Because of the holidays, I will be posting less for the next few weeks. So look for my posts on Thursdays!
There will be small spoilers scattered throughout, so read with caution. I don’t think that I completely spoiled anything, but if you’re sensitive about spoilers, you probably shouldn’t read this.
I read the prompts before I read the stories, so that may have impacted my opinions of them. I don’t think it entirely matters whether or not you read the prompts before or after, and I don’t think I lost anything by doing this.
I will not be reviewing the things written by the booktubers after the stories because, when I tried, most of them ended up saying things like “there’s really not much to say about this…” and then basically summarizing what they said. It was repetitive and added nothing to the review, so I’m not including it.
“The Blood of Imeriv” by Renee Ahdieh
This story was really hard to get into. I found myself reading paragraphs and then having to go back and reread the same paragraph because I just didn’t absorb anything I had just read. I wanted to get into it, but, no matter what I did, I just couldn’t. It was repeatedly said that the main character was controlled by his emotions, but, other than yelling at his sister, kicking the robot, and, you know, what happened in the last two pages of the story, he seemed almost emotionless. He felt more like a moody teenager than a real villain. Yes, I know, the last two pages of the story. That’s certainly not the behavior of a moody teenager, but it did not seem truly villainous. Maybe there were more emotional bits that I just didn’t pick up on? Like I said, this story wasn’t something that really grabbed my attention or pulled me in, so there’s every possibility that I missed something.
Two out of five stars.
“Jack” by Ameriie
Unlike the last story, this story captured my attention from the first line. The best part of this story is that the foreshadowing is right there. Right in the first line. And then it comes back in the end in a way that you will never expect. Maybe if you paid very, very close attention, you could figure out what was happening before the end, but part of what makes it so amazing is that you don’t. While reading it, I was actually thinking that it’s kind of weird because there isn’t really a villain, is there? Oh, how I was wrong. There is a villain, but they’re written so well, and you sympathize with them so much that you don’t even realize that they are the villain.
This story ripped my heart out of my chest and crushed it. Five out of five stars.
“Gwen and Art and Lance” by Soman Chainani
The prompt for this one was a mix of modern day King Arthur and the Persephone-Hades myth. I don’t like King Arthur, and I think that Hades and Persephone are creepy and not at all something that could or should be a love story, so you’d think that I wouldn’t like this one that much. But I did. There’s just something about it that pulled me in. Maybe because it’s told in text messages? I love any story that’s told in text messages or found documents, or anything that isn’t normal. Even though there were things that were obviously inspired by the King Arthur legend, it didn’t feel like it was hitting you over the head with references, which I liked, since I don’t like the King Arthur legend. Or, at least, I don’t like the anti-female, everyone hate Morgan Le Fay way the Arthur legend is told now.
My one complaint is that it didn’t seem to fit with the theme of the anthology. It didn’t seem like it was really a tale of villainy. The characters didn’t seem like great people, but I don’t know if I would go so far as to call them morally gray, and that’s what I expected to get from these stories. To be fair, I wasn’t really thinking about any of that while I was reading because I was too busy enjoying the story, but it just seemed to be missing someone who could really be considered a villain. The things that people did to each other seemed to be more like catty, high school things than villain things. Maybe this is an attempt to have a different sort of villain? One who doesn’t murder, one who isn’t bent on world domination? But I feel like, if that’s the goal, it’s almost saying that everyone could be a villain, and that’s a little too real and too close to reality for me. Especially now, when a lot of people seem to be horrible, and when you don’t know who you’ll find out is a “villain” next. If this is social commentary, it’s not bad social commentary, it’s just TOO SOON, and I tend to not look for that kind of thing in the books I read anyway.
I could be wrong here, and I’m just speculating about why it could possibly be this way. It’s possible that none of this is social commentary and I’m just reading far too much into it.
Anyway, despite the things I didn’t love about this story, all of those things were things that I thought of after I read it, so I’m still giving it five stars.
“Shirley and Jim” by Susan Dennard
I’ve discovered that I don’t really like reading about romances with happy endings. They’re boring. They’re cheesy. They’re cliched. They all end up the same way, and, in my opinion, they all end up very unrealistic. However, I have discovered that I love reading about romances that are doomed. I devoured Daughter of Smoke & Bone, and that’s entirely a doomed romance. One of my favorite series, The Raven Cycle, is centered around a romance that can’t happen.
This romance is so gloriously doomed. It’s wonderful.
This was another that I didn’t expect to like because I’m not that into Sherlock Holmes retellings. I got one season into Sherlock on Netflix, but I had to force myself to watch it, and I watched it more to be able to understand the references than because I actually enjoyed the series. But this story is so much better. Why would I wait years between seasons when I could just reread this excessively? There are lines in this that are so beautiful, so amazing, and they’re just thrown in casually (and frequently). It’s not even like the rest of the story is very casual, and then there are some lines that just stand out because of their beauty. The entire story is beautiful, and then there are lines that just get deeper and more beautiful. It’s really stunning. I will now end up comparing every other story in this anthology to this one, and none of them will measure up (just like real life will never measure up to fairy tales).
Moriarty is written so well that, even though you know he’s not a good person, you like him. A lot. He’s written in such a likable way that I forgot he was the villain until the end. He’s relatable and he’s interesting and he seems worthy of being a love interest, and it’s all so easy to forget that he’s the villain.
One of my favorite parts of this story was the part about how justice isn’t real. I know that I just criticised the last story for possibly having some sort of social commentary, but it’s different when the social commentary doesn’t leave you with an anxiety headache (not that the other possible social commentary did, I’m just saying that a lot of social commentary and things that are happening these days do), and it’s something that you very much agree with. It’s worded so well, and, if I could fit all of it on a three by five inch note card, I would have written it down.
I feel like this story is going to be on the same level as “Love Will Tear Us Apart” for me. I’ll come back to it any time I feel really bad and need something familiar and comforting.
There’s literally nothing bad about this story. Five out of five stars.
“The Blessing of Little Wants” by Sarah Enni
This story wasn’t my favorite, but it really was not bad. Its greatest fault was simply that it wasn’t “Shirley and Jim”. Going into this one immediately after reading that probably wasn’t the best idea. I read about half of it and then put it down because I couldn’t get into it. I wasn’t absorbing it in the way that I knew I would if I wasn’t still thinking about the last story, so I decided to try to give it a little time. After eating dinner, watching a Pearl Jam documentary, stressing about literally everything that has ever happened and ever will happen, and listening to Audioslave for a while, I was ready to start it over and absorb it the way I knew I could if I wasn’t thinking about the other story.
I feel like there could have been more world building. There’s obviously a limit to the amount of world building you can do in a short story, but Bradbury did it beautifully every time, and I’m not asking for everything. I want more on how the magic system works in this world. I want more on who, what, and how Thomas is. I want an ending that’s a little bit longer, a little less rushed, and a little more explained. Like I said, I’m not asking for the world, I’m not asking for the moon upon a stick, I’m just asking for a little bit of information to kind of flesh out the world and make it seem more real. Don’t get me wrong, the world did still seem real, it didn’t feel forced or strange, it just could have been better.
Four out of five stars.
“The Sea Witch” by Marissa Meyer
I read the prompt for this before I read it, so I knew from the beginning that it was a doomed love. That said, there was something about it that wasn’t quite as satisfying as the other doomed loves that I’ve read about. Maybe because he was never really in love with her? Maybe because I didn’t get to see them actually be in love for any period of time. It was more a story of revenge than it was of doomed love. Which is not a bad thing at all, stories of revenge are great, too, I was just thinking there would be beautiful, doomed romance, and there wasn’t really any. I do like how this is kind of an origin story for the sea witch from the “Little Mermaid”, and I would totally accept this as cannon. The world building and character development are both good. I don’t know what else to say about this. It’s good. I liked it. It’s not the kind of doomed romance I like, but it’s still good.
“Beautiful Venom” by Cindy Pon
This was an interesting take on the Medusa myth. Normally I’m picky about retellings of myths because I was a huge mythology nerd as a child, but this one was done very well. It isn’t retold with the exact same gods and exact same mythology, but I think that makes it better. With a different set of gods, there’s more freedom with the way the myth can be retold, I think. Even though there wasn’t a lot of world building, it was very easy to picture the world.
Three and a half out of five stars.
“Death Knell” by Victoria Schwab
There was something about this that reminded me of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. There was a bit in that book about death (which I will not attempt to summarize because there’s just too much, and there’s no way to tell you about it without leaving some part of it out), and this story had death as a young boy. I really like short stories that start with one sentence paragraphs that pull you in. “Death is a boy with brown eyes.” How can you not want to finish that immediately?
Four out of five stars.
“Marigold” by Samantha Shannon
You can’t just remake the Erl King. And, if you are going to attempt to remake it (which you shouldn’t. It’s a horrible idea.), you have to do it impeccably. I think by this point you know that I don’t think that this one was done impeccably. I’ve loved the Erl King ever since I can remember. I remember plenty of times when I read it, or when my mother read it to me, but I was so young the first time that I heard it that I don’t remember. I know it so well, it’s weird to see any part of it changed. This story didn’t even really feel like the Erl King, it felt like a stereotypical young adult fairy short story. This story also felt a little slow, and I don’t know why it ended up being as long as it was.
The one thing I liked was that you go into it thinking one group is the villain and it turns out that you’re wrong.
“You, You, It’s All About You” by Adam Silvera
This was another that grabbed me from the beginning. It’s about a teenage girl who deals illegal, magic drugs. This is everything I want in a story. For some reason, the idea of magical drugs fascinates me (it was done on Doctor Who at least once, wasn’t it?) and I’ve liked reading about teenage criminals since I read White Cat when I was twelve. I could easily have read forty or more pages of this story, and, even though it has just the right amount of backstory, I want to know everything about this world.
Five out of five stars.
“Julien Breaks Every Rule” by Andrew Smith
Even though I liked this story, it has some low points. I’m pretty sure that I get the point of it, but I think it could have more of a point. Like, I get it, he knows where this guy lives, and this is foreshadowing, but I almost feel like I read fifteen-ish pages where literally nothing happened. Can he just kill people by thinking that he wants them to die? Is this Mara Dyer, but a fifteen year old boy who can do no wrong, instead of a sixteen or seventeen year old girl who falls in love with a guy I hate to love? I guess that this story had a realistic amount of swearing for a fifteen year old boy. So frequently authors ignore the fact that people in their early to mid-teens tend to swear just to sound cool.
Three out of five stars.
“Indigo and Shade” by April Genevieve Tucholke
I don’t know. It wasn’t bad, and it had an interesting concept, I just couldn’t get attached to the main character. I also had trouble figuring out exactly what time period the story was in. There was an angry mob, so that makes me think that it was some time a while ago (but maybe that says more about the state of the world I want to believe in), but he talked about fighting with a hipster guy, and that seems more like a now thing.
Two out of five stars.
“Sera” by Nicola Yoon
Even though this story was short, it wasn’t lacking in any way. So frequently stories of this length feel like they are, for lack of a better word, missing something. World building, character development, a complete idea or plot, something is missing. Not this one, though. It starts with people watching CNN and being worried, which I think is a relatable feeling to anyone in America right now. Just that can set the mood for the entire rest of the story, and it does it really well. It’s incredibly dark, but in a way that fits, and it’s amazing.
Five out of five stars.
When I averaged the ratings of all of these stories together, I got 3.9 stars. But I’m going to round it up to four.