"Silence, Before the Horn" by Marie Brennan
"The Lass of Loch Royal" by Holly Phillips
"Revulsion and the Beast" by Vera Nazarian
"Mother Is A Machine" by Catherynne M. Valente
"Inside the Tower" by Stephanie Burgis
"How to Bring Someone Back From the Dead" by Veronica Schanoes
"The Ice Puzzle" by Catherynne M. Valente
"In Grandmother’s House" by Ainsley Dicks
The placement of the stories in the premier issue of the Jabberwocky anthology series is very well done. The fiction plays off itself and the poetry in such a natural manner that it almost seems like the work of a single author with a remarkably diverse style. This anthology promises to be devoted to poetry and poetic fiction, and makes good on that promise.
"Shadowplay" by Sonya Taaffe reads more like a prose poem than a true short story. Strong imagery is used to convey the idea of a relationship that had withered, leaving the narrator more of a ghost than a person. Though a little vague, that seems to be an effect of the form and doesn’t become a liability.
"Kikimora" by Ekaterina Sedia opens with the fall of communism. Marina, the kikimora of the title, and Anya fall in love in the chaos of post-glasnost Moscow. On the day the two women meet, Marina sees a man with tree bark skin and green hair who calls her to the forest where he says she belongs. When she refuses, he kidnaps Anya.
"Kikimora" is a rich story that examines the connection between humans and nature. A kikimora is an in-between creature, a citizen of both the human and the fairy world. Marina’s dilemma is complex; she must weigh the two aspects of her heritage along with her more immediate concerns for Anya.
"Silence, Before the Horn" by Marie Brennan entwines King Arthur in the Nordic tale of a valkyrie who sleeps in water and waits for the battle at the end of the world. For me, this was probably one of the more memorable stories in this issue. The language is appropriately well-crafted for a magazine that mixes fiction and poetry. I also liked how Brennan combined the two mythologies seamlessly. It was like they were connected all along, and she merely pointed it out.
"The Lass of Loch Royal" by Holly Phillips is a cautionary tale of what happens when one holds truck with the fey folk, by way of a ballad. It is an interesting juxtaposition of the protectiveness of two mothers. Though the story offers little that is entirely new, it fills in the ballad’s missing pieces so well that any added material would seem like part of the source material. It almost serves as an elegant and well-done music video, with more depth than is generally found in that form.
"Revulsion and the Beast" by Vera Nazarian is a retelling of the "Beauty and the Beast" tale from the perspective of Beauty’s sister, Revulsion. Revulsion serves as the catalyst to the familiar fairy tale; she reminds Beauty of her promise to the Beast. While I was able to read the story on a surface level, the metaphor demanded I take notice, making the reading a touch heavy in places. Through what can only be described as a skillful control of story, Nazarian does manage to pull it off.
In "Mother Is A Machine," Catherynne M. Valente uses her opulent prose to describe something less beautiful and more unsettling. Ultimately, the story is about parents pressing their children into small copies of themselves, an interesting follow-up to the Nazarain story with its subtler message. I’m becoming quite a fan of Valente’s and look forward to reading more of her work.
"Inside the Tower" by Stephanie Burgis is another fairy tale retelling. This time, the source material is "Rapunzel," only the tables have been turned. The witch is dying and confined to the tower that once served as Rapunzel’s cage. Burgis examines the complicated relationship between a parent’s protection and a child’s autonomy, and how they are usually doomed to act out the lives that have been thrust upon them. It works as a nice companion to the Valente piece.
"How to Bring Someone Back From the Dead" by Veronica Schanoes reminds me of Angela Carter’s "In the Company of Wolves" in the way fairy tale guidelines from many stories are deconstructed, then used to construct a new tale. There are rules for journeys though myth and folklore and woe to the hero or heroine who ignores them. But nestled under that is a more mundane and heartbreaking tale, and the question of how to save someone who cannot be saved. This is a story that haunts. I consider it to be the best of this fine group of stories.
I was delighted to note a second story from Catherynne M. Valente in this volume. "The Ice Puzzle" is also a fairy tale retelling, but this one mines Hans Christian Andersen’s "The Snow Queen" instead of the more familiar Grimms tales. "The Ice Puzzle" is told from the point of view of the Snow Queen herself. She collects little boys and uses their remains as a sort of sculpture. But she also stands as a representation of a primal feminine power, an aspect of an ancient goddess that takes turns as mother and lover. Valente avoids the obvious female empowerment angle, instead going for something more profound and unsettling. The Snow Queen’s actions are not a triumph or a failure; they are presented as eternal and inevitable. It should come as no surprise that I liked this one.
The final story, "In Grandmother’s House" by Ainsley Dicks, is yet another fairy tale retelling, this time "Little Red Riding Hood." Though this is an often visited tale, Dicks manages to make it feel new by combining the grandmother and the wolf. This tale also contained wisps of Angela Carter. The only quibble I had with it was the timeline. The time the old woman spent as a wolf seemed too long for no one to have noticed she was gone. But overall, it is a minor point as far as the narrative is concerned, and I enjoyed the story.
Publisher: Prime Books
Trade Paperback: $10.00
Trade Paperback: $10.00