I had never heard of C.S.E. Cooney before I came across her name in the list of this year’s Nebula nominees. Cooney has only published her first collection of short fiction – Bone Swans – last year, and hasn’t published a full length debut (yet). The title of the Nebula nominated novella, The Bone Swans of Amandale, instantly struck a chord. Something about it stuck out. I was intrigued. If an author can come up with such a good title, there might be a pot of gold to discover. Googlegooglegloogle, and to my instant gratification I found the novella in full on the website of Cooney’s publisher (the link is here). I printed its 28.321 words (about 60 pages in a book) and started reading.
It’s fitting that Gene Wolfe wrote the introduction to the Bone Swans collection. Cooney’s novella has something of the mythic folk blend some of Wolfe’s own work has – like the stories Severian tells in the mind-boggling The Book of The New Sun, and the second story of The Fifth Head of Cerberus.
The Bone Swans of Amandale is a retelling of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, combined with a lesser known fairy tale written down by the Grimms, the pretty gruesome and bleak The Juniper Tree, and a dash of shape shifting Fairy Folk, Swan Lake and the likes. It reminded me at times of the footnotes and stories in Susanna Clarke’s brilliant slow burner Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell too. This is not an update of the Pied Piper or The Juniper Tree in a more contemporary setting, nor a simple mix of the two. This novella is very much its own thing, inventing a whole new story, in a whole new setting, with a whole new vibe.