Edison in more or less the same plot. Also, the magic feels well thought out with a clear culture of how magic is and isn't used and how this varies among the upper and lower classes. Finally, the tenement culture felt familiar and true to the historical nonfiction that I'm familiar with.
The weakness was the pacing - the entire book feels like a build up to the "to be continued" that occurs at the end. I think it probably would have been more satisfying to wait until the series was finished and read it all at one go....more
The best part of the book was so nostalgic -- the idea of combing bookstores and finding The Book! The Amazing Fantasy or SciFi book that you've neverThe best part of the book was so nostalgic -- the idea of combing bookstores and finding The Book! The Amazing Fantasy or SciFi book that you've never heard of before, but it's by your favorite author and it is just so perfect! Finding The Book in bookstores and on my friends' book cases was a huge part of my adolescent years. It makes me kind of want to earmark the authors that Walton name checks that I've never read: (Zelazny, Delany, Tiptree embarrassingly enough) and never Amazon or Google them and only hunt down their books in used bookstores to recreate the feeling. But I know that truly that feeling is a little eradicated, because even if I play by the rules, I know that they're arbitrary and in real life I can get whatever book I want whenever I want, which is great, except that it ruins the mystique.
I also liked that "is it real or isn't it?" feel of the book. Reading as a teenager, I never would have questioned that the subtle magic in the book was indeed the highest reality. But I love Walton's depiction of that subtle magic, which as an adult, you can't help but second guess: "maybe Mor is just subconsciously coming up with a narrative to explain why bad thing X happened." I love that the book works on both levels and that it forces you to consider both -- it's such a great way to depict magic.
So what didn't I like? Well, I think my expectations were set too high by Jon and Beka, who both said this book was the most amazing thing in the history of books. Also, while reading the book I had an overwhelming, terribly distracting sense of how much I would have loved this book if I had read it back when I was 18. My 18 year old self would have promptly declared it her favorite book in the history of books, too, but since I'm no longer her, I felt almost guilty reading it.
Ultimately, I just felt like I didn't "get it." So, there's this girl, and some bad magic happened in her past, and now she goes to a boarding school, where she's a little social isolated, but then she joins a book club and along the way she buys a lot of books and sees a lot of faeries, and that's all well and good, but when is the plot going to begin? Oh, the book is over, so I guess there just isn't a plot? And I can handle a lack of a plot if the character growth and development is well done, but after awhile I got bored of reading about Mor read and go to bookstores, and I would rather be reading and going to bookstores myself....more
What an uneven collection. It's not even just the wide variation of quality (although there IS a wide variation in quality), but it seems like the stoWhat an uneven collection. It's not even just the wide variation of quality (although there IS a wide variation in quality), but it seems like the stories chosen have only a glancing association with the ostensible theme. This is particularly notable given the hubris expressed in the introduction that this will be the ur-collection of modern faery tales (Klima goes as far as to imply that it is the ONLY collection of this sort, which is laughable, given that not only are almost all of these stories pulled from other, similar, anthologies, but the vast majority of them have been published in one of the Ellen Datlow/Terri Windling anthologies.) Its also poorly organized, with adjacent stories doing nothing to build or communicate with each other and some stories on the same faery tale are close to each other, while others aren't. The theme is also poorly defined, with some stories being modern interpretations of faery tales, some being retellings without a change in setting, and yet others seem to come from a universe where the words "faery tale" have no meaning.
All of that notwithstanding, there are some excellent stories: -Wil McCarthy's He Died That Day, in Thirty Years is one of those rare pieces: a sci-fi short story that actually is satisfying. It stood on it's own and yet was clearly related to Alice in Wonderland. It was rich and provocative and wholly original. Perhaps particularly remarkable is how every little detail of the story was rich with information.
-Michelle West's The Rose Garden was something that I wanted to hate. I hate Beauty and the Best as the exemplar of the Bad Boy genre -- that horribly insidious, misogynist trope by which women should cleave to cruel, angry men and by their love covert them into some sort of paragon. But The Rose Garden, while not being a full inversion, was raw and honest about its intentions. And, I'm a sucker for platonic romance, so...
-Robert J. Howe's Pinocchio's Diary is terrifying, brutal, and an absolutely fascinating retelling. I loved his exploration of "realness" and bullying and othering. This is faery tale telling at it's best -- using a tale familiar to all of us, to tell a moral familiar to all of us, but to also tell a story that feels real and visceral and to twist it into something new that has a new moral.
There are also some completely AWFUL stories -Howard Waldrop's The Sawing Boys is completely impenetrable. You see it's a modern twist on the faery tale in which a bunch of Yiddish gangsters are finally thwarted by a Klezmer band playing construction equipment. No? No hint of recognition? Maybe it will help if they only speak in roaring twenties slang, which is converted into Pig Latin such that you both have to decrypt every utterance and then further deduce it's meaning based on the glossary at the end of the story? No? Yeah, me neither. Also, apparently Yiddish is the new black in faery tales, as it also seems to infiltrate Leslie What's The Emperor's New (and Improved) Clothes for no clear reason, too.
-Gregory Maguire's The Seven Stage a Comeback, which unfortunately starts this collection, may work as a play, but as written media is completely god-awful. It's impossible to keep the dwarfs straight, as they have no names; only numbers, therefore there is no character development evident.
The rest is mostly pretty cliched and unmemorable. (I do love Neil Gaiman's The Troll Bridge, but I've already read it in a different collection, so it doesn't count)...more
I haven't read an anthology in several years, so I wasn't sure what to expect in terms on consistency of theme and quality.
Overall, for an anthologyI haven't read an anthology in several years, so I wasn't sure what to expect in terms on consistency of theme and quality.
Overall, for an anthology that is looking to branch out beyond genre categories, the stories mesh relatively nicely with each other; although many fail to achieve the intended theme of "and then what happened?" The editing was well done, with the collection laid out in a way the flows, with stories with similar themes placed near each other, but not such that they blur with one another. There's a nice mix of long and short stories that makes the collection readable for long stretches of time. I found most of my favorite stories bunched at the back end, so keep reading if you don't like the beginning too well.
In terms of quality, I felt that most of the stories were well-written, although several were not to my liking.
The introduction by Neil Gaiman is probably the best part of the book. I loved the description of why people read and write fantasy and where fantasy as a genre can let us down. The desire to defy genres is ambitious and motivating.
Blood is a great opening story. It's evocative and plays directly to the "and then what happened" theme. Fossil Figures was not to my liking. It's a kind of generic twin story with some nice turns of phrase, but not much substance. Wildfire in Manhattan on the one hand, Gods are real and they live in cities has been done before and better (by two authors included in this collection, no less.) That being said, if not particularly original, this was still fun. I enjoyed the writing style and the characterizations. There was plenty of really nice imagery. The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains Gaiman's contribution to the collection was probably the closest to the intended theme. A very well-written play on the traditional fairy tale of Aladdin's cave of gold. Written in a very traditional folk tale style, but with new takes on the typical folk tale themes. Unbelief A story of an assassin sent to kill a mysterious figure. Went straight in one ear and out the other. This has been done before and done better. I would have lost nothing had this story been excluded completely. The Stars are Falling I hated this one, too. This is the typical story of a WWI veteran who comes home and tries to reconcile with his old life. It was so cliche in plot, tone and writing style and every piece of the plot was telegraphed from the beginning. Instead of "and then what happened?" I felt like "oh, that happened, really? I'm so totally unsurprised." Juvenal Nyx Sometimes, when you read fantasy, the setting is so complex that once author takes so long to set it up, you still don't understand it and you don't care. This story is how to do a complex setting correctly. Very little set up was ever done, but by the end you got the feeling that his world was so complicated and so rich. I wish I could have read whole series in this setting. The Knife This story reminded me a lot of "Blood." More a story-let, it felt like a nice palate cleanser after two relatively long stories; however, it's not something I would reread on its own. Weights and Measures as a sad story about a couple that had lost their daughter, this worked. Picoult excels at writing emotion and this was a very sad, very moving story. As a magical realism piece, this didn't work. The conceit of the magic didn't make sense to me, and it distracted me from the emotions and themes of the piece rather than adding to it. Goblin Lake A beautifully written piece of meta-fiction that nicely explores the relationship between fiction and reality. I found this very insightful on the topics of why we read and why we write. Mallon the Guru The writing in this was so evocative and full of gorgeous imagery. The feeling of mysticism and growing feeling of dread worked their way into every sentence. The story left me more with feelings than with a concrete understanding of the plot (such that I immediately reread the story to make sure I hadn't missed anything.) Catch and Release Another nice twist on a genre -- a story told from the point of view of a reformed serial killer. I found the narrative chilling and fascinating. The analogy of fishing really carried the story. Polka Dots and Moonbeams one part 1920's gangsters, one part...something else. The writing is outstanding; the setting is established impeccably from the first sentence. Although as the reader you never quite figure out what's happening, the feelings of needing to escape, of love and of desperation all come through so clearly that it doesn't really matter. Loser Chuck Palahniuk always writes in the same Chuck Palahniuk genre and this is no exception. Take something banal, such as the Price is Right, and add grit. This was a fun, but superficial, read. Samantha's Diary I was so disappointed by this that I almost don't want to review it. I love Jones. I've read every book she's ever written. I bought this collection because it advertised a new Diana Wynne Jones story. But there's no two ways about it: this story sucked. There was no intrigue, none of the plot twists Jones fans live for and no depth of characterization. It was the saddest thing ever. Land of the Lost Maybe I could have handled this story better had I not been still grieving from Samantha's Diary. As was, this was a trite story about a woman who will find the grave of a serial killer's victim, even though the police have given up. Sound like something you've read about a million times before? Well, that's exactly what it was like. Lief in the Wind On the other hand, this was so fantastic. A completely original science fiction story about a team exploring a new planet and contacting the alien life there. Sound like something you've read a million times before? Well, this was absolutely nothing like all of those others. This started with the beautiful imagery of the "birds that get smaller as they get closer" and built open that with so much metaphor and so much detail of language. The story was also about how to recollect yourself when loved ones die and hope is lost and was gorgeous on that front as well. Unwell This story gets you totally lost in the mind of a toxic woman and you realize too late that although she's toxic there might be something else to the story. I adore stories with untrustworthy narrators and this was done perfectly. A Life in Fictions One of the few stories that felt completely new. Not a twist on a genre, or an old tale with a new spin, but just something new. It's a story about a woman who disappears into her boyfriend's novels when he writes characters based on her and how this affects her life. At a larger level it's about the many facets of self and what we do to integrate them. I really loved this piece. Let the Past Begin A lot of fluff surrounding a middle segment of a beautifully told folk legend. The meat of the story was haunting and so well-described that I could close my eyes and see the fortune teller. But the rest of it was chaff. The Therapist I loved this work. Very soft science fiction about what causes people to lose their tempers mixed with court fiction. I loved the idea of a neme (a contagious feeling of rage). I felt the first part could stand on its own and then loved the twist brought by the second part. Parallel Lines Now this was the twin story that I've been waiting for. At first glance, this is a boring Ouiji board twin-twin communication story. But it's actually so much more. The relationship between the twins and the characterization of each is done beautifully and the exploration of what we do and don't owe other people is unique. The Cult of the Nose This read along the same lines as the Therapist. What of the narrative should the reader choose to believe? The narrative itself was spooky with the sinister members of the Cult of the Nose inevitably showing up amid chaos and destruction. Human Intelligence about an alien spy on earth and the women who finds him out, but also about loneliness and goals and what one should do to achieve them. Stories A fictionalized autobiography of Moorcock. The first half reads like propaganda for the breaking down of genre barriers, which Gaiman had already given us (and better) in the introduction. The remainder, once he gets down to it, is a character-driven piece about love, loss and betrayal that is well done. The Maiden Flight of BellerophonI really enjoyed this while I was reading it for the well-drawn characters and the attention to detail (probably one highlight was a character who was obsessed with the flying machine Bellerophon having written the overly laudatory wikipedia article thereon.) However the plot never really came together for me. The Devil Staircase First of all, the layout (like stairs) is so distracting and not set up correctly with the page breaks. But once I got past that, I found that the central part of the story -- about a man who finds the devil's son, who offers him tempting gifts and who ends up taking a bird who sings when he lies -- interesting and creative. However, the beginning of the story really drags.
Overall, I would say that if, like me, you're picking up this book because you're a Diana Wynne Jones fan, do not do it! Otherwise, this book is totally worth reading for the contributions from Gaiman, Mosley, Swanwick, Ford, Wolfe, Howard, Deaver and Powers, particularly and several other solid entries....more
Rocannon's World is interesting. LeGuin maintains a fairy tale quality of sorts while setting the story in a high science-fiction world, complete withRocannon's World is interesting. LeGuin maintains a fairy tale quality of sorts while setting the story in a high science-fiction world, complete with FTL ships and ansibles. The combination is almost dream-like and provocative, but unfortunately falls into LeGuin's most common flaw -- a slowness that makes the book hard to want to pick up and difficult to concentrate once you have....more
By far the Keys to the Demon Prison is the strongest book in the Fablehaven series. In it, Mull corrects many of his earlier mistakes, by creating nuaBy far the Keys to the Demon Prison is the strongest book in the Fablehaven series. In it, Mull corrects many of his earlier mistakes, by creating nuanced and interesting characters on all sides. He highlights shifting alliances and the difficulties arising from allying with those currently convenient. Of particular note is the comparison that Mull draws between Seth and the Sphinx in the early part of the book.
The plot is also entertaining, with even more creative settings and creatures. Some of the flaws that plagued the early books, such as villain monologuing, plot that turns out to be largely unnecessary, and repetition of exposition to each character in turn, are still present in Keys to the Demon Prison, but in attenuated form. Mull also tries to actually highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each character, rather than play on gender norms as was the case in early books. ...more