A few months ago I wrote a couple of paragraphs on the splendidly fresh The Bone Swans Of Amandale, a 28.000 word novella by C.S.E. Cooney. I ended that review with the promise to pick up the entire collection, and I’ve done just that.
Bone Swans features 5 stories – most about 40 pages. All of the stories can by read for free online (check the links below), but I think it merits a physical purchase, very much so. Unique, bold authors as Claire Cooney need all the support they can get. It will also be a great collection to read to your 12 year old kids – and bedtime reading from a tablet simply doesn’t have the same charm. Not to mention screen light being bad for your loved ones’ sleep cycles.
Everything I wrote about The Bone Swans of Amandale is true for the other 4 stories: “poetic, humorous, original, daring, gruesome, outrageous, unsettling and even amoral.” Maybe that last adjective doesn’t go for every tale, but still: that’s quite a row of lauding words. I cannot praise the collection enough. I’m fairly sure it will end up in my favorite ten reads this year…
Below a few notes on each story. Whatever you do after the jump, please, do read those four, short quotes.
Life On The Sun (2012, 24 pp.) apparently is a sequel to Godmother Lizard. It’s not that you need to read that one first to understand Life On The Sun, since I hadn’t, and I still liked it. It features a delicious ‘Natureingang’, and as soon as I read the following line, in the very first paragraph, I knew I was in for a thrill.
Sandwolf slunk to fit inside the meager shadow of a sari cactus.
The story has the same mythic quality as some of Gene Wolfe’s prose – Wolfe being a friend of her father, and a mentor of C.S.E. It’s about the human sacrifice needed to save a barren city. A familiar trope, but Cooney again does her own thing with it.
The Bone Swans Of Amandale (2015, 62 pp.) is original to this collection, and a retelling of the Pied Piper, among other things. Check my full review for my initial reaction, but know that upon rereading it, it doesn’t loose any of its brave, brutal splendor.
Martyr’s Gem (2013, 43 pp.) acknowledged my feeling that Cooney somehow understands what reality and life are all about. I can’t really explain, and can only resort to a fuzzy statement as ‘a spiritual connection’. The story is wonderful, about an island populated by the remnants of a once great civilization. It’s a revenge story – revenge for the murder for a sister. Revenge stories don’t generally hold my interest, but Cooney manages to pack a lot of emotions and depth in this short novella: the brutality of grief, the brutality of life. It ends hopeful though, and love gets is rightful place.
And again, this is so, so, so poetic.
The broken knife in his throat was laughter.
His heart crashed in his chest like a fog-bell.
How The Milkmaid Struck A Bargain With The Crooked One (2013, 40 pp.) is again a reboot – in the parlance of our times – of a fairy tale: Rumplestiltskin, a story collected by the brothers Grimm, and 4000 year old. Cooney’s version mixes it with an inquisition storyline, and again makes it her very own. Although we think we know the story (yes, straw and gold, yes, three visits by an impish male, yes, he wants her firstborn), she manages to make it new again. Not by sacrificing somebody, but by inserting humanity into an archetypical tale.
Like her other stories, it’s full of odd details. These seemingly unnecessary additions to well-known stuff evoke a bizarre atmosphere that makes reading Cooney a joy. This is her take on the blind witch with white eyes:
Her one eye, white, with no hint of iris or pupil, washed now and again with a pulse of gold, like the tide.
The Big Bah-Ha (2011, 40 pp.) has a bit of a horror vibe, with all its murderous clowns. I loved it. Nuff said. Don’t miss out on this collection, or the joke will be on you.
I cannot wait for C.S.E. Cooney’s debut novel. This is gold.
Life On The Sun is found at Blackgate, as is its prequel Godmother Lizard.
The Bone Swans Of Amandale is hosted on the site of Mythic Delirium, this collection’s publisher.
Both Martyr’s Gem and How The Milkmaid… are found at Giganotosaurus.
Apex Magazine hosts The Big Bah-Ha.