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Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  808 ratings  ·  96 reviews
Widely praised and widely read, Elizabeth Hand is regarded as one of America's leading literary fantasists. This new collection (an expansion of the limited-release Bibliomancy, which won the World Fantasy Award in 2005) showcases a wildly inventive author at the height of her powers. Included in this collection are "The Least Trumps," in which a lonely women reaches out ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published December 26th 2006 by M Press (first published December 12th 2006)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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Althea Ann
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
***** Cleopatra Brimstone.
A budding entomologist suffers a traumatic attack, and goes all Ms. 45 on some probably-undeserving men. Loved it. The supernatural/horror elements are unstinting, but the psychological/metaphorical aspects of the story are as delicate as butterfly wings, and carry the ring of truth.

**** Pavane for a Prince of the Air
Previously read in 'Embrace the Mutation.' I was slightly less enthused on a second read, but I'll stick with 4 stars. "Unlike most of these stories, not
M Griffin
May 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I first read the lead-off story in this collection, "Cleopatra Brimstone," in the anthology Poe's Children (edited by Peter Straub). This story of a young entomologist who moves to London in the aftermath of rape was the best thing in Straub's anthology and turns out to be the best thing in Saffron and Brimstone too. That's not at all to say the rest of this collection is lacking.

The very best fictional narrative has the feel of true personal history, enough to inspire the reader to check the
Marne Wilson
I'm not sure how I felt about all these stories as stories, but I just love the way Elizabeth Hand writes. Her voice seems so restrained, but you can always sense all the passion hidden underneath. Still, this wasn't really the kind of collection I expected to find under the subtitle "Strange Stories." I've read quite a few books with that subtitle, which always seems to be added as a warning by the publisher. ("We told you these stories would be strange!") Usually "strange stories" fit into the ...more
Alyssia Cooke
This is a book that I have struggled over my rating with, for whilst I really engaged with the first two stories in the book, the third and forth lost me somewhat and I found the final compilation of four shorts into one piece to be overly metaphorically pretentious for my liking.

'Cleopatra Brimstone' is perhaps my favourite short in this collection and it certainly fits the definition of 'strange'. There's a horror-esque edge to it that gives it an unsettling yet captivating feel and I found
Suze Lavender
Jun 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Saffron and Brimstone, Strange Stories, is a book filled with different types of short stories. I'm going to review the first four separately, because they are so versatile.

It starts with Cleopatra Brimstone which is a story about a beautiful girl named Jane. She's very smart and cares more about her brain than her looks. Insects have always drawn her which is why she wants to study them. When she is a student something goes very wrong though which changes her life forever.

Jane has a gift and
Layla Bing
Jul 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Saffron and Brimstone was my first exposure to the beautifully evocative prose of Elizabeth Hand, and I cannot wait to get my hands on one of her full-length novels! Her storytelling is unparalleled in anything I have read lately; she is truly a master at her craft and it shows in this collection of short stories. The stories included run the gamut from horror to fantasy, magic realism to experimental fiction. No two are alike, but they all share certain elements of compelling story-telling that ...more
Apr 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Picked this one up at random in the library. "Pavane for a Prince of the Air" was a slow-moving, heart-breaking story of a well-loved man dying, and it made me cry. The other stories were strange and interesting, but sometimes frustratingly disjointed when I just wanted a solid narrative. Some of the female characters in this collection of short stories are frighteningly driven to accomplish their private desires.
Feb 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
A fine collection from Liz Hand. Sharp, precise, evocative writing. Surprises abound, both subtle and grotesque. Her prose craftsmanship is a wonder to behold. That said, a few of the stories fell flat for me, but overall a worthy collection to read and admire.
Jul 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: at-home
This is a series of stories that epitomizes the writing style of Elizabeth Hand. She varies in genre from fantastical, science fiction, and horror to more literary fiction, but is always beautiful to read.
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Some stories are incredible jewels, some are just wonderfully strange.
Dec 02, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of the decidedly weird
another book i picked up to read on a plane. one of these stories struck me the wrong way and another exactly the right way. i'd be interested to read more of her work.
Oct 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
The first story, "Cleopatra Brimstone," is definitely the strangest and for me, the best of the collection. All of the stories have common threads: love and loved ones lost, regret, death, sex, insects, the wild rocky coasts and deep forests of Maine. "Wonderwall" was my least favorite of the stories, but perhaps that was my reaction to the grit and grime and fluids that Hand so effectively evoked. Highly recommended.
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
2.5 The only Hand so far that I found disappointing. These weren't wholesome short stories, but mere snippets that appeared scraped together from earlier crashed and burned attempts at novels. Several were random at best, and none of them managed to pack a punch. Still, 3 stars for Hand's beautiful prose.
Fantasy Literature
Jun 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
We’ve been living through a renaissance of science fiction and fantasy short fiction in the past decade. New authors are entering the field through the monthly magazines both online and in print. Small presses are also producing excellent work: Small Beer Press, Night Shade Books, and Golden Gryphon among them.

I’d not previously heard of M Press, but if it is a new entry into the small press arena, I’m happy to welcome it, especially if it continues to publish books as strange and brilliant as
Jack Haringa
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: collections
A marvelous collection of affecting and finely-wrought stories by Elizabeth Hand, the author of many fine novels, Saffron and Brimstone has a loose thematic continuity of fractured selves struggling with the meaning and viability of relationships. The protagonists of these stories are strong but flawed--and sometimes damaged--women who are frequently isolated, from society or from love or even from themselves. Many of the tales have only the hint of the fantastic, and none offer pat resolutions. ...more
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people who are not me.
I don't remember why I added this book to my to-read shelf, but I apparently did at some point. Impulse add?

Upon finally completing the first story, I remembered why short stories are not for me. Most of the time I feel they're just too predictable, don't have enough space to provide the kind of depth I care for, almost always seem to lack a certain something.

- So don't read them then.
- OK, I won't.

Consider this book abandoned. I've only read the Cleopatra Brimstone story and you know what?
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Beautiful prose, lovely strange stories, evocative of myth. I was sad to finish it. Elizabeth Hand is an amazing writer.
Nov 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
I usually wouldn't write a review of something I didn't finish or even put it on my read shelf but I tried to keep reading this until the end hoping that the next story would be better but that never happened. The ending of the third story was so bad that I only read the beginnings of the last few and decided that they weren't worth finishing. First story was problematic, second was just alright, third was great until it unraveled into being incredibly strange and not in a good way. The entire ...more
Feb 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5/5 stars. Collection of wonderfully lyrical tales (4 short stories, and a 4-part mini-series) that left me breathless, exhilarated, and yearning for something I still can't put into words.

Your mileage really will vary. If you can relate to any of what she writes, you'll fall fathoms-deep into these stories and never come back up for air. And for the word-lovers, this is prose at its finest: precise, elegant, mercilessly tender.

With collections and anthologies, I try to pick one story to
Richard Legault
Nov 17, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a collection of eight short-to-medium length stories. They are not fantasy, per se. Some have fantastic elements, and others do not. They are very well written, but needlessly grotesque and vulgar. The characters in six of the stories are so caught up in addictions, self-destructive sexual behaviors, and/or being murderers, that it made the stories unpleasant to read. She also likes to occasionally use the words f*ck and c*nt in places that don't make sense. That said, I still give it ...more
Fried Potato
Aug 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
Got this book on a bundle about women of science fiction & fantasy. This was the first book of them that I read and I can only hope the rest are nothing like it.

On the first story I couldn't stop thinking that if a man had wrote it, it would have been criticised for being extremely sexist. When I finished it, I was like "dafuq did I just read". And the dafuqness continues on almost all stories. In half of then, the moment I finished them I couldn't even remember what they where about.

It was
Matt Hunt
Jul 17, 2017 rated it did not like it
I struggled to enjoy the first story and when the character got to London and went into some detailed description of the Reagents canal through Camden town and got a lot of the description wrong I had to stop reading.

I tried the second and third stories but couldn't get into them either. Something about it all that just jarred with me.

I quite enjoyed Wylding Hall by the same author so I dunno what was the matter here?
Lynda Lippin
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Always interesting

I love Elizabeth Hand. Her writing is captivating and lyrical. It draws me in and holds me. These stories, while somewhat uneven, reveal an odd mythical underbelly to our world.
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is truly a work of art! The characters are so very real, you feel the emotion. I was in tears while reading 2 of the stories. Elizabeth Hand is a remarkable writer. I look forward to reading everything she has written.
Aug 10, 2017 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed two stories in this collection, Cleopatra Brimstone and Kronia, but the rest felt like a bit of a slog. Overall though, I enjoyed Hand's writing and look forward to checking out some of her other books.
Jun 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is a wonderful duality on display in this fabulous collection from Elizabeth Hand and a complexity of readings that make it a powerful piece of literary fantasy. First there is the title alone. Saffron and Brimstone evokes the biological and chemical. Or two forms of the biological (botanical and animal as in the brimstone moth). Or two forms of similar animals (brimstone moth vs. butterfly). Or two conflicting aromas, pleasantly fragrant and sulfurous foul. Or two conflicting styles held ...more
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting stories,with what feels like similar themes to them, mostly unsettling, but so well-written. I got drawn into the worlds even though I couldn't relate to a lot of what the characters went through.
Jamie Farquharson
Like delicious literary tapas.
Thomas Pluck
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
good collection of a singularly talented author who's never boring.
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A New York Times notable and multiple award– winning author, Elizabeth Hand has written seven novels, including the cult classic Waking the Moon, and short-story collections. She is a longtime contributor to numerous publications, including the Washington Post Book World and the Village Voice Literary Supplement. She and her two children divide their time between the coast of Maine and North ...more