"Sometimes a monster looks just like another other man." - p.117
Set in the small town of Wlodawa, Poland in 1942 In the Land of Armadillos is a collection of themed stories that are both historical fiction and magical realism. Using tradition folklore and mysticism, Shankman weaves the story of Wlodawa's Jewish population and that of two Nazis into a poetic, harrowing, humbling story of survival amongst the endless death and destruction that was the Nazi war machine. The stories are connected by tragedy and by the characters that pop up in a few (Haas, Pavel), or in all of them (Soroka, Reinhardt) but each is starkly unique and developed.
Some of these stories top more than fifty pages (the eponymous first story, A Decent Man), some are less than twenty. But no matter the length, each packs an emotional punch that resonates. No matter the viewpoint -- be it third person or first -- Shankman's prose reads easily and lyrically. It's a stark contrast between her writing and the content; a juxtaposition that is surely intended. Using the magical realism angle was unexpected but it well with the themes and stories that the author created. Golems, werewolves, Messiahs -- all come to brief life under the author's talented pen. Though the book is filled with sadness and the fact that the atrocities in Wlodawa are based in fact, the truly harrowing part of reading In the Land of the Armadillos are the ways it reflects modern life, 74 years after these horrific events occurred.
This is a book that will stick with me and one I will continue to think about long after I have finished it and moved onto something different. It was a multi-faceted look at one of history's darkest times. Shankman didn't shy away from the atrocities committed but she didn't neglect the unexpected heroism, the small acts of revolts, the tiny attempts to slow the tide of blood. The spots of brightness in In the Land of Armadillos are hard-won and authentic. The modern epilogue is fitting and open-ended, leaving readers a chance to imagine how Lukas and Julia will take their histories into their futures. With this thoughtful, honest novel, Shankman again impresses....more
This anthology boasts some of my favorite historical fiction writers and ones who collaborated so well with their Pompeii-centric anthology A Day of Fire. There were some new voices (SJA Turney, Ruth Downie, etc.) added to the mix this time around and though new to me, they were fitting additions to the known talents of Knight, Quinn, Dray, and Shecter. Spanning just the year-ish long rebellion of the infamous Iceni Queen and told through seven disparate but relevant voices from both sides of the conflict, A Year of Ravens boasts some complex themes, fully dimensional characters, and remarkable storytelling.
There's a lot to admire about A Year of Ravens but there were three notable standouts as I made my way through the the early 450 page collection. Stephanie Dray's authorial talents bookend the anthology with two stories about a forgotten contemporary of Boudica's -- Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes. Cartimandua is a fascinating character (and was a real life client Queen of Rome.) Dray is of such talent that while reading her stories, I have to google all the fascinating details she peppers her narrative with. (Seriously - who would have thought Roman client-kingship so interesting?)
Dray makes the point that while you have heard of Boudica, you can't fully understand her or put her life in context without comparing the life of her contemporary queen Cartimandua. Dray fully proves her point with her powerhouse introductory addition. She skillfully brings the reader up to speed on what Roman-held Britain was like; how the various tribes rebelled, fought amongst each other, and then finally united after an unforgivable series of events. Boudica's legend has lasted a thousand years while Cartimandua's has not. With Dray's talent, this real-life woman provides an excellent foil for her more famous counterpart.
The four stories that followed Dray's The Queen (The Slave, The Tribune, The Druid, The Son) were good. A few were very good - The Slave by Ruth Downie and The Son by SJA Turney were four stars each. The other two (authored by Russell Whitfield and Vicky Alvear Shecter, respectively) were three-stars and just lacked the spark I felt for the other stories. Those two were also quite intertwined with another - both in terms of plot and with characters that inhabited both. I was interested in Agricola because of his role but found his narration somewhat stilted and overlong. I liked The Slave because it showed a different, unique view of Boudica -- from even amongst her own tribe. Her legend has lead people to remember and revere her but she was not perfect. She made mistakes and wasn't always what she is remembered to be, as shown in her treatment of Ria, the slave.
A Year of Ravens takes pains to show the horrors and complexities of rebellion and war. In trying to rid their shores of the hated Romans, the Iceni and their allies often resort to the same butchery and torture as the Romans did before them. And in return, the Roman reprisals are equally damning. Both sides have valid points of contention; both sides have wounds that demand redress. Duro, Boudica's premier warrior and Valeria, a captured Roman matron, especially show the differing views but vivid commonalities between the two cultures. In Kate Quinn's contribution The Warrior these points are made easily with the banter of the oddly complimentary and combative pair. Kate Quinn is a master of characterization, even with less than 70 pages to work with.
I first read E. Knight last year, with her excellent contribution to A Day of Fire, a short story titled The Mother. Her choice here was to give voice to Boudica's two wildly different but beloved daughters and it was impressively handled. Historically remembered as just "Boudica's daughters" Knight gives them names, voices, personalities, motivations and more. They come alive as Boudica does, but from their own point of view and in their own distinct voices as we never see or hear from their warrior mother. They are two vastly different kind of women and their POVs flash between the past and the present, but it's a streamlined narrative. Knight easily picks up the plot lines laid down by the six authors before her and weaves them into an expected but still original ending.
This was a fantastic anthology. The authors' various styles meld well together and foster a remarkably coherent tale for one told from so many varying techniques and perspectives. A Year of Ravens uses Boudica and her rebellion to propel the main plot but it's the little seen narratives and views used that make the anthology creative and memorable. A Year of Ravens is the kind of historical fiction that leaves you even more interested in the time, place, and people depicted than you were before. Boudica has long been a historical favorite of mine and I can definitely say that this anthology did her legend more than justice....more
A bit short, but a new take on Snow White that also has Aladdin (as a bad guy!) and the witch from Hansel and Gretel. It's pretty fun if you rememberA bit short, but a new take on Snow White that also has Aladdin (as a bad guy!) and the witch from Hansel and Gretel. It's pretty fun if you remember that it's a fairy tale retelling and sometimes princes fall in love with sleeping princesses.
Liked the intertwining of various stories and the way the narrative spins what would be expected in famous fairy tales into something new and creativeLiked the intertwining of various stories and the way the narrative spins what would be expected in famous fairy tales into something new and creative. Just a bit short for any real depth and felt the majority of characters were rather one-dimensional. Loved the prose, though, and the sex-positive nature of the MC....more
Very rarely do I rate a novella more than 3 stars, but damned if Bardugo hasn't made me do it three times. The woman is talented and these are the kinVery rarely do I rate a novella more than 3 stars, but damned if Bardugo hasn't made me do it three times. The woman is talented and these are the kinds of folk tales that I adore. Wonderful....more
Some stories are not four stars or even three (Kelly Link, David Levithan), but Laini Taylor's was a 5 from the first sentence.
I was also pleasantlySome stories are not four stars or even three (Kelly Link, David Levithan), but Laini Taylor's was a 5 from the first sentence.
I was also pleasantly surprised by Kiersten White's -- I've never enjoyed her full-length fiction as much as I did this short story. Rainbow Rowell's Midnights was my second favorite, though perhaps misplaced as the first story in the anthology....more