My first book review of 2018! (And first blog post of 2018, period!) I'm planning to finally pulverize my enormous TBR and use it for a whole bunch of book reviews, so if all goes well, there should be a lot more posts like this in the coming months.
I'll be honest–much as I love the medium of short stories in general, I read a lot of them that I really don't like. And usually, the reason I don't like them is because the author went out of his or her way to make the story dark, depressing, and even downright nasty. It's a very common trope with short works. I believe it's because the author feels the need to pack a really strong punch into the narrative to make up for its limited length, because otherwise the reader won't feel like it was worth reading. However, it usually ends up as nothing more than a sucker punch, and leaves the reader dissatisfied anyway.
Yes, this is actually going to be a book review and not a rant about short stories. That paragraph was relevant because the stories in Daley Downing's new anthology, Dreamings and Muses, are the polar opposite of the self-indulgent, needlessly subversive tales one frequently comes across these days. Each one was engaging, satisfying, and uplifting. Some could perhaps stand to be a little longer, but that's not really a criticism–it just means that I enjoyed the brief taste enough to want more of the same.
(The following reviews are spoiler-free.)
A fantasy story in which the fantasy is kept largely off-screen. Normally, I'd consider that a drawback, but here it works perfectly. When I began reading it, I thought that it was setting up a portal fantasy of some kind, but the role the magical elements play is an unexpected twist. “Ordinary” life is on equal footing with the miraculous, instead of being dismissed early on, and it all fits together beautifully in the end.
Me and You
The genre of this story is more paranormal than fantasy. As in “Just Pretend,” the speculative elements don't quite play the role you'd expect. The story went in a very different direction than I had envisioned, and I loved it. “Me and You” explores themes of love, loss, marriage, and family with grace and sensitivity. It's easily the most moving story of the collection, and one that stayed with me long after I'd finished it.
This is one that could have stood to be a little longer. It's basically flash fiction; a snippet of something much bigger. However, it's a good snippet, and I want more of it. It's an example of what I like to call “post-Earth science fiction,” which I love. (Yes, I love stories involving the entire planet having been destroyed in some horrible cataclysm. I have no idea what that says about me.) It had a Titan A.E. feel, which I consider to be a huge compliment even though some might disagree. Loved that movie.
Tad Fallows and the Quarter Pints
Downing channels Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett here, and does it brilliantly–if all too briefly. This felt like the first chapter of a book, and I absolutely insist that she writes the rest of it. Preferably right now. It's a quick fantasy tale linked to the continuity of her stellar Order of the Twelve Tribes series. The voice is superb and the humor is delightful. As it's the last story in the book, it heightens the reader's desire for much more of Ms. Downing's work–and I'm happy to confirm that she is indeed writing more. (Check out her Twelve Tribes series, if you haven't already!)
As a whole, this was a highly enjoyable read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys clever twists on the short story format or the speculative fiction genre in general. I'm very impressed with Ms. Downing's skill in this medium, and look forward to reading more of her shorter pieces in the future.
Look for a review of Order of the Twelve Tribes Book 2, Rulers and Mages, on this blog in the near future!