Sometimes as a reader, I feel way behind. There are simply too many books and too few of me! My Instagram is full of gorgeous pictures of books I'm dying to read and can't get to. Hell, I didn't even start The Raven Cycle until The Raven King was already published!
So last month, book shopping for an upcoming cruise, I was stoked to find this little gem: The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman. Now, I'm not much of a short story reader (I tend to prefer trilogies and longer series), but if you're going to branch out you might as well go all the way, right?
(Side note: This cover is super stunning and I love, love, love this alien leaf girl and I want a poster to put in my room!)
The New Voices of Fantasy is my attempt to get ahead of the fantasy genre and see who are the up-and-coming names. While the editors do a great job of indicating which authors won which awards (of which there are many), I had honestly not heard of a single author in the collection before cracking it open. I call that a win!
As a contributor to several anthologies and collections myself, I always appreciate a review that will itemize each story and tell readers (and authors) which stories worked and why. So here it goes!
1. Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong
This was my favorite story in the collection, no joke. It tells the story of a woman who can see negative thoughts and personality flaws like living creatures that hover over the heads of everyone she meets. But not only can she see the darkness and corruption of others, she feeds on it. She even keeps it all in jars! The imagery of this piece was stunning and the writing was so delicious. Definitely a winner!
2. Selkie Stories Are for Losers by Sofia Samatar
I didn't quite get this one. It's a few dozen or so smaller segments that seem to fit into a larger fabric that I didn't fully grasp. Just as I thought I might be starting to catch on, it was over! I did really like the idea of the Selkie, a seal that wears human skin and eventually returns to the ocean. That was a new-to-me lore that I was really interested in learning about, though I wish the story had explored them a little more.
3. Tornado's Siren by Brooke Bolander
What could be cooler than a tornado that loves a woman? This is the unique story of a woman who finds herself the object of affection of a recurring tornado. It compares the white picket fence life to something more unorthodox. I really admired the way Rhea thought about her life and made decisions. She was very relatable and I loved the overall story.
4. Left the Century to Sit Unmoved by Sarah Pinsker
The title of this one throws me off and is probably my least favorite thing about this story. It's about this local pond that kids jump into and every once in a while, someone vanishes. Now kids jump in as a sort of dare or to prove themselves or some other reason. In fact, at it's root, the story examines why people go in and what it means to them when they come up again. A really interesting piece.
5. A Kiss with Teeth by Max Gladstone
This was my second favorite piece in the collection. Vlad (assumed to be the Vlad) is a modern day vampire struggling to keep his identity a secret for the sake of his son. However, after years of marriage to a once-exciting woman, Vlad feels the itch for some interest and intrigue in his life, and targets his son's teacher. I found this piece to be a really fun and interesting examination of how people change over time and how marriages really work. And there was a twist on the usual vampire tale and that's always a plus!
6. Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon
Jackalope Wives was another story I really enjoyed. I thought it was going to be a love story between a boy and the jackalope wife he captures, but it was really a story about belonging and bravery. The lore behind the story was new to me and I really enjoyed the legend feel of the piece. And the big reveal at the end left me tearing up.
7. The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu
This one was another miss for me. It has a really distant narrative voice and tells the story of two warring insect colonies. There was a moral of the story unfolding, about rising up against tyranny, and then the problems just disappeared and everyone went back to being happy. The ending was underwhelming and I am really left confused about what the story was trying to say.
8. The Practical Witch's Guide to Acquiring Real Estate By A.C. Wise
This is a kind of funny piece giving advice to witches about how to take or grow houses. It treats houses like predatory and emotional pets, which makes it humorous. But the joke gets carried on too long and I found myself wishing it had stuck to a shorter punch line. Not a total miss, but not a piece that I was particularly drawn to.
9. The Tallest Doll in New York City by Maria Dahvana Headley
I liked this one. It tells the story of a lady building who is jonesing for a guy building and they start getting it on while the buildings are still occupied. Funny and cute and interesting.
10. The Haunting of Apollo A7LB by Hannu Rajaniemi
I really liked this one! A space suit is haunted by the astronaut who wore it and returns to the woman who made it (and the astronaut loved). A sweet sort of haunting that's entertaining and unique.
11. Here Be Dragons by Chris Tarry
I really, really did not get this one. It tells the story of a man who made a career fighting fake dragons who has to leave his business to be a parent. It feels like he's going to decide to be a good dad and focus on his family instead of cheating people out of money, but then he goes right back to dragon 'fighting' so I'm not really sure what the message was supposed to be. That guys are jerks no matter what? I just couldn't get on board with this one at all. Total miss.
12. The One They Took Before by Kelly Sandoval
Hell to the yes. This one was strange in all the best ways and at the end I was all OH MY GOD. Go read it. Now.
13. Tiger Baby by JY Yang
I liked this cool little piece. A woman who feels like she's a tiger hangs with neighborhood cats until she transitions into her true feline form. But it's not what she expected. Really interesting and enjoyable read.
14. The Duck by Ben Loory
Apparently the author writes children's books, and I definitely got that feel from this piece. While it was sweet and interesting to read about a duck who falls in love with a rock, the ending left me feeling like I missed something. Another paragraph or two would be all that was needed to really solidify the conclusion, but without it, the story just isn't complete. Cute though.
15. Wing by Amal El-Mohtar
This was a short and unique piece about a girl who a book around her neck who tells stories. They're all beautifully interwoven and at the end, I was left feeling a big 'wow' about how it all worked together. Flawless.
16. The Philosophers by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
This was actually a trio of slightly odd stories that examine the relationship between father and son. They are all complex and mostly negative, but otherwise they didn't seem to really relate in any way. Interesting but disconnected.
17. My Time Among the Bridge Blowers by Eugene Fischer
This was one of the longer pieces in the collection that had a lot of unique aspects. A researcher with some strange tattoos visits a colony of people who can create territories and structures with breath. It's a really interesting concept that I was excited to explore, but the story seemed stuck on some of the more commonplace aspects of the traveling experience. It could have been really stunning but it was just lacking that something to make it pop.
18. The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado
A woman with a ribbon around her neck with predictable results. However, the story itself was spectacularly well-written with a delicate balance of flashback, current action, summarizing spans of years, and off-beat stories. It has a serious feminism streak and explores how women have a tendency to give everything (and eventually too much) to the men they love. Really, really well done though sadly an ending we all saw coming a mile away.
19. The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik
This story is easily the longest in the collection and at first feels like the classic pilgrimage story. A young boy raised on his grandfather's stories of old Pakistan returns to fetch a secret item. However, it is rather long-winded and in many places feels preachy (This isn't how jinn lore works, thisss is the right way!). In the end, the secret was so abstract and far-fetched that I found myself groaning and wishing it was over. Which is a bummer! I really loved all my recent jinni/djinn reads (The Golem and the Jinni, Rebel of the Sands, etc) but found this one was less about expanding jinn lore and more about rewriting it in a long, twisted, uninteresting way.
Overall, I thought the collection was well done. The cover is stunning. I didn't find a single typo in the whole dang thing, and never did a read a story that I felt needed another pass at editing. One of the cleanest and most polished collaborations I've ever read.
Like all collections, it had a few stand out stars and a few that didn't resonate for me, but that's the reality of these collections. It's nearly impossible to put together a group of stories in which every reader loves every piece. It's just not feasible. But The New Voice of Fantasy accomplished its mission of introducing this fantasy lover to new voices in the genre and giving me some fodder for the Christmas list.