book reviews by Althea

Somewhere Beneath Those Waves – Sarah Monette ****

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I am a fan of Sarah Monette. At this point, I’ve read all her books save one – which I’ve got on the way to me right now. Her aesthetic resonates with me strongly.

‘Draco Campestris’ – A mood piece describing a museum which displays the bones of dragons. Full of lovely and disturbing details.

‘Queen of Swords’ – A king’s new bride is haunted by the ghosts of his previous wives.

‘Letter from a Teddy Bear on Veterans Day’ – A story about mourning a brother who was lost in Vietnam, and how that death tore a family apart.

‘Under the Beansidhe’s Pillow’ – Short-short about a supernatural creature moved by the plight of Irish immigrants.

‘The Watcher in the Corners’ – The child of a wealthy southern family (in the 1950s?) has disappeared. The sheriff interviews the young servant of the household. She doesn’t know what’s happened – but since she boy’s gone missing, the house seems haunted by a hostile presence. This story gets a lot of nuance and depth into a fairly standard horror plotline.

‘The Half-Sister’ – In a feudal/fantasy setting, a young woman deals with her half-sister’s decision to go back to a husband that she believes is abusive. Is he actually abusive? We don’t know, for sure, but the story perfectly captures the sorrow and rage of this situation.

‘Ashes, Ashes’ – A pregnant woman uncovers skeletons in the closet (well, skeletons, but not actually in a closet) when she moves into her husband’s childhood home.

‘Sidhe Tigers’ – short-short that perfectly captures the feeling of night terrors (as opposed to nightmares).

‘A Light in Troy’ – A fortress taken by conquerors. A woman, now a slave, part of the spoils of war. A child survivor. A librarian, who’s not a bad person, despite being one of those conquerors.

‘Amante Doree’ – In old New Orleans, a transgender courtesan gets involved in complicated politics and even more complicated emotions.

‘Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home’ – in a seaside town, a woman is caught in a loveless marriage, a selkie is trapped by the cruel man who has stolen and hidden her skin, and a creepy museum curator hold the spirits of female ship’s figureheads in his gallery. When the three elements come together, all will gain their freedom.

‘Darkness, As a Bride’ – Unwilling to give up a flesh-and-blood woman to a sea monster that demands the sacrifice of virgins, a town creates a female automaton.

‘Katabasis: Seraphic Trains’ – A modern retelling of the story of Persephone in the underworld. Except the message (skillfully and non-annoyingly delivered) here is that sometimes a piece-of-crap guy isn’t worth venturing into hell for, and that young women should learn to value themselves and their art – which is likely to be of more value than that of any self-styled arrogant, snotty Orpheus. Every teenager with a crush on some rock-star wannabe should read this.

‘Fiddleback Ferns’ – Weeds. Taking over. They can lead to extreme actions.

‘Three Letters From The Queen of Elfland’ – A husband flies into a fit of rage when he discovers letters, clearly from a lover, in his wife’s possession. The explanation is heartwrenching.

‘Night Train, Heading West’ – a poem.

‘The Séance at Chisholm End’ – I learned a new word: ‘epergne’! And also very much enjoyed this tale of a medium who uncovers a cruel woman’s secret crimes, and the housekeeper who runs off with him.

‘No Man’s Land’ – An injured soldier mysteriously wakes up in the body of a woman fighting on the other side. His new body is horribly damaged, showing signs of not only battle wounds, but rape and torture. He knows that it is ‘his’ side that has done these atrocious things. Yet, there seems to be no option but to adjust and carry on, now fighting on the other side. There isn’t much difference, really.

‘National Geographic on Assignment: Mermaids of the Old West’ – just one page. The title says it – read it.

‘A Night in Electric Squidland’ and ‘Imposters’ – both of these are Monette’s ‘buddy-cop’ supernatural adventures featuring the investigators Mick and Jamie. Rather different from most of the stories in this book; I’d recommend them more for fans of True Blood and urban/paranormal fantasy.

‘Straw’ – Monette mentions this was based on a dream, and it has that feel. Something terrible has happened in the word. Two random strangers were drawn together by that event, psychically joined, caught in something larger than either of them. Now, they are both in a psychiatric hospital, damaged. Can they survive… or transform?

‘Absent from Felicity’ – A reimagining of elements of ‘Hamlet.’

‘The World Without Sleep’ – Kyle Murchison booth (readers will recognize him from the stories in ‘The Bone Key’) ventures into a dark land inhabited by vampires, goblins and ‘shadows,’ bound, without time, into a bizarre and unhealthy relationship.

‘After the Dragon’ – the only story here that I felt was a bit heavy-handed. A woman terribly mutilated by a dragon attack meets a cancer survivor in physical therapy, and regains the will to live and to love her body.


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