Tag Archives: short stories

Review: Lance

In case you missed it, I’m basically obsessed with the 2018 Penguin Modern series. It’s a set of 50 modern classic samples that run about 60 pages each, to give the reader a taste of modern classic works and authors. I’ve read 11 of them now, have 1 left to read on my shelf, and just ordered 6 more. I can’t stop. Today’s title: Vladimir Nabokov’s Lance.

lanceAbout the book: This volume contains three of Nabokov’s short stories, written over a period of 20 years. These include: “The Aurelian,” “Signs and Symbols,” and “Lance.”

What connects all three stories is a very purple and plotless writing style that manages to be simultaneously beautiful and unsettling.

“Only by a heroic effort can I make myself unscrew a bulb that has died an inexplicable death and screw in another, which will light up in my face with the hideous instancy of a dragon’s egg hatching in one’s bare hand.”

I’ve read Nabokov’s Lolita in the past and loved it– as much as one can love such a story. Though it deals with alarming subject matter, Nabokov filled Lolita with vibrant characters and train-wreck tragedies I couldn’t look away from. I mention this because I expected to find similar aspects to love in his short fiction, and was ultimately disappointed on that count. I don’t remember such elaborately ornate prose in Lolita, but that seems to be the main focus in Lance. Whole paragraphs with no discernible purpose beyond aesthetic make up the bulk of this little book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I wish I had known to expect it when I picked up Lance because it’s not to my personal taste.

“The name of the planet, presuming it has already received one, is immaterial. At its most favored opposition, it may very well be separated from the earth by only as many miles as there are between last Friday and the rise of the Himalayas– a million times the reader’s average age.”

But let’s take a brief look at each of the stories.

“The Aurelian” features a shop-owner whose true passion is lepidoptery: the study of moths and butterflies. He sells what he needs to to make ends meet, but his heart is in his collection and his growing desire to travel and capture specimens of his own. An unexpected chance to do so leads the story to a surprisingly dark ending. This is the purplest of the stories and my least favorite of the bunch, though I appreciated seeing the intersection of Nabokov’s interests in literature and butterflies.

“Signs and Symbols” is the shortest and, in my opinion, simplest of these stories. What looks at first like an ordinary day– as ordinary as it can be, in this family– spirals to extremes through a series of large and small events revolving around a visit to the family’s son in a sanitarium where is mental health is being monitored. I thought this one would turn out to be my favorite, but….

“Lance,” the titular piece, finds the perfect balance between unsettling theme and lush prose. At first this spoof on science fiction bothered me, but for a story that condemns the very genre it follows it turned out incredibly well. This is the story I pulled all of my favorite quotes of the book from, but beyond the lyricism of the wording, “Lance” also offers some interesting insight in sci-fi, space travel, and the human condition. Though it got off to a rocky start for me, it turned out the best of the set.

“Deep in the human mind, the concept of dying is synonymous with that of leaving the earth. To escape its gravity means to transcend the grave, and a man upon finding himself on another planet has really no way of proving to himself that he is not dead– that the naive old myth has not come true.”

The whole book reads almost as prose poetry; each word is chosen so carefully, to such great effect. These stories sound wonderful read aloud, and they look beautiful on the page. Nabokov is clearly a gifted writer, and the darker sides of these stories add an extra layer of flavor and intrigue to what might otherwise be “pretty” work.

My reaction: 2 out of 5 stars. Though I can appreciate Nabokov’s skill, this book just didn’t suit me. There’s definitely an audience for it, but that’s not me. Purple prose isn’t my schtick, and though the little disturbing details saved these stories from being a total wash for me, they weren’t enough to make me truly enjoy reading this volume. I’m glad I read Lolita first, to know that I do like some of Nabokov’s work more than I liked this sample of it; maybe his novel writing is simply a better fit for me; I will definitely reach for another of his longer books before any more of his short stories.

Have you read any Nabokov? Which of his novels should I try next?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

 

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Review: The Vigilante

I’m back with another title to review from the Penguin Modern series: John Steinbeck’s The Vigilante. It’s been years since I read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which I loved, and there are a couple of other Steinbeck titles I want to pick up this year- so I thought this would be a nice, easy reintroduction to his work. I can’t get over how manageable it is to pick up these little modern classics that have only 55-65 pages apiece; every one of them changes the way I think about literature, and I love them.

thevigilanteAbout the book: This volume contains three short fiction stories: “The Vigilante,” “The Snake,” and “The Chrysanthemums.” These are all literary fiction snapshots of particular characters in particular circumstances, who learn lessons or display some sort of social commentary that can be more widely applied to the reader’s experiences– whether personal or observational.

The third story, “The Chrysanthemums,” was my favorite, primarily because I found the first two rather disturbing. I’ll divulge a bit about each, but I want to avoid spoiling both the basic plots, and the unspoken commentary behind the plot, as those “morals” are arguably the most important elements of these stories.

“The Vigilante” features a lynching, and while that is disturbing in itself, I felt that the “moral” of this story cheapens that awful death. Our main character can’t even say after the event whether the lynched man was good or bad, or why he was deserving (if anyone ever is) of that particular fate in the first place. This story was originally published in 1938, which was a different time, clearly- but I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed this story in that era, either. It does offer an interesting psychological viewpoint, but I just kept wishing it had been presented in a different way.

“His brain told him this was a terrible and important affair, but his eyes and his feelings didn’t agree. It was just ordinary. […] everything was dead, everything unreal; the dark mob was made up of stiff lay-figures. In the flamelight the faces were as expressionless as wood. Mike felt the stiffness, the unreality in himself, too.”

“The Snake” focuses on a biologist in his laboratory, and a visitor who finds him there. Though her desires aren’t much different than the scientist’s– arguably even more well-intentioned, he finds himself repulsed by them. This could have been my favorite story of the bunch, but I was too uncomfortable over the scientist’s treatment of his animals, and the graphic description of the snake feeding on a rat. Also I have a soft spot for cats, and I can’t stand to see them as “specimens.” If you’re an animal lover, enter this one with caution.

And then we have “The Chrysanthemums.” This is a low-stakes story about: you guessed it, flowers. A farmer’s wife has a prize bunch of chrysanthemums that she’s passionate about, and she encounters two people in the pages of this story: her husband, who supports her passion, and a traveling workman who uses her interest to his own advantage. What’s most interesting about this one, I think, is that neither the farmer’s wife nor the workman have any real respect for each other, but it doesn’t seem to be the callous opinions of each other that bothers either of them. And as a bonus, there’s a nice little bit of feminism here, however brief:

” ‘It must be nice,’ she said. ‘It must be very nice. I wish women could do such things.’

‘It ain’t the right kind of life for a woman.’

Her upper lip raised a little, showing her teeth. ‘How do you know? How can you tell?’ she said.”

What all of these stories has in common is that none of them are about what they seem to be about on the surface; Steinbeck is a master at making a point without spelling out what point he’s trying to make. Each character is believable as a person, though they are only the puppets through which Steinbeck’s morals are displayed. These are stories that require the reader to do the lifting, though they guide the reader in the right direction. Steinbeck is clearly one of the greats.

“When the night is dark– why, the skies are sharp-pointed, and there’s quiet. Why, you rise up and up! Every pointed star gets driven into your body. It’s like that. Hot and sharp, and– lovely.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I was so disturbed by some of the details in the first two stories that I seriously considered two stars, but I do love Steinbeck’s writing. None of these stories came anywhere close to my Of Mice and Men appreciation though, so I’m hoping for a lot better luck with The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, both of which I want to pick up within the year.

Do you like short stories? (I really do, but I don’t pick them up often enough.)

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Breakthrough

I’m getting back into my growing Penguin Modern collection, so brace yourself for more short modern classics reviews from me this month. I just read Daphne du Maurier’s The Breakthrough, which I chose partially because it’s the next in numerical order from the unread books I own in this collection, but also because a couple of months ago I read my first du Maurier novel, Rebecca. I enjoyed Rebecca so much that I planned to love The Breakthrough as well.

thebreakthroughAbout the book: Stephen is an electronics engineer being sent to beautiful and secluded Saxmere for a three-month job with a questionable scientist. From the moment of his arrival, nothing about his new workplace is as expected, and he’s immediately tempted to tell lead scientist “Mac” that he can’t and won’t do the job. But Mac has three computers with extraordinary capabilities and potential, and Stephen agrees to stay on the project to work with the advanced computers. Mac wants to use them to collect life energy as it leaves the body– but even he may be surprised by the experiment’s results.

“Dispatch the maimed, the old, the weak, destroy the very world itself, for what is the point of life if the promise of fulfillment lies elsewhere?”

As usual (at least as far as I can tell with only Rebecca to judge from so far), du Maurier’s writing is impeccable. This is the first Penguin Modern I’ve read in which one story/text fills the entire book, but I was so engrossed that the pages flew by faster than most of the shorter pieces I’ve read from other authors in this collection. Du Maurier is great with atmosphere and unsettling details, and even though The Breakthrough lacked most of the psychological intrigue that endeared Rebecca to me, the same spooky tone ran through this short piece. The Breakthrough is a science fiction story, but du Maurier is such a master of language that she made the switch in genre work.

But let’s look at the plot. I would not say that I’m any sort of sci-fi expert, but neither am I a stranger to the genre. And this plot… did not impress me much. It’s well-crafted with various weak and odd characters at the center of a life-altering experiment– an intriguing balance. Mac believes that certain “supernatural” phenomena is caused by inadvertently trapping one’s life energy in another vessel after the body dies– not the person’s intelligence or soul, but their spark of life. He has gathered a child who may have access to her dead twin’s life energy, and a terminal cancer patient willing to donate his. But at the crucial moment, no one on the team knows whether to call their results a success; what they have succeeded in accomplishing may be something far beyond their expectations and capabilities for continuing, and is frightening in its implications. But this case is so isolated and the experiment so limited and specific that the stakes are low. Death has already occurred when the real dilemma arises, and the story seems to take its only available ending– the one that prevents further exploration of its theme. Let me clarify: it all fits together very well, and there is nothing wrong with this story. It just didn’t surprise me the way sci-fi usually does.

“My mouth felt dry and I kept swallowing. Something inside me kept saying, ‘Don’t let it happen.’ “

I also want to mention as a side note that I’ve been rewatching some old X-Files episodes lately, and The Breakthrough felt a lot like one of those. It’s a story about something that shouldn’t be possible, something just a little too strange and beyond belief, but real enough to leave its audience wondering.

“We had numbered it X in the files, because it was different from the others.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I had a hard time deciding on a rating for this one because it didn’t particularly sway me one way or the other. I usually consider a 3-star rating the worst possible category because a lower-rated book for me generally has something actually bad about it that’s at least fun to rant about or learn from. But The Breakthrough wasn’t boring and it didn’t feel like a waste of my time in the way 3-star books often do. It just didn’t quite have enough oomph for a 4-star rating. My opinion on this book might change as I read more du Maruier and have a better sense of her work overall.

What’s your favorite sci-fi story?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Distance of the Moon

(Are you tired of my Penguin Modern excitement yet? I promise I’ll cool it after this month. But in the meantime…) I read another Penguin Modern! This is the 4th of the 6 I bought first, and I’m going to read the last two before the end of March and then take a little break from them. Maybe. My next 6 are already on their way to my mailbox. But first, I read Italo Calvino’s The Distance of the Moon, a set of short fictional stories involving astrology.

thedistanceofthemoonAbout the book: Qfwfq is a fount of stories, having apparently lived several billion years in our solar system and held on to remarkable memories of his cosmic experiences. Through Qfwfq and our narrator(s), these stories explore Earth in a time when the moon could be touched from its surface (“The Distance of the Moon”), at a time when Earth was not yet fully formed and lacked color (“Without Colours”), in modern times as an ancient family prepares for the sun to burn out (“As Long as the Sun Lasts”), and separate from Earth entirely as the narrator considers the pros and cons of imploding vs. exploding, the fate of all cosmic matter.

Italo Calvino is the sort of writer I could follow anywhere. I have read a few of his short stories before picking up this volume, but I still wasn’t prepared for what I found here. I know embarrassingly little about astrology, and I can’t say for sure whether the italicized paragraphs preceding each of the stories in this book are true scientific facts or not. I can say that this whole collection felt like an accessible lesson in astrology, with things like gravity, life spans of stars, and the big bang transformed into fantastical fiction that I just couldn’t put down once I’d started. I mean, granted, the whole book is less than 60 pages, but even so I usually take breaks between the stories/speeches etc. in these little volumes. This one I read straight through, and the four pieces seemed like stories that should be read together.

It’s difficult to classify exactly what I would say this book is. Certainly some sort of sci-fi/fantasy collection, but readers who don’t usually like sci-fi shouldn’t be afraid to read this book. There were a few times I wanted to call it (well-done) magical realism, and underlying it all there’s incredible romance. The general lesson in love seems to be that we want what we can’t have rather than what’s available, and the romance is more an intriguing side force pushing through the story rather than the main focus. But Calvino’s writing is certainly romantic, by which I also mean that it is generally beautiful and lush and captivating and whimsical. Calvino is doing more than telling stories here, he’s testing the language and wielding it with poetic mastery. Check out a couple of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Seen from the Earth, you looked as if you were hanging there with your head down, but for you, it was the normal position, and the only odd thing was that when you raised your eyes you saw the sea above you, glistening, with the boat and the others upside down, hanging like a bunch of grapes from the vine.”

“He won’t be able to forget even for an instant that everything around him is temporary, temporary but always repeated, a mosaic of protons, electrons, neutrons, that will fragment and come together again indefinitely, a soup that will be stirred until it cools or heats up: in short, this holiday in the most temperate planet in the solar system is completely ruined.”

“For Ggge, light-years seem like flea jumps: she hasn’t realized that space is a glue you get stuck in, just like time.”

It’s hard to pick a favorite selection from this book. “The Distance of the Moon” started a little slow for me, but the Deaf Cousin and the changing orbit of the moon upped the intrigue. “Without Colour” might have been my favorite, though the banter and the look at the solar system through the eyes of some very long lives infinitely amused me in “As Long As the Sun Lasts,” and none of them got me thinking as much about existence and possibility as “Implosion.” They’re all such different stories and yet they certainly belong together, with a connection I didn’t feel between the stories in the last fiction volume I read from the Penguin Modern set, The Missing Girl.

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I had no idea what to expect from these stories going in, but they absolutely hooked me. I need more Italo Calvino (I started reading his short story collection Difficult Loves a few years ago; I think I should go back and finish it). I need more Penguin Moderns. As much as I love a good, long saga, I’m really appreciating these little sample-size volumes this month. I wanted to expand my reading horizons in 2018, and these glimpses at modern classic authors are really helping me decide which directions I should go with that goal.

What reading surprises have you encountered this month?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Missing Girl

I have another Penguin Modern review for you today. This is the first volume I’ve read that highlights fiction: it’s Shirley Jackson’s The Missing Girl. Though fiction is my preferred genre, I rather preferred the nonfiction samples of letters and speeches that I’ve encountered so far. Although this one grabbed my attention and kept me hooked in a way that the nonfiction volumes I’ve read did not do quite so efficiently, I know this one won’t impact the way I think about the world as much as Letter From Birmingham Jail and Create Dangerously did. But I still had a great time reading it.

themissinggirlAbout the book: In this 54 page booklet are three of Shirley Jackson’s short stories. They utilize Gothic, mystifying, and psychological techniques. The first story, “The Missing Girl,” takes place at a camp for teen girls where a roommate is reported missing and the clues lead to contradictions. Is there, in fact, a missing girl? Who is the missing girl?

“…what she says is that of course she loves Martha and all that, and of course no one would want to say anything about a girl like this that’s missing, and probably had something horrible done to her…”

The second story, “Journey With a Lady,” is an intriguing though less puzzling tale. It’s a story about crime and punishment, and perhaps most of all about lies, though those elements all appear surprisingly blatantly in the text. A young boy travels on a train and is at first disgruntled to share his seat with a nosy lady, who makes the train ride an unusual adventure.

The third story, “Nightmare,” follows a woman on an errand in New York City. She becomes more concerned as she realizes that she is the target of some sort of prize-game taking place in the streets that day.

“She realized she could never prove that she wore these clothes innocently, without criminal knowledge…”

“Nightmare” was my favorite story from the book, with “The Missing Girl” following as a close second. I picked up this particular volume from the Penguin Moderns because I read and loved Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House last October. The first and third stories did remind me of that work– masterfully done with a steady build-up to a delightfully confusing conclusion. The second story did not seem as sinister as I had expected, though it did lead me down some interesting trains of thought regarding right vs. wrong.

” ‘I’m not ever going to do it again,’ the woman said. ‘I mean, you sort of build up all your life for one real good time like this, and then you can take your punishment and not mind it so much.’ “

These are stories that make the reader think. Determining what is going on and how and why is generally up to the reader; the base of the story is provided, but there seem to be several options from which to form theories, which is my favorite sort of conclusion to a story. This book is for the lover of ambiguous endings.

“It was generally conceded in the town that the girl had been followed in the darkness by a counselor from the camp, preferably one of the quiet ones, until she was out of sight or sound of help. The townspeople remembered their grandfathers had known of people disposed of in just that way, and no one had ever heard about it, either.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This volume was a quick and engaging read for me. It didn’t expand my thinking quite like the nonfiction Penguin Moderns I’ve read so far, but it did engage me while I was reading and it seemed an accurate sample of Jackson’s work. Though I don’t think these will end up being my favorite Jackson stories, they did help me decide to pick up more of her work, so I’d say this was a successful read for me.

Do you like reading creepy books? I find I’m more a fan of the psychological than the slasher variety of thrilling; which do you prefer?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

December Book Haul

I done good. So far. I know there are a few days left in December, but I’m not anticipating buying any more books in that time and I have lots more updates and 2018 plans to share with you in upcoming days, so today is Book Haul Day!

My goal for most of 2017 has been to acquire a maximum of five books per month (I usually fail, so I’m lowering that goal for next year, yikes) and even with Christmas this month I managed to add only five books to my shelves! That seems like an odd thing to be excited about, but 2017 has just been out of control for me when it comes to buying books (no regrets) so I’m glad to end the year on a more successful note. My new books:

  1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This is my BOTM selection from December, and I have not read it yet but I’m planning to get to it (and several other BOTM books that I fell behind on) first thing in January. I’m proud of myself for only choosing one book for my December box even though most of them looked great. All I remember about this one is that Eleanor Oliphant is not fine, that she has a strange relationship with her mother, and that the way she interacts with the world tends to alienate her from the people around her. I’ve heard good things, and I can’t wait to see for myself.
  2. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. I’ve read the first three books in Maas’ ACOTAR series. Even though my interest in those is waning, I wanted to check out her other big series. I’ve seen mixed reviews for the Throne of Glass books, but even though I didn’t like A Court of Thorns and Roses much I was interested enough to read the entire novel and continue the series anyway; so I’m planning to read at least Throne of Glass and decide from there how far I want to go in the series. I think the final book comes out in 2018, so if I do end up wanting to read them all, now’s a good time. All I know is that there’s a female assassin, maybe on a mission from the king, and there’s a love interest once she’s in the castle. Fingers crossed for ACOMAFquality writing.
  3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. My one Christmas gift book, and I picked it out myself. (No one buys me books because they’re afraid I will already have, have read, or not like the ones they pick.) I found a signed copy on sale at Barnes and Noble, and I thought this would be a great way to complete my 2017 reading challenge without having to read the Pulitzer Prize winner that I fell out of the mood for, so I asked a family member to stick it in my Christmas box. I haven’t completely finished, but I’ve read a lot and I’m loving it. One of the most intriguing aspects for me has been seeing the Underground Railroad as a literal train, but of course there’s a lot more to love about this one. I fully intend to finish this novel within the week.
  4. It by Stephen King. I’ve been meaning to read It for years, and the interest definitely increased around the time of the new film adaptation in 2017. But I was busy, and It is extremely long, and excuses, excuses. I’m tentatively planning a buddy read for this one in January, which should be fun because 1) it will be my first buddy read and 2) it will be so satisfying to cross a book this giant off of my TBR so early in the year. I know there’s a scary clown and maybe it’s targeting a group of kids in the town and maybe the adults secretly know what’s going on because of something that happened when they were kids. I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers, so most of my knowledge is pieced together from the movie trailers and really I don’t know much about the book yet. But I’m excited to change that.
  5. Great Tales of Horror by H. P. Lovecraft. No real reasons or excuse for this one– I knew I wasn’t up to five books yet, and I found this short story collection on sale for less than $4. For a 600 page hardcover book, that’s a deal too good to pass up (for me, anyway). I’m not sure exactly when I’ll get around to reading this one, but I do like Stephen King and Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allen Poe, so I think I’ll definitely find something to enjoy in this collection. Some of the titles look familiar, but these stories will be my first foray into Lovecraft’s oeuvre.

decemberbookhaul

That’s a wrap. December’s been a pretty good reading month, and I’m working on my reading wrap-up already even though I’m still in the middle of a couple books I hope to finish before the end of the year. I’m so pleased with my book haul this month, even though I haven’t actually finished reading any of the books on it yet. It just makes me more excited for what comes next. Stay tuned this week and next week for updates on my reading/buying/writing/blogging goals and more good stuff, because that’s coming up pronto. I can’t believe it’ll be 2018 in like, three days. So much to read. So little time.

What new books did you add to your shelves in December?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy

My Cassandra Clare marathon of 2017 continues. This month I read Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, the second short story collection in Shadowhunter publication order. I had high hopes for this one, but honestly it didn’t impress me any more than The Bane Chronicles. This second collectiontalesfromtheshadowhunteracademy is co-written by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, and Robin Wasserman.

About the book: There are ten short stories set around Simon’s time at Shadowhunter Academy, after the events of The Mortal Instruments novels. You should read those first to avoid spoilers. Each story is precluded with a key excerpt from the coming story, and a page of beautiful matching graphics. And now for the stories:

“Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy” : 3 stars. Nothing happens in this one that we don’t know already from the end of The Mortal Instruments. There’s a lot of angst about Simon’s missing memories, and a lot of snobby characters. Familiar faces from TMI appear like “guest stars.” Simon is trying to make a stand against prejudices at the school, but he’s a weaker character at this point because of his unknown past, and we’ve seen these same prejudices in Clare’s previous books. I was expecting a little more flare in this first story, but it’s heavy.

“The Lost Herondale” : 4 stars. This one, at least, follows a traditional story arc with steadily increasing tension to keep the reader engaged throughout the story. It starts a little slow, and trickles off after the tension fades, but it’s stronger than the first story. Most of the characters are still unpleasant, and the prejudices are back… I keep expecting Clare to make a big show of resolving conflict between the species and it just keeps… well, not happening.

” ‘We are all what our pasts have made us,’ Catarina said. ‘The accumulation of thousands of daily choices. We can change ourselves, but never erase what we’ve been.’ “

“Every decision you make, makes you. Never let other people choose who you’re going to be.”

“The Whitechapel Fiend” : 2 stars. Here are two stories in one, in which neither story seems to have a purpose. Especially the story Tessa tells– it’s heartening to see her in this context, but the moral to her story is “problems solve themselves.” There’s a second storyline with Jace and tree falls, which also has little point. “The Whitechapel Fiend” might have made a decent chapter in one of Clare’s novels, but it does not work as a short story. Stories are supposed to stand alone. And they’re supposed to be eventful. Halloween bonus for the demon child, though. She’s creepy.

“Nothing but Shadows” : 4 stars. Another story-within-a-story. Again, I believe a story is supposed to have a purpose, and when Catarina tells Simon her story, it seems at first that she’s going to offer some insight to help him with his current situation and instead she ends it with “you have to work these things out for yourself.” Which is what he would have done without her story anyway. It was a great tale, though. I could read a whole book about Jamie Herondale.

“That is the wonderful thing about making changes and meeting strangers, Jamie. You never know when, and you never know who, but someday a stranger will burst through the door of your life and transform it utterly. The world will be turned upside down, and you will be happier for it.”

“People are afraid of anybody who is different: It makes them worry everyone else is different too, and just pretending to be all the same.”

“Do not let any of them tell you who you are. You are the flame that cannot be put out. You are the star that cannot be lost. You are who you have always been, and that is enough and more than enough. Anyone who looks at you and sees darkness is blind.”

“The Evil We Love” : 4 stars. The back-and-forth narration of this one is more successful than the stories-within-stories. Both of the tales in this one have proper story arcs with increasing tension, and they feel properly related to each other. It provides a fascinating view of Valentine’s Inner Circle, and the difficult relationship between Simon and Isabelle; both are handled well, and even though they both fit into larger plots this story could stand on its own, which is something I’m looking for in a short story.

“Sometimes first impressions were misleading; sometimes they peered straight through to a person’s inner soul.”

“Love, real love, is being seen. Being known. Knowing the ugliest part of someone, and loving them anyway. And…I guess I think two people in love become something else, something more than the sum of their parts, you know? That it must be like you’re creating a new world that exists just for the two of you. You’re gods of your own pocket-universe.”

“Pale Kings and Princes” : 4 stars. Here’s yet another way to tell two stories: book-ending one with another. In this case, the two stories are connected with a single character, and the Shadowhunter prejudices against faeries. The best part of this story, as with much of Clare’s writing, is the trick of perspective: two people (or groups of people) will always tell the same story in different ways. That’s an important reminder in the real world as well as fiction, and it strengthens this story. This one works as a stand-alone, even though it features familiar characters. Thumbs up.

“Bitter of Tongue” : 3 stars. This story is compelling and emotional, but it doesn’t have much of a purpose here. It feels more like a chapter in the Blackthorn family history than anything related to Simon, or even to Shadowhunter Academy. The tension in the story is something that began before this story started and doesn’t end with it either, so nothing is resolved. Thus, the structure feels weak, though the prose is remarkably beautiful in places.

“Fortunate are the ones who know the name of their heart. They are the ones whose hearts are never truly lost. They can always call their heart back home.”

“Some were born with abs, some achieved abs, and some– like Simon– had abs thrust upon them by cruel instructors.”

“The Fiery Trial” : 3 stars. This one seems longer than necessary for the small amount of events it contains. On top of that, the main parabatai bond discovered here is predictable. But there is some wonderfully mysterious confused reality in the middle of the story that’s incredibly compelling, even though the beginning and end are more drawn out than needed.

“Born to Endless Night” : 2 stars. This story offers a unique mix of Magnus’s and Simon’s perspectives. But again, it’s too long. I don’t mind long stories when something is happening; there is only one really notable event in this story, it happens early on, and it has little to do with Simon or Shadowhunter Academy. The rest is all about everyone’s feelings, which can be nice too, but it doesn’t feel like the meat of this story. Also, I dislike babies being named after someone else. A name can affect a person. I think all people should have their own chance to make their own name significant instead of living in the shadow of whoever made the name significant before them. I do understand the desire, I just don’t support it for the naming of human (or warlock) babies.

“I think sometimes it’s too hard to believe in yourself. You just do the things you’re not sure you can do. You just act, in spite of not being certain. I don’t believe I can change the world– it sounds stupid to even talk about it– but I’m going to try.”

“Angels Twice Descending” : 4 stars. Here is an example of a story that is predictable and filled mostly with internalized emotion, but still makes a compelling story. This one could stand on its own, but it’s also full of now-familiar characters and memories. It’s an end and a beginning. It’s a beautiful exploration of meaning and determination that readers can apply off the page, despite all of the fantasy details that also make it the heart of this fictional collection. This is the reason I read the book.

“Choosing what’s right for you, maybe that’s the bravest thing you can do.”

“The point wasn’t that you tried to live forever; the point was that you lived, and did everything you could to live well. The point was the choices you made and the people you loved.”

Simon is one of my favorite characters in the Shadowhunting world, but at times he felt like a weak character in these stories because he’s constantly dwelling on his memory loss. It makes him less certain of himself and more anxious than usual. Also the academy is a disgusting place. It’s not like Hogwarts, which is whimsical and sometimes dangerous but still essentially a good place– Shadowhunter Academy is slimy, with bad food, prejudiced professors, torturous “classes,” horrible students, infestations, and a lack of plumbing. Every new detail about the school is something equally disturbing. It seems like an uninhabitable place, not a zany and educational one. Bad environments make my whole reading experience less pleasant.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. My average rating was actually 3.3. Although Shadowhunter Academy did not live up to my expectations, I am glad that I included it in my Shadowhunter marathon because it’s likely that certain details from this collection will crop up in future novels. It also added extra closure to TMI. But… I finally get to read Lady Midnight! Most of my Shadowhunter marathon has been enjoyable, but the biggest reason I wanted to read/reread all of Clare’s books this year was for The Dark Artifices, except I wanted to read those without missing anything from the previous books. So even though most of these stories did not even meet my standard expectations of what a short story should be, this collection was worth my time.

What’s next: I’m still reading George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords and will review that as soon as I finish. But I’m also picking up Matthew J. Sullivan’s Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, an adult mystery/thriller about a book-related death.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant