Month in Review

What I read in June 2020

I read two books this month, Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires and The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany.

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The book The King Of Elfland’s Daughter, with a green cover with an image of a white woman holding a knight on it, and the book The Heads of the Colored People, with a black cover and the outlines of four heads in blue, yellow, purple, and orange on it. Both books are laying on a black carpeted background.

Heads of the Colored People would be a difficult read at any point. The first story “Heads of the Colored People: Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology” is a network story about the police shooting of two black men, and the ripples and repercussions this has on the lives of other members of their community. The last story “Wash Clean the Bones,” features a professional funeral singer, and opens with her singing at the funeral of a young Black boy also killed by gun violence, who then struggles with her own trauma and son. All of the stories have a great sorrow in them. You hope for a better world for the protagonist in each story, even as the story careens forwards towards the continuation of cycles of trauma. The last story does end with a note of hope, a view towards the potential for an escape from the main character’s harm cycle.

I particularly liked the short stories that were connected to one another, revisiting a character from an earlier story to give a repeated but connected view of their life. The three stories featuring Fatima kept me riveted.

The King Of Elfland’s Daughter has been on my bookshelf since I think middle school, bought by my parents in an attempt to get me to read something other than the veterinarian adventure books I’d read in the span of like, an hour. I never read it, because there didn’t seem like there were any fun animals (some dogs do kill a unicorn, but I think that would have upset child me). So it sat gathering dust. I’m kind of glad I ignored it until now, because I don’t think I would have appreciated it in the same way I do now.

The writing is lyrical and I love the meandering, quiet nature of the story. King Alveric goes on a quest to find his wife after she returns to Elfland, but this involves him just walking through fields for years and years, the story hinging more on the passing of time than any great confrontation. Orion hunts, culminating in unicorn hunting, and though these scenes are filled with action, they are also filled with descriptions of twilight and nightfall. The passing of time moves slowly in the book, though we see one of the protagonists go from young man to an old man, and descriptions of light through a window changing as the day wanes are a delight.

The first chapter with the witch forging a sword from thunderbolts, retrieved from “the soft earth under her cabbages” was so good, I honestly would have been happy with that on its own, just a vignette about making a magical weapon.

Short Stories:

The Longest Season in the Garden of the Tea-Fish by Jo Miles is a delight. The worldbuilding and setting is so inventive. I love the symbiotic relationship between the tea-fish and the Uprooted. The mother-daughter relationship made me ache, and was so brightly written. The story and its themes of resilience and responsibility in the face of tragedy and great change, as well as the hope that there will be a better future through constant striving was something that was really helpful to me in the moment of reading.

Vajra Chandrasekera’s Half Eaten Cities is one of my favorite short stories, and The Translator, at Low Tide is another stellar piece of climate change fiction. After both, I felt like I needed days to recover. I loved the little details, sticking in you like thorns as you read, of the world beyond the narrator’s city, the camps on the continent, the rich who may still have social media. The narrator’s rage, the resignation, is relateabale to me, although I wish I could face climate change with the practicality of Eesha’s wife. The last paragraph is devastating. It got me worked up to move through my own inaction, at least for one day. I’d really recommend it if that’s something you need right now.

Nine Words for Loneliness in the Language of the Uma’u by M. L. Clark is about a member of the Uma’u species mourning the loss of his partner while trying to navigate galactic diplomacy. I love the afterlife Awenato visits in dreaming, it’s very unique while also feeling very lived in (if that can be said about an afterlife). The use of language, both as a framing for the story, and throughout as Awenato tries to navigate his loss and the Partnership and its expectations and rules, as well as a galactic conspiracy, is amazing. A wonderful story about love, loss, and language.

The Gremshu are my favorite of the alien species in this story, design-wise.

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