Mythopoeic Award

The Golem and the Jinni: A magical mural of the immigrant experience

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

A Genie. A golem. Nineteenth-century New York City. Boy, did I want to love this book. Drawn by its come-hither characters, its promise of poetry, and by its dark side in the form of a truly nasty character, I really, really wanted to love it. And truth is, I liked The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. But in the well-trod words of middle school, I didn’t “like like” it. Oh, it was fun, it made me smile sometimes and think sometimes and feel a bit sad at other times. I enjoyed hanging out with it for the length of its near-500 pages. But, despite that fire-genie at its heart, there just wasn’t that spark. I just wanted to be friends.

We meet our two fantastical characters early on via two different storylines. The Golem, Chava, travels to 1899 New York on a steamer and finds herself ashore in... Read More

The Wood Wife: A quiet, intimate novel

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Wood Wife by Terri Windling

Our heroine, Maggie, is reeling from her divorce and drifting rather aimlessly through life — she considers herself a poet but hasn't written a poem in years.

Then, her mentor dies mysteriously — drowned in a dry creekbed — and inexplicably leaves her his house in the Southwestern desert. She moves there, hoping to research a biography of him. At first, Maggie doesn't like the desert; it seems sterile, forbidding, devoid of charm. Then one night a pooka cuddles up to her in bed, and nothing is the same after that...

Maggie soon discovers a world of magic in the desert (and we, the readers, discover it right along with her), and digs up some fascinating secrets about her mentor's life. And suddenly, all the pieces come together.

Both a mystery and a fantasy, The Wood Wife (199... Read More

Briar Rose: Fairy tales and trauma

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

In the 1980s, Terri Windling created the FAIRY TALE SERIES, a collection of stand-alone retellings for adults, featuring some of the best writers in the field. The series continued into the early 2000s and spans a wide variety of styles, tones, and interpretations of the tales. Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose (1992) was the sixth in the series and combines its fairy tale with an all-too-real historical horror. It won the Mythopoeic Award in 1992, and was nominated for the Nebula.

Becca, the heroine, is a young Jewish woman who grew up being told fairy tales by her grandmother, Gemma. Becca’s favorite was Sleeping Beauty, though Gemma didn’t tell it in the standard way. Now Gemma is dying, and on her deathbed... Read More

The Porcelain Dove: A gothic fairy tale

The Porcelain Dove by Delia Sherman

Years ago, I got into “fantasies of manners” at about the same time as I was going through a big Revolutionary France phase. When I heard about Delia Sherman’s The Porcelain Dove (1993) — a fantasy set in that time period, and which won the Mythopoeic Award for 1994 — it sounded like the perfect book for me. I could never find it in the used bookstores, though. (I did, before I successfully committed the title to memory, buy two different other books thinking they might be it.) The rise of e-books has fortunately made it possible for us to track down some of our elusive great white whales, or in this case, our porcelain doves.

I don’t know what gave me the idea The Porcelain Dove would be a light, frothy novel. It is not. It is also, c... Read More

The Song of Rhiannon: Problems with the source material

The Song of Rhiannon by Evangeline Walton

The Song of Rhiannon (1972), the third volume in Evangeline Walton’s MABINOGION TETRALOGY, begins with Manawyddan, son of the sea god, haunted by grief and feeling directionless after the events of The Children of Llyr. (I haven’t read The Children of Llyr, but I have read “Branwen Daughter of Llyr,” the medieval Welsh tale on which it is based. It features a Red Wedding’s worth of deaths.) His friend Pryderi, prince of Dyfed, gives him new purpose in life by offering him a home at his palace and the chance to court Pryderi’s widowed mother, Rhiannon.

The Song of Rhiannon is based on the third... Read More

Bridge of Birds: Two five-star reviews

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Welcome to a “story of ancient China that never was”. Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds (1985) is a real romp of frenetic pace and fairy-tale style mingled with the mythology and legends of ancient China. It's as bonkers and as brilliant as they come.

The story centres on a simple but warm-hearted peasant boy, nicknamed Number 10 Ox for his great strength and the order of his birth. Upon learning that all of the children in his village have been struck down by a terrible disease he sets out to Peking seeking a wise man. Down a grimy back street he stumbles upon the only wise-man he can afford, a cantankerous old trickster, with “a slight flaw in his characternamed Li Kao. Together they set off to find the “root of power that will save the children. What ensues is a quest that takes the pair across the breadth of China, fro... Read More

Redemption in Indigo: Clever and heartwarming retold folktale

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Redemption in Indigo (2010) by Karen Lord is a beautiful, sly, innovative book that is doing much more than it seems to be on the surface. The frame story is the folktale of Ansige the glutton. Lord’s retelling takes Paama, a skilled cook and Ansige’s estranged wife, as its protagonist. At the beginning of the book, she has left Ansige and returned to her own family to decide what she’ll do next. But after missing his wife’s constant attention to his endless appetite, Ansige comes looking for her. In typical folktale logic, he is humiliated three times, tricked by djombi (who are spirits or deities), before leaving Paama in peace.

But where the folktale ends, Lord’s novel really begins. Because after Ansige leaves, Paama is left with the Chaos Stick, a magical artifact that ... Read More

Doomsday Book: Historically robust time travel with deeply satisfying characters

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Although it took a good two-thirds of the novel for me to decide, I've come to the conclusion that I really enjoyed this multiple award-winning book by Connie Willis. At its core, Doomsday Book is sci-fi time travel, but it’s got depth and intelligence, and leaves little wonder that it won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Novel (in 1992 and ’93, respectively), as well as the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1993, and a nomination for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (also in 1993).

Doomsday Book follows two parallel stories separated by 500 years. In the 21st century, history professor James Dunworthy finds himself caught amidst an epidemic, trapped in a quarantine and unable to confirm the safety of his most b... Read More

The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye: A great way to spend a frosty evening

The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A.S. Byatt

[At The Edge of the Universe, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us. Today we have two reviews of A.S. Byatt's The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye.]

The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye is a collection of five stories, or more accurately, four stories and a novella, since the title story is actually quite long; it takes up half the book.

First we have "The Glass Coffin," which is excerpted from Byatt’s stellar novel Possession. It's a fairly standard princess-rescuing sort of fairy tale, starring a young man who chooses adventure over good sense, and is rewarded for it.

Then c... Read More

Sunshine: Rebecca throws in the towel

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

I do not know what I have given you tonight...

My strange and frustrating relationship with the books of Robin McKinley continues. Pretend that there's a picture hanging on your wall. Everyone who sees it raves about it: the colours, the texture, the composition, the style. People want copies of it so that they can pass it around. Everyone loves staring at it for hours on end. But as try as you might, and as much as you can recognize the skill that went into painting it, it just doesn't appeal to you. You're not even sure why, so you keep staring at it in a futile attempt to find out. Such is my relationship with McKinley's books.

I know she's a good writer. She's got the fans and the awards to prove it. Clearly I'm the person with the problem, right? And yet try as I might, and as much as I want to, I just can't connect with her characters or he... Read More

The Uncertain Places: The quieter style of contemporary fantasy

The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein

The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein is the story of a family haunted by a long-ago pact with the fairies. Like all fairy tales, it’s also a story about human problems, so it’s easy to find yourself within these pages even if mysterious beings have never cleaned your house in the middle of the night.

In 1971, Berkeley students Will and Ben go to visit the eccentric Feierabend family who live in a rambling house in Napa Valley. Ben is dating the eldest Feierabend sister, Maddie, and wants to introduce Will to the second sister, Livvy. Will thinks Ben’s trying to palm off a less attractive “pale shadow” of Maddie, but when he meets Livvy, he’s smitten. As their relationship grows, so do the mysteries surrounding the Feierabends — and then something terrible occurs and Will must outwit the fairies to bring back his love.

G... Read More

Solstice Wood: A good place to start with McKillip

Solstice Wood by Patricia McKillip

Solstice Wood is a sequel (of sorts) to Patricia McKillip's earlier novel Winter Rose. The latter book is a dark and intricate fairytale based on the ballad of Tam Lin, in which a young girl attempts to free her love from the designs of a faerie queen. Though still set in the mountains around Lynn Hall, Solstice Wood takes place hundreds of years later, as contemporary men and women deal with the repercussions of Rois Melior's dealings with the fey-folk.

Sylvia Lynn has escaped her family and heritage to live in the city, but a phone call from her grandmother, informing her of her grandfather's death, calls her back home again. There she finds herself getting pulled ever tighter into the tangled web of secrets, family problems, and ancient woods that surround her ancient home. As a direct descendant of ... Read More

Little, Big: Bittersweet and unforgettable

Little, Big: or, The Fairies' Parliament by John Crowley

"All Part of the Tale. Don’t Ask Me How…"

This review is going to be well-nigh impossible to write, as the subject matter is so impossible to describe. Well, John Crowley's Little, Big is definitely a book. That's a good start. But the second I try to narrow down rudimentary elements like plot and character, my brain gets a bit fuzzy. It's about a family. And a house. And how this family lives in the house which is situated on the borders of another world which sometimes intrudes upon their own, and so is aptly named "Edgewood." Beyond that, it gets more complicated. Or maybe simpler. It's hard to be sure.

It begins with a man named Smoky Barnable traveling from The City (though it's never named, it's clearly meant to be New York) toward the mysterious house of Edgewood in order to marry his physically l... Read More

The Stress of Her Regard: Haunting, creepy, and addictive

The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

I thought I was sick unto death of vampire novels until I read this one. The Stress of Her Regard reminds me of Anne Rice at her best, some years ago, except with more action and less description of the carpeting.

The story centers around the nephelim, Lilith's brood. Seductive, serpentine, and deadly, they are succubi and vampires, draining blood and vitality from their hosts even as they inspire them to creativity. One of these beings attaches itself to Byron and Shelley's circle of expatriate poets, and the drama begins.

We see this through the eyes of gynecologist Michael Crawford, who gets drunk and puts his wedding ring on a statue's hand at the bachelor party — and finds his wife murdered the morning after the wedding, in a scene reminiscent, probably intentionally, of Dr. Fr... Read More

Waking the Moon: One of my Desert Island books

Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand

I'm on either my third or fourth copy of Waking the Moon, I can't remember which. I first read it eleven years ago, loaned it to everyone I thought might be remotely interested, sometimes didn't get it back, and never felt quite right when I didn't have it on my shelf. This is one of my Desert Island Books.

The plot revolves around Sweeney Cassidy, an insecure college freshman who goes wild in her first semester away from home. She skips classes, stays out all night, and drinks staggering amounts of alcohol. Into this haze come the ethereal, effeminate Oliver and the seductive queen-bee Angelica, who become her best friends, and with both of whom Sweeney falls in love.

Sweeney has more on her plate than hangovers and term papers, however. Angelica turns out to be the chosen avatar of a long-forgotten goddess, and the college is controlled by the Benanda... Read More

Breath and Bone: Carol Berg has left me a spoiled fantasy reader

Breath and Bone by Carol Berg

Anyone who's read my review of Flesh and Spirit knows that I was a little bit disappointed in some aspects of the book (I maintain that this is due to the fact that Carol Berg has left me a spoiled, fussy fantasy reader). So how did Ms. Berg do this time around?

Okay, fair enough, Breath and Bone starts a little slow. This isn't a huge surprise, since the story is more like one book broken into two, than two separate books. Yet despite being a bit slow, it's not as though you're learning nothing. In fact you learn a great deal. Some of these things came as no surprise to me (likely because I had only just finished reading the first one) whereas others made my jaw hit the floor. And I simply love what Berg has done with Navronne. Things and people are just not what they first seem. It's difficult to get into without spoiling the plot,... Read More

Ombria in Shadow: Dreamy and intricate tale

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

Like all of Patricia McKillip's books, Ombria in Shadow is a dreamy, intricate tale, made memorable by her distinctive poetic prose. Symbols, circumstances and meanings can be interpreted on any number of deeper levels, making her books ones to be savored and re-read. If you are a lover of eloquent poetry and subtle imagery, then let Ombria in Shadow be the first of McKillip's range of stories to let you drift away on language that must have been meticulously chosen in order to create a sense of faery and dreaming.

The royal prince of Ombria is dead, leaving a child-heir, a grieving mistress and a confused bastard nephew at the mercy of Domina Pearl ('The Black Pearl'), the regent of the city, who is seemingly immortal and has her own dark plans for the ruling of the oldest city in the world. Casting the young mistress Lyd... Read More

Anansi Boys: Neil Gaiman + Lenny Henry = Twice the Entertainment

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman+ Lenny Henry = Twice the Entertainment

I like Neil Gaiman's style — his writing is easy, intelligent, well-edited, dryly humorous, and just plain charming.

Anansi Boys is no exception, and it's especially charming in audio format, thanks to Lenny Henry, an English stand-up comedian whose deep rich voice and character comedy is absolutely perfect for this novel which is based on the African/Caribbean mythology of the trickster spider god Anansi (introduced in American Gods). Henry's voices are brilliant (especially the old Caribbean women) and he had me literally smiling nearly all the way through the story. Actually, if it weren't for Lenny Henry, I'd have to say that I probably would only give this novel 3.5 stars instead of 4.

That's because this is not Gaiman's tightest work. It's about... Read More

The Orphan’s Tales: Each story is brilliant and brilliantly told

THE ORPHAN'S TALES by Catherynne M. Valente

I haven't read any fantasy quite like Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales duology. This is the story of a young orphan girl who is shunned because of the dark smudges that appeared on her eyelids when she was a baby. She lives alone in a sultan's garden because people think she's a demon and nobody will claim her. However, one of the young sons of the sultan, a curious fellow, finds her in the garden and asks her about her dark eyes. She explains that there are wonderful stories written on her eyelids and that a spirit has told her she must read and tell the stories; Then the spirit will return and judge her. The prince loves stories, he begs her to tell him one, and so she begins.

The rest of In the Night Garden and its sequel In the Cities of Coin and Spice is a collectio... Read More

Stardust: Full of magic and whimsy

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Go, And Catch a Falling Star...

If you like fantasy stories filled with magic, adventure and romance, but are getting sick and tired of boring, long-winded fantasy epics, then look no further than Stardust. There are no long histories, family trees or endless descriptions of culture, landscapes and back-story. This is just a sweet, simple fairytale told by a great storyteller. Though be warned — the original fairytales were not written for children, and Stardust follows in their literary footsteps, by including several violent, sensual and bittersweet scenes. It might be tempting to read this book aloud to children (particularly if you've seen the recent movie adaptation), but this is something I would strongly advise against!

Set in the Victorian Era out in the English countryside, the town of Wall is n... Read More

Flesh and Spirit: Elegant, beautifully crafted

Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg

With the second book of The Lighthouse Duet, Breath and Bone, now out, I decided to refresh my memory, as it's been a full year since I last read this one. I can remember being distinctly disappointed with it. Yet after some of what I've read this year (some of it being absolutely awful) I'd have to say my mind has changed somewhat.

This year my poor eyes have suffered so much awkward prose and poorly placed punctuation that Carol Berg's elegant, beautifully crafted work was a real breath of fresh air. Poetic without being overwrought, her prose is just amazing. Even when her characters sound archaic it fits together seamlessly, without being tiresome or trite, because Berg's world and words are built so consistently. She never just sticks in Ye Olde English to show off her mad literary skillz ... Read More

The Curse of Chalion: Beautifully written, excellent audiobook

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold has long been esteemed in the science fiction genre, so I expected great things from The Curse of Chalion, and I'm happy to report that I wasn't disappointed. This is an excellent piece of work! Bujold's story is completely fresh, and the world-building and magic system are unique, too. I was hooked from page one and it proceeds at a pleasant pace with plenty of surprises and plot twists. Characterization is deep and somehow Bujold made me really like the main character, Cazaril, right from the start, even though he is not the type of hero I thought I preferred. As a psychologist, I especially appreciate how the characters realistically maintained their natural personalities throughout the story while maturing (or becoming more immature) as they grew from their experiences.

And, so importantly, The Curse of Chalion... Read More

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: We love it

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I'm giving Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell a 5 for the simply reason that I thoroughly enjoyed it all the way through, but I'd warn all readers to be more wary than usual of reviews (including this one). More than many books, this one I think will be a matter of true personal taste and experience will be your only truly accurate guide.

To begin with, Strange is often referred to as a "fantasy" novel, an "adult" Harry Potter (ignoring Potter's self-obvious claim to millions of "adult" readers). If you're expecting fantasy in the form of Harry Potter magic (though done by bigger people employing bigger words) or Lord of the Rings-like quests and elves, be advised neither is here. Fantasti... Read More