Book Review: Monstrous Little Voices

Monstrous

Title: Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World

Editor: David Thomas Moore

Paperback: 336 pages; $8.00

Publisher: PUBLISHER (March 8, 2016)

Language: English

 

Is this a dagger I see before me?”

This famous line from Macbeth embodies a core element tying together a number of the stories in Monstrous Little Voices (Abaddon Books), a collection of new tales set in the fantastical worlds created by William Shakespeare. The aforementioned “dagger”, referred to as the knife in the tales is, like the ring of power in Lord of the Rings, an evil treasure, sought by various characters for a range of purposes, mostly revenge, but in the end it is the knife itself – or at least a major component of the knife – which wins out in apocalyptic fashion.

Commissioning editor David Thomas Moore has assembled some of the finest voices in genre fiction to do justice to the Bard’s realms. The volume consists of five interlocking stories featuring some of the most intriguing characters from Shakespeare’s fantastical plays such as The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and so on. In these stories the fairy realm is not the dream world as in the plays, but a real place in which Oberon and Titania rule and mischievous and malevolent fairy folk run rampant through the mundane world.

“Coral Bones”, by Foz Meadows, is probably my favourite story in the collection, though all of the tales are excellent. The first of two gender-bending stories features Miranda, daughter to Prospero, the feared sorcerer-Duke of Milan. Oppressed by her father, unloved by Ferdinand, Miranda seeks freedom; she is granted it when her childhood friend, the fairy spirit Ariel, returns. The denouement is pitch-perfect and the writing stunningly good.

In “The Course Of True Love”, by Kate Heartfield Pomona, a gifted hedge-witch of advancing years in fair Illyria is going about her own business when she spies a fairy gentleman trapped in a secret garden. Vertumnus, King Oberon’s emissary to the Duke, has been taken captive by proud Titania, and a war is in the offing…unless Pomona can prevent it. More gender-bending, adventure, intrigue and mature love makes for a richly rewarding read.

Award-winning Emma Newman gives us a fabulous tale, “The Unkindest Cut”: Lucia de Medici has been seeking to marry to end a devastating war, but she is thwarted in her goal and instead unwittingly turned into an assassin.

“Even in the Cannon’s Mouth”, by Adrian Tchaikovsky, sees the country of Illyria’s Duke Orsino raising powerful allies in a last-ditch attempt to win the war. Opening, like The Tempest, with a shipwreck, the story features Don Pedro and his brother John, wise old Jacques and the physician Helena who try to reach Milan to appeal in person for the wizard Prospero’s aid. With multiple points of view and storylines intermeshing at the end, I found this story probably would have worked best at novel length. Excellent as it was, I felt there was almost too much going on in a relatively short space.

Written – brilliantly and boldly – in the second person, “On the Twelfth Night”, by Jonathan Barnes, is about Anne Hathaway, though in this universe her husband is not The Bard of Avon but rather a glovemaker and aletaster. The proud mother of three has her life turned upside down when strangers, oddly familiar, come to her door and whisk her husband away. What is their business, this terrible danger they say we all face? What is the lattice, and what part must her Will play to save it? We discover that this universe is but one of many, with countless Shakespeares, though not all of them playwrights. The apocalyptic ending I felt was also a metaphor – a great blank white page in which nothing is created.

While not all of the stories were completely to my taste, I cannot deny that they are all, in their own way, wonderful. Certainly this is one of the most original, and brilliantly-written anthologies I have read for some time and I absolutely recommend you pick it up.

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