Where the Veil Is Thin edited by Cerece Rennie Murphy & Alana Joli Abbott
Where the Veil Is Thin (2020), an anthology of stories about fairies and spirits, began as a Kickstarter. The project was successful, and the book is now widely available. Editors Cerece Rennie Murphy and Alana Joli Abbott have brought together a diverse group of authors with a wide variety of writing styles and approaches to the fae. While the tag line on the back cover says “These are not your daughter’s faerie tales,” some of the stories do read as if they might be intended for a youthful audience, while others are definitely not for kids. The stunning cover art is by Anna Dittmann.
The collection begins with a brief introduction by Jim C. Hines. In it, he discusses the enduring appeal of fairies and other spirits in many cultures throughout history. He also observes that the whole Tooth Fairy ritual is kind of creepy when you think about it. There are two creepy Tooth Fairy stories in Where the Veil Is Thin, so this is quite apropos.
On to the stories:
“The Tooth Fairies: Quest for Tear Haven” by Glenn Parris: As you might guess from the title, this is one of the tooth fairy stories. Parris has a clever idea about why the fairies are so interested in teeth: it’s not the tooth they want, per se, it’s the blood! These fairies are a variety of vampire, but too small to bite people, so they have to take their sustenance where they can get it. I liked the concept, but found the story just sort of grubby and gross. This is one of the ones that reads “young,” probably mostly because the main human character is a little kid.
“Glamour” by Grey Yuen: This is a detective story with a fairy twist. It took me a while to warm to it because the narrator Jack is such a curmudgeon (everybody get off his lawn!), but it turned out to be pretty clever. Jack is investigating the death of a pop star, and finds that she was something other than human. It’s a creative take on a famous fairy legend, and plays on the double meaning of the word “glamour” — if there were fairies in the here and now, it makes complete sense that they’d be celebrities!
“See a Fine Lady” by Seanan McGuire: This story is a standalone, not set in any of McGuire’s series. A beleaguered Target employee’s life changes forever when a woman rides a unicorn into her store. The story is hilarious (unicorns do not, it turns out, poop rainbows!), and also perfectly captures the experience of a soul-sucking retail job.
“Or Perhaps Up” by C.S.E. Cooney: Reeling from a recent breakup, a young woman meets disaster when she unearths an abandoned swan boat from a carnival ride and tries to take it out on the water. Along the way, Cooney beautifully fills in the warm relationship between the woman and her mother. The story is funny in places, though in a drier way than McGuire’s entry, and then when the heroine capsizes and finds herself in a surreal watery realm, the prose becomes dreamlike. And then the mother-daughter relationship reemerges to break your heart.
“Don’t Let Go” by Alana Joli Abbott: This is a take on the ballad of Tam Lin, but set on the Isle of Man, which has its own unique folklore. Rain, an American college student, meets one of the locals, who is sexy and mysterious and seems to be in thrall to an unpleasant older woman. It’s an enjoyable retelling, but Rain’s friend Jonas is right — she’s a terrible mythologist if she doesn’t recognize any of the names and terms that come up!
“The Loophole: A Story of Elsewhere” by L. Penelope: Rhenna is a Boo Hag, though she prefers the term Breath Witch. Rhenna needs to do certain weird and gross things to sustain her existence, and I found the ins and outs of this process really interesting. I would gladly read a full-length urban fantasy novel about her life in her city. Unfortunately, the fairy character is so powerful that he kind of takes over the latter part of the story in a fae-us ex machina, and I wasn’t as interested in him.
“The Last Home of Master Tranquil Cloud” by Minsoo Kang: A famous philosopher wrote an uncharacteristic treatise about women’s rights just before his death, and the narrator recounts the legend of how this topic attracted his attention. The story is written in the form of a parable or a historical document, so the style is kind of dry, but it takes a type of spirit that has been maligned as a seductress and puts a more empowering spin on her.
“Your Two Better Halves — A Dream, With Fairies, In Spanglish” by Carlos Hernandez: This is a Choose Your Own Adventure-type story, and completely surreal. Hernandez’s fairies are “half of one thing yoked haphazardly with half of another thing.” And the two things can be anything: an animal, an inanimate object, an abstract concept. So as you might guess, the story is quite weird! Because of this piece in particular, I’m going to recommend that you read Where the Veil Is Thin in paperback, because other reviewers have reported that it’s a pain to read “Your Two Better Halves” on an e-reader.
“Take Only Photos” by Shanna Swendson: An introverted office worker is disturbed by fairies partying in her house every night. The character is an adult with adult concerns, but the structure of the story felt younger at times. It just seemed a bit too tidy and the moral too obvious.
“Old Twelvey Night” by Gwendolyn N. Nix: Datura is an apple-tree spirit. This isn’t as pleasant as you might imagine; she’s only active during the winter when the apples are all fallen and withered, and there’s a lot of monotonous work involved in tending to the tree. Datura dreams of seeing the tree in summer and actually getting to eat a crisp apple. She falls in love with Tibb, one of the “mischief-things” that oppose the tree spirits and try to destroy the grove. This, like “Or Perhaps Up,” is the kind of thing I was looking for from this anthology: weird and pretty prose, and a palpable sense of longing.
“The Seal-Woman’s Tale: A Tale of Arilland” by Alethea Kontis: This story was kind of mood-whiplash for me. The first paragraph is “Ah, humans. My guilty pleasure, my fatal flaw. They were always just so … fun.” And the beginning of the story seems to be setting up a lusty, sexy story. Instead, “The Seal-Woman’s Tale” is extremely grim, and no humans are involved in the protagonist’s fate. This is a dark tale about a selkie who is enslaved by a troll-king with terrible ambitions. There are some heartbreaking moments that are really well done. I’m not sure how Kyria could have hidden her secret from Jason as long as she did, though.
“The Storyteller” by David Bowles: A lovely but very short story about a matriarch whose last yarn is very different from any she’s told before, and the great-granddaughter who figures out what it means. This is another one that feels “younger.” With its theme of reviving and continuing family traditions, it reminded me a bit of an old Joan Aiken story, “The Gift-Giving.”
“Summer Skin” by Zin E. Rocklyn: I’m not sure what kind of magical being the protagonist of this story is, but I know I don’t want to meet her in a dark alley! She has a skin condition, and as the tale begins, she is stalking a woman she believes can help her alleviate it. The skin condition is described in nauseating detail, and there are hints of worse things, made even more frightening by how the narrator dances around them instead of saying them head-on. “Summer Skin” is scary as hell and really effective at it.
“Colt’s Tooth” by Linda Robertson: The second tooth fairy story, this is set in Texas in 1867, a unique setting for fairies. It stars a six-year-old boy, Colt, and feels “young.” Colt’s mother takes him to the town barber to have his tooth pulled, but Colt can tell there’s something not right about the barber. The man is creepy indeed, but the story is tied up neatly with help from Ma and Pa, which (along with the young protagonist) is part of why it feels more kid-oriented.
As is often the case for anthologies, Where the Veil Is Thin is kind of a mixed bag. I’m glad I read it, because I got to enjoy stories from familiar authors and also find some new authors to check out. But the stories vary so much in tone and style that any one reader is unlikely to click with all of them, and that was true for me as well. I would recommend this collection most to people who are already a fan of at least one of the featured writers, so that you know there is something here you’ll enjoy, and you might also discover something new along the way.