Charles's Reviews > Prophecies, Libels & Dreams: Stories

Prophecies, Libels & Dreams by Ysabeau S. Wilce
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Apr 14, 2015

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bookshelves: fantasy, short-story, stat_2, reviewed

Stuff I Read - Prophecies, Libels, and Dreams by Ysabeau S. Wilce Review

It's a bit rare for me to find a collection of short stories like this one, ones that are all set in the same shared universe. It's the kind of project that I really like, because it can offer a sort of world building that really can't be done any other way. To see through different characters, at different times, with a sense of cohesion that reaches across the individual stories and creates a unified whole that can be enjoyed on many levels. Because complexity of meaning and form are interesting to me. I like. That said, I'm not sure that this collection is as successful as I would have liked at presenting that unified whole.

First and most importantly, the stories are not the only ones set in this universe, so the collection is not the sole vision of the setting presented. Instead, it seems more supplemental to the other works in the setting, which are novels. Now, I'm all for shared universes, but these stories suffer a bit from their association to the pre-existing setting because they reference things that don't make as much sense without a good knowledge of those other works. Characters seem to have importance, only that importance is never really expounded on, never clarified. It remains elusive, and as such my enjoyment of the stories decreased somewhat.

Which is not to say that this collection is anything less than enjoyable. The tone of the world is pleasant, fast and fun and full of magic. The setting is a quasi-Gold Rush America mixed with Victorian England mixed with a magic system that makes everything come alive. It's fun to see and the character work is rather solid, if spotty. By that I mean that the characters all seem alive and real, vibrant, but like we're not catching them at their best, like we're seeing them at times that are important, yes, but that don't quite capture their true selves. Perhaps I got this most with Tiny Doom, who seems to get quite short sticked in this collection. Hardhands is fun and great and I enjoyed his appearances, his journey. It seemed the closest the collection got to giving someone a real arc across multiple stories. But even he seemed a little lacking at times and Tiny Doom's struggle, which seems huge and importance, is mostly ignored. Which I was not a fan of.

The collection is framed interestingly, though, as a historical text, as a group of historical documents that a historian has collected for scholars of the times. It's interesting and I liked the footnotes, though I think the process needs a bit more refinement, as I got a little confused with some of the footnotes that claimed that the stories were inaccurate. As I'm unfamiliar with the setting outside of these stories, I'm not sure if they are "true" to the characters or not. So while I like that the collection tried to do something, and while I found most of the footnotes rather humorous, I'm not sure entirely that it worked for me.

The stories themselves are rather nice, though. There aren't too many in the collection, actually. Seven all told, and three of them (the longest ones) focus on Hardhands and Tiny Doom. I liked those stories, but those were the ones I struggled with the most because I felt I was missing so much. The other four stories were better in that regard, because they were more just little asides, anecdotes about things going on in the world. My favorite story was "Hand in Glove" which was hilarious and played very well off of the Sherlock Holmes tropes in a fantasy world. Very good, that one. The others were all right, and I thought it was clever to include a story from the "real" world in there and frame it as a fantasy story to Califa. So yeah, there is a lot to like about the collection.

In the end, though, I felt that the collection was much more ambitious than successful. The stories are solid and the language amusing and sharp. Everything feels good, but it also feels incomplete. I can't really recommend this for people who aren't going further in the series, in the setting, because as it is it's just a bit unsatisfying. It has its moments, definitely, but there's just a bit to be desired. Which, to me, means it's a 6.25/10.
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Reading Progress

April 14, 2015 – Started Reading
April 14, 2015 – Shelved
April 14, 2015 – Shelved as: fantasy
April 14, 2015 – Shelved as: short-story
April 14, 2015 – Shelved as: stat_2
April 15, 2015 –
page 150
55.15% "Around halfway through and really enjoying this so far. Fun and just a bit brutal. Nice."
April 19, 2015 –
page 272
100.0% "A good collection, but missing something in my mind. Like a piece of a larger puzzle, it makes for an all right time putting together, but lacks a certain satisfaction."
April 19, 2015 – Finished Reading
April 25, 2015 – Shelved as: reviewed

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