Monstrous Little Voices

Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales From Shakespeare's Fantasy World - Adrian Tchaikovsky, Kate Heartfield, Foz Meadows, Emma Newman, Jonathan Barnes

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A tale told through five different shorter stories, and by the hand of five different authors. “Monstrous Little Voices” picks some of Shakespeare's plays (“The Tempest”, “Macbeth”, “Twelfth Night”...) and extrapolates on their themes and characters. Gender identity, the roles a gender may impose on a person, one's decision to shake off those shackles and keep living without a care for the shape they're in, the bravery of women acting “like men” (to the dismay of said men, poor creatures!)... More than once are those explored, while all the stories gather around a plot of impending war and intrigue, under the watchful eyes of fairies with their own agendas, and deities with shady plans as well.

There are a lot of cameos and cross-references here, and not knowing the works from which they sprang would lead to missing on quite a few good parts, so be prepared to brush up your Shakespeare before diving into this collection, and to know who we're talking about when mentioning Miranda, Puck, Paroles or Helen—not to mention those characters who allude at yet other sources... much like Shakespeare himself found inspiration in various sources as well. And so, many, many times, the five tales entertwining here do so with their faire amount of echoes.

The first, second and third were clearly my favourites, both for their plots and for their themes. “Coral Bones” is the story of Miranda's journey, after she left her island and realised that life among men, abiding by laws written for Man by men, was nothing to write home about. I particularly liked her take on gender, on wanting to be “human” and “oneself” above anything else, of not agreeing with those for whom gender should define one's behaviour and ways of thinking. And this story definitely shows her as more resourceful and cunning than one would think. “The Course of True Love” was ripe with magic, metamorphoses, questioning about one's true nature—and seeing older people at the heart of romance was extremely refreshing, showing that love can be born anywhere, anytime. As for “The Unkindest Cut”, I liked its self-fulfilling prophetic contents, and how it played on twisting words and visions; its end is bittersweet, full of dark promises... but here, too, showing another female character who's determined to take her life between her hands (in an interesting twist, considering how blank she was at first, when all she wanted was to marry The Man).

On the other hand, I admit I didn't care much for stories #4 and #5. “Even in the Cannon's Mouth” felt too disjointed, a feeling made stronger as the story sometimes shifted to present tense. Finally, “On the Twelfth Night” tied the other stories in a way that somewhat made sense... but I have such a hard time with second person POV that trudging through those last pages wasn't too pleasant (it's even more jarring when the “you” is actually named, and isn't “you the reader”—this just doesn't make sense).

Conclusion: the first three stories were the root of most of my enjoyment here; I wished it had been the same with the others. 3,5 stars.