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Full disclosure: I was given a copy of the book for an honest review by one of the contributing authors and I helped edit the story, by this author, slightly before it was published in this anthology. So needless to say, I knew before reading this book in its entirety that I would be enjoying at least one of the stories.
Reviewing anthologies is a bit tricky because I always like certain stories more than others. That was definitely the case in this book. Though, I’m happy to report that I enjoyed a lot more stories than ones I didn’t enjoy. It’s not often that I get to read short fiction that is fantasy/sci-fi and I found the overall experience to be rather nice. It was a mix of redone fairytales, surprise Christmas tales, spooky ghost stories, and stories from other planets. I read about grave digging, goblins in caves, the northern lights, and so many other little surprises.
I liked the stories that surprised me. Some were so good, I wished I had more. I’d read the whole book if the story continued on (like the one about the Koi or the magic mirror). Others, just didn’t seem to compare and I was unsure how they made the cut…
My favorite story was of course the one I already knew: “Queen of the Sunward Asteroid Belt,” by Jennifer Jeanne McArdle. It was inspired by the legend of Nyai Loro Kidul / Queen of the South Sea from Indonesian folklore. The story follows Kidul, a young woman who escapes the monotonous life of military school for one of poetry. She’s soon pulled into the politics of her planet and finds herself falling for and writing the speeches for the only person brave enough to run against the planet’s current corrupt political leader. There’s poetry, politics, romance, betrayal, aliens, explosions, space travel, and a little mythology mixed in too. This story has a little of everything. I would read the book of this story too, or watch the movie.
I went to school with Jennifer and I knew she could write fantasy. She seems to build worlds out of nothing. This world has a weird plant life that grows super fast. The characters always seem to be cutting the plants out of doorways. I don’t think I’ve ever read a sci-fi by her before, but of course it’s great. The planet has so much background for a short piece of fiction. I got lost in this setting, in a good way. The asteroid belt was almost its own separate world of its own. I could visualize each place so well: the military academy, the family home, the cafes, and the warehouse where it all goes down at the end. The setting of this piece is really just so incredible. But, the plot with all the different elements is what made the longest story in this anthology breeze by.
All in all, I’d give this book an 8/10. But, I’d give “Queen of the Sunward Asteroid Belt” a 10/10. Keep writing, Jen! I’ll keep reading.