It's a slow week at Alexandria, perhaps related to the fact that Vicky, Esther and I spent much of the bank holiday weekend together, talking about books, drinking wine, and exploring Bowness and Windermere (including but not limited to the utterly, utterly wonderful Fireside Bookshop). In the absence of fresh reviews, here's a selection of things I've written recently (ish) for other venues.
At Strange Horizons: By Light Alone, by Adam Roberts
At SFX: Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
And finally, another SFX review, which only appeared in the print edition: of Margo Lanagan's Brides of Rollrock Island.
Margo Lanagan has been publishing young adult and children’s fiction since the early 1990s, but she only garnered widespread attention outside her native Australia with the harrowing but superb World Fantasy Award-winning (and Hugo- and Nebula-nominated) short story ‘Singing My Sister Down’, which appeared in her collection Black Juice in 2004. Since then she has published two more collections of short stories and – a badge of honour for any self-respecting writer – managed to outrage the Daily Mail with her gruelling 2009 fairytale of child abuse, Tender Morsels.
A new Lanagan novel, therefore, is an event to be met with both delight and a faint dread: it’s likely to be excellent, but it’ll also put you through the emotional wringer. And Brides is indeed not a cheerful tale, but it is a richly nuanced one. Set on a remote island and told in Lanagan’s trademark pared-back, lilting style, the novel traces the shattering consequences of an abused and outcast woman’s decision to summon a selkie (a seal transformed into a woman) into her community. Soon every man is bewitched by the desire for a seal-wife – beautiful, obedient and sad, powerless as long as their real skins are kept hidden away – of his own, and their deserted wives and daughters are heading for the mainland in droves.
Framed as a series of first-person accounts, fragments of vivid lives, Brides is a bleakly beautiful, highly atmospheric be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale.