Monstrous Little Voices – anthology

“The revels in the fairy court of Oberon are, it’s said, less glamorous than those of his wife’s bower, but more wild.”

Subtitled, ‘New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World’, this collection of short novellas takes characters from Shakespeare plays and continues their stories, expanding the world(s) of the Bard. You don’t need to be familiar with the plays, but you’ll undoubtedly get a lot more enjoyment out of this if you are – certainly, the gaps in my own knowledge were shown up in a couple of the tales.

After a brief, scene-setting prologue, we kick off with what turned out to be my favourite, Coral Bones, by Foz Meadows. This picks up with Miranda’s tale after the events told in The Tempest – and, in my opinion, rights a few wrongs done to the character! But that’s a secondary concern to the story, which takes the magical-to-mundane of the play back to the magical – loved it!

I’ve only relatively recently begun familiarising myself with Shakespeare’s work (via the live broadcasts in cinemas) beyond what I was taught at school, so there are still several plays I’m unfamiliar with. These gaps in my knowledge really showed here, with a lot of less-than-familiar (to me) characters. Adrian Tchaichovsky’s story in particular seemed to be trying to cram as many in as possible, and to be honest this didn’t really work for me – if you knew who they all were, that might be different, but I was finding it a little cluttered.

What makes this volume really interesting, I think, is that the stories aren’t entirely stand-alone: that is, they seem to follow on from each other. I’m not sure if this is true (did one author pass their tale to the next?) or if the brief each was given, or the editing, makes it seem that way.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love the idea of taking a body of work and giving it a shared ‘universe’, and then expanding on that. And I really love some of the ‘what happened next’ ideas, especially where they bring the original story more up to date for a modern audience. I’m already looking forward to a reread once I’ve seen a few more of the plays!

Kindle: 240 pages / 5 novellas
First published: 2016
Series: Monstrous Little Voices (1-5)
Read from 31st January – 14 February 2016 (arc from NetGalley)

My rating: 7/10 – really enjoyed it, but none as much as the first story

Occupy Me – Tricia Sullivan

“Out of the blue.”

Rather an appropriate opening line, given how I found this book – a random request on Netgalley, based on an intriguing blurb. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for! Multi-dimensional angels, evil multimillionaires on their deathbeds, people being possessed by… well, I’m so not spoiling that for you!

Occupy Me kicks off in the second person, which meant it did take me a while to figure out what was going on. I’m usually not a fan of being addressed as ‘you’ as a character – it rarely works, especially given that ‘you’ is male here – but after a couple of these sections I was surprised by how easily I got into it, and how immediate it made those segments. It really suits the character story, and gives such a great opening – of finding ‘yourself’ alone in a car with no recollection of how you got there, which might be less concerning if you weren’t driving! – so I take back my objections!

Alternating with these, the bulk of the story is told from a first person perspective, that of Pearl. Pearl wakes up enclosed in a refrigerator in a junkyard – and that’s soon the least of her worries! She’s not quite sure who she is, or – given that she has wings (sometimes) even what she is!

We’re soon off on a dangerous chase, as Pearl tries to track down a briefcase that seems to open into some version of hell. Said briefcase is also being pursued by a shadowy corporation, and a group calling themselves The Resistance – are their good deeds signs of some kind of precogniscence, or is there something dark in the bigger picture? Oh, and by the way – when ‘you’ woke up in that car, you had an odd briefcase with you…!

I love the ambition of this story, the sheer breadth of not-seen-this-before that it manages to cram into its relatively short length. However, I do think it could have been longer and explored some of the really out-there ideas a little more. As it is, I’m left intrigued by several of the concepts, perhaps a little puzzled still by one or two, and a little dizzy by the speed-plus-scope of the ending. But still: better to aim gloriously high and fall a little short, than to retread overly-familiar paths.

Not for sci-fi newbies: this is a seriously scratch-your-head-inducing slice of something genuinely fresh to this reader’s brain!

 

Kindle: ~266 pages
First published: 2016 (review copy obtained from publisher)
Series: none
Read from 14th-29th December 2015

My rating: 7/10