book reviews by Althea

Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories – Elizabeth Hand

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***** Cleopatra Brimstone.
A budding entomologist suffers a traumatic attack, and goes all Ms. 45 on some probably-undeserving men. Loved it. The supernatural/horror elements are unstinting, but the psychological/metaphorical aspects of the story are as delicate as butterfly wings, and carry the ring of truth.

**** Pavane for a Prince of the Air
Previously read in ‘Embrace the Mutation.’ I was slightly less enthused on a second read, but I’ll stick with 4 stars. “Unlike most of these stories, not horror at all, but a story of grief. A friend of the narrator (author? It feels very, very autobiographical), an old hippie, passes away, and the narrator participates in his widow’s neo-pagan death ritual.”

***** The Least Trumps
A tattoo artist lives a solitary life in her mother’s old cottage, on a remote Maine island. She battles agoraphobic panic attacks and still suffers from a bad breakup with her girlfriend. But when she buys a mysterious pack of tarot cards, that may have belonged to her favorite childhood author, something seems to change. Loved this story. It’s full of perhaps-unnecessary details (like real life) and inexplicable circumstances, redolent with a vivid love of art and literature. It’s also awfully, though strangely romantic.

***** Wonderwall
This is one of the very, very few stories I’ve read which accurately captures the experience of being young, rebellious, genuinely messed up, and simultaneously intelligent and potentially successful. I felt like it was almost… not about me, but about people I might’ve known. It’s also about an art-school dropout and about… not missed opportunities, but perhaps about opportunities that never were.

The Lost Domain: Four Story Variations
*** Kronia
Kronia was a Greek New Years’ festival, where role-reversal and wild partying were accepted. Hmm. I’m not sure I get the connection to this piece, which is about different possibilities, the many ‘roads not taken’ and their outcomes, focusing on a man and a woman who meet (or don’t) in childhood, or later, or not at all…

*** Calypso in Berlin
Previously read in ‘OBSESSION: Tales of Irresistible Desire.’
An ancient nymph, now living in the modern world, is a human man’s mistress. But her attitude toward relationships is still more like what one might find in Greek mythology than what our modern morality calls for…

**** Echo
A quietly post-apocalyptic tale which compares and contrasts the myth of Echo and Narcissus with a story of a lonely woman living on a solitary island, missing her lover and hoping against hope that he might return to her.

**** The Saffron Gatherers
After a long but non-committal relationship, a man and a woman are thinking that they might actually make the compromises needed to perhaps live in the same city… maybe even together. But the woman isn’t yet willing to drop everything, or cancel her upcoming research trip, investigating an ancient archaeological site struck by disaster. Nice details about art and artists, a vivid, lovely Caligornia setting… and a powerful and unexpected conclusion.

This excellent collection is now being released in eBook format by Open Road Media. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me know about it


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