REVIEW: “The Chameleon’s Gloves” by Yoon Ha Lee

Review of Yoon Ha Lee, “The Chameleon’s Gloves”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

You can never go too wrong with a swashbuckling space adventure. Two thieves (one exile with extraordinary lockpicking abilities and one pilot) are bribed and threatened into stealing a superweapon that could blow up thirty thousand light-years worth of space. It’s a wild ride with a fascinating and ingenious narrator at the helm.

My only complaint is that the ride was, perhaps, too wild. Our narrator, Rhehan, switches allegiances between factions several times, almost at the drop of a hat. The stakes (thirty thousand light-years worth of space!!) seem very high, and yet Rhehan is fairly nonchalant about playing hot potato with such a powerful weapon. I felt that in the kaleidoscopic narrative of shifting loyalties, Rhehan’s haunted past and history with their clan (one of the factions) was lost as a theme, only to return at the end as though we should have been following it the whole time. Overall, the story caught and held me, but I wondered if the complicated plot eclipsed some of the finer nuances of characterization.

REVIEW: “From the Archives of the Museum of Eerie Skins: An Account” by C. S. E. Cooney

Review of C. S. E. Cooney,  “From the Archives of the Museum of Eerie Skins: An Account”, Uncanny Magazine Issue 41 (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Isabel Hinchliff.

Formatted as an interview transcript, this captivating tale takes place on a university campus populated by people with magical abilities, including witches, wolfcasters, and warlocks. Our narrator, a wolfcaster, is nigh-invulnerable just as long as she keeps her pelt safe, but with a rich warlock targeting her, this doesn’t last long. Her path to revenge is darkly humorous, playing on the failures of our own present-day justice system. 

The voice of our narrator, Firi, is so robust that it seems to burst from the page, unloading fiery commentary. I reveled in her energy, her exuberance, and her dauntlessness. There was something profoundly comforting about the way her harrowing tale was told from the perspective of herself in the future, after the conflict had been resolved and she had clearly moved on to accomplish great things with her life. While the interview transcript formatting did seem a little unnecessary at times, it generally added a lot to the worldbuilding, giving me a sense that we were being told about only one small part of an entire world full of cutthroat politics. On the whole, it’s a tight piece with more than enough detail for a second read: plenty of “aha” moments! A deeply satisfying story.

REVIEW: “A Moral Majority” by Nikoline Kaiser

Review of Nikoline Kaiser, “A Moral Majority”, Luna Station Quarterly 46 (2021): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

This was a very different sort of love story than the one in “Forestborn” (read the review), but every bit as lovely, and the way it was underpinned by the collective will, of the entire town of Goldville, to do the right thing in support of Angela and Marigold in their time of need was something quite special. If Kaiser weaves this strength of moral virtue into the rest of her writing, then I want to read more of it.

REVIEW: “Bridal Choice” by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

Review of Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, Eve Mason, trans., “The Enchanted Prince”, in A String of Pearls: A Collection of Five German Fairy Tales by Women (2020): 53-56 — Order here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

In fairy land there is a handsome young accomplished and most definitely eligible fairy prince, his only flaw that he allows his wit to tend towards cruelty. His mother the fairy queen instructs him to travel to planet earth to find a bride suitable to match him, and of course all the women he meets are impressed by his many virtues and they all seek to flatter his own vice, until the latter almost overcomes the former. Of course, the cure is to be found in a gentle human girl who cares naught for his boasts, because of course no profligate fairy prince could ever be fixed except through the reproof of an innocent woman. The structure of the story was stereotypical and trope-y, but the details that fleshed out the structure were strange and sometimes unexpected.
This was an odd little story!

(Originally published in German in 1892.)

REVIEW: “The Enchanted Prince” by Caroline Stahl

Review of Caroline Stahl, Eve Mason, trans., “The Enchanted Prince”, in A String of Pearls: A Collection of Five German Fairy Tales by Women (2020): 43-51 — Order here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The premise is straightforward: Miranda, Armgard, and Wulfhilde are warned by their mother not to go into the forest, for fear that they will be lured into the realm of the enchanted prince, fated to live there until a princess can come and rescue him (though this was a nice twist on the usual damsel in distress!). Of course, they end up in the forest…

But the execution was marvelous. This was a wonderful Frankenstein’s monster of a story, such a conglomeration of different bits. Parts of it reminded me so intensely of The Silver Chair that I wonder if C. S. Lewis had read Stahl’s story, or another variant of it. Other parts were reminiscent of Bluebeard’s wives. And they were all tied together with a lovely quality of language that Mason’s translation really highlighted.

REVIEW: “The Realm of Wishes” by Louise Brachmann

Review of Louise Brachmann, Eve Mason, trans., “The Realm of Wishes”, in A String of Pearls: A Collection of Five German Fairy Tales by Women (2020): 35-41 — Order here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This was the most traditional of all the tales: Edwy, a destitute fisherman catches a fantastical fish — “golden and azure and crimson” (p. 35) — whom he intends to sell for a great price. But the fish speaks and promises to grant him endless wishes instead, if only he’ll throw her back. Edwy follows all the standard tropes, requesting ever bigger and grander wishes until he finally asks for something that cannot be granted, and all his wishes are reversed and he ends up back where he started, in his poor fisher hut. Unlike some versions of this story, though, there is no happy resolution, no moral; he is just as discontented then as he was to start with.

(Originally published in German in 1813.)

REVIEW: “Bots of the Lost Ark” by Suzanne Palmer

Review of Suzanne Palmer, “Bots of the Lost Ark”, Clarkesworld Issue 177, June (2021): Read Online. Reviewed by Myra Naik.

Featuring 9, the much loved bot from The Secret Life of Bots, a Hugo award winning story. It can be read as a standalone story, which indeed I did, before further research led me to understand that 9 has made an appearance in a previous story. Of course it’s next on my list.

Bots of the Lost Ark, however, was an amazing tale. I’ve read Palmer’s work before, and I’ve loved every single thing I’ve read of hers. This is no exception.

9 is basically the little bot that could, and every other character – human or glom – is so well written. The urgency, the moral dilemma, the instincts and feelings that bots and ships can have, and an overall poignant yet humourous feel make this an absolute masterpiece.

I want to say more words but I can’t find the right ones, which is something that pretty much never happens to me. Just read this. I love. This has been yet another Suzanne Palmer appreciation post.

REVIEW: “The Nymph of the Rhine” by Charlotte von Ahlefeld

Review of Charlotte von Ahlefeld, Eve Mason, trans., “The Nymph of the Rhine”, in A String of Pearls: A Collection of Five German Fairy Tales by Women (2020): 25-34 — Order here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

This is the story from which the anthology title’s string of pearls comes from; Ambrose the poor fisherman is visited one night by the nymph of the Rhine, who spins him a story of woe and makes a bargain with him: If he helps arrange a meeting so she can forgive her past lover, she will make him rich enough to marry his sweetheart.

I found this story fascinating: Right up until the very end, I did not know which of two ways it would end, and either one of them would have fit into the fairy tale trope. I also found interesting the juxtaposition of the clearly-supernatural nymph within a clearly Christian context: Even the nymph herself seems to feel she is a creature of God, and not of the devil. The final distinctive aspect of the story was how the message of equality between partners as the recipe for marital happiness was put into the mouth of a man, and not a woman. It was a strangely feminist message, and it had all the more impact because it wasn’t a woman arguing for it.

(Originally published in German in 1812.)