ARC provided by HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.
This is the anthology I’ve been waiting my entire life for. As a Filipina woman, I have no words to express how happy my heart is to just read a collection of short stories that are all ownvoices. And at the end of each short story is an author note on why they wrote the story that they did. And, I think I cried reading at least 75% of the author’s notes. This anthology is so beautiful, so powerful, and it means more to me than I have word combinations to express.
“We fell in love with all those myths about powerful gods being vulnerable, about humans becoming heroes. Such stories taught us about mythology, about the beauty of folktales and legends, and about how stories of gods and goddesses are also stories about the human heart. But we never found similar compilations that were distinctly Asian.”
Friends, please preorder this and fall in love, too! If you’d like to get me a birthday gift this year, please just preorder this, read, and review this collection. Honestly, it’s the only thing I want in 2018. I’ll beg, I’ll plead, I’ll scream from the rooftops: please preorder this anthology and show the world that Asian stories can not only sell, but can also change lives. I will cherish this book forever and ever. (While also apparently rereading Roshani’s from my ARC copy over the phone to my grandmother 100 times!)
This collection honestly has so many amazing additions, but my personal favorites were Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi, Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong, The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon, and Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa. But my all-time favorite of the collection was The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers.
But I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!
➽ Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi – ★★★★★
“It was an ill-fated thing to claim that a heart is safe. Hearts are rebellious. The moment they feel trapped, they will strain against their bindings.”
I am in tears writing this. Best opening story of any anthology ever. This is a version of the Philippine mythos of Maria Makiling that my grandma has been telling me stories of since I was a little girl. And Roshani’s take on it was beyond words beautiful. This opening story was enough for me to preorder three copies of this book. And I know I’m being completely biased, but this was nothing short of magnificent, and I’ll cherish it forever and ever. Roshani, thank you, with every bone in my body, thank you.
➽ Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong – ★★★★★
“Can’t they see the ghosts all the time?” she asked. “Not like you and I can. The Festival is when ghosts are most themselves instead of what the living want them to be. Not everyone will like what they see tonight.”
Everyone knows I’m a huge fangirl of Alyssa Wong, but the reason for that is because she truly writes the best short fiction out there right now. There are so many amazing authors out there, but talent like Alyssa’s, where it just shows that she was meant to weave words together and craft these life changing stories, is so rare, but so awe-inspiring. She is such a blessing to the literary world, and I’m forever thankful. Every anthology collection I’ve read that includes a story from her ends up being ten times better for the inclusion. And her story always ends up completely stealing the show, my soul, and my heart, while also becoming my favorite. And Olivia’s Table was no different. This is a perfect story about a girl dealing with grief and depression but honoring her family by cooking at the Hungry Ghost Festival. And this was such an honor to read, and I know I’ll carry this tale with me forever. TW/CW: loss of a loved one, terminal illness, grief, and depression.
➽ Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee – ★★★★
“The brain is just a highly complex circuit of electrical impulses, so it stands to reason that it can be artificially manufactured. Scientists have been trying to understand this process for decades. What. Makes. Emotion?”
This is a sci-fi tale about a girl and her strained relationship with her father, who hasn’t been the same since her mother died (TW/CW: loss of a loved one, grief, and abandonment). But she and her friend soon start to unravel a mystery concerning the androids that were recalled long ago for being too intelligent. And this was such a beautiful story, with such an amazing ending. And the end note about this reimagining of The Woman and the Tiger, a Hmong folktale, completely made me fall even harder in love.
➽ Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra – ★★★
“You don’t know how to choose until you’re right there, on the precipice, giving away your everything for something that may be real or may be a shadow, a ghost you’re chasing.”
This one wasn’t my favorite in the collection, just because it stars a young girl at a club with her friend when a strange young man appears and keeps following them. I mean, all the red flags, right? And even though his intentions always seemed good, it still made me uncomfortable to read. I did love the author’s note for this one, I just sadly didn’t love this vision. But oh my gosh, the atmosphere and the food descriptions? Perfection. Like, don’t read this if you’re hungry, because my stomach is growling just thinking about the food and drinks from this short story.
➽ The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliette De Bodard – ★★★★★
“We can’t go home, but that doesn’t mean we have to be caged.”
I loved this tale about two sisters and that unconditional bond. This story felt so full, so atmospheric, so perfect. This story was inspired by Tấm and Cám, but the version that Aliette De Bodard created is so heartwarming and so inspiring. This is an empowering little tale, that truly emphasizes that we can be anything we want in this world, with whoever we are in this world, regardless of what others want to shape and mold us to be.
➽ The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers – ★★★★★
“I finally know how it ends.”
I cried through 80% of this story. Easily, this was one of my new favorite short stories of all time. I will never forget this story for as long as I live. And I am immediately buying everything E. C. Myers has created. This is a story about a gwisin (ghost), and a girl that is still dealing with the death of her mother, five years later. It doesn’t help that she’s still living with her father and her mother’s father (her grandfather), who reminds her of her mother’s presence constantly. But it is undeniable when the MMO that was her mother’s life, and the reason her parents met, is being shut down forever, but has drawn Sunny into playing again. And Sunny has just found out about a new private server that will preserve the game, and maybe the memory of her mother. I loved this more than words. MMORPGs have meant so much to me during my life. I have played them since high school, and I have some of my very best friends and loved ones to this day because of them. And this short story is a love letter to video games and the impact they can make on your life. And video games are such a huge part of Korean culture, and the significance and importance shined through this story so very brightly. This story just had such a profound meaning to me, because it made me realize that one day I’m (hopefully) going to be a mom that is a gamer, and a con lover, and a writer, and so many of the things that Sunny viewed her mom as. Like, I promise, I was bawling through almost this entire story. This was beyond words beautiful. I have no word combination to string together to let you all know how perfect this was and how much this story meant to me. TW/CW: death, loss of a parent. And RIP to my favorite NPC of all time, Ephoenix (Ezra Chatterton).
➽ The Smile by Aisha Saeed – ★★★★★
“Belonging meant he could place me wherever he liked, whether in his bed or in this dank tower. Belonging is not love. It never was.”
This was so beautiful, I couldn’t help but fall in love. I need a full-length of this story, I need to know what happens next, I need so much more. But I guess that’s the beauty of this tale; anything could happen next. This is an extremely feminist short story about a girl who serves a prince who is in love with her. But this story is about love, and how it should only be given freely and to those deserving. Seriously, this is such a treat of a story. I think this will be one that everyone who picks up this anthology will love.
➽ Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber – ★★★★
“There are three reasons I know fall is awesome: the most anticipated Bollywood movies are always on a fall release schedule, my mom starts practicing her delicious party dishes, and it means it’s time for Navrātri!”
I loved this adorable story that switched between Hinduism mythos, and to current time to a girl celebrating Navaratri at a party with her friends, while they also plot revenge on a boy that’s being rather rude. Navaratri is celebrated in honor of good defeating evil, and the battle of Durga and Mahishasura, a buffalo demon. And Preeti Chhibber does such a wonderful job transitioning and showcasing these two stories together. Also, I just loved learning about this Hindu holiday that’s so empowering to women. This was expertly crafted and such a joy to read.
➽ Nothing into All by Renée Ahdieh – ★★★★
“Many years ago, a girl and a boy lived with their parents in a bark-shingled home near a flowing river’s edge.”
Oh, this was such a fun and whimsical read! This was a super unique spin on The Goblin Treasure, which is actually a story I grew up hearing, too. But Renée Ahdieh did such a wonderful job making me feel every single thing for this set of siblings. And there is such a wonderful message about how we all carry goodness and badness inside of ourselves, but how we choose our actions based on which is what is truly important.
➽ Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia – ★★
“When I’d agreed to his offer, it was because I had thought I’d be a hero.”
This is a long short story about what it truly means to be a hero, and if being a hero only means accomplishing what you set out to do or winning the battle you set out to fight. There are a ton of lighthearted pop culture references in this, but a ton of hard-hitting questions of war and what is worth losing one’s life for. I just thought that sometimes the writing was a little too harsh and a little too dry for me.
➽ Code of Honor by Melissa de la Cruz – ★★
“I almost murdered a girl yesterday…”
Friends, I’m heartbroken. I was supposed to love this one! I just read the Fresh Ink anthology, and Melissa de la Cruz’s story was easily my favorite out of the entire collection! But this? This just didn’t work for me at all. It’s about a vampire that is living in hiding, but has lost her journal that has a spell attached to it, so no human can read it. But it is still causing her a lot of trouble. Also, TW/CW for sort of a graphic animal comment, since she feeds from them. One line in this kind of made me shudder upon reading, so use caution. But I think this might be a set-up or something for her series Blue Bloods, but it just really felt strange being a part of this anthology, and I really didn’t enjoy it as much as it pains me to say.
➽ Bullet, Butterfly by Elsie Chapman – ★★★★★
“Don’t forget we’re only ever soldiers here in Shangyu, and soldiers never get to be the ones who wake up from a spell, or who even get to break a spell. We’re just the dragons guarding the gate, ordered to keep breathing the fire of those who cast the spell in the first place.”
I loved this so much. I loved this more than words. This is a reimagining of the Chinese legend Butterfly Lovers, and it was so beautiful and so impactful. The theme of loyalty to one’s family, but also to one’s heart and happiness is constant throughout this tale. And just all of the ways that war impacts every single person, whether they are forced to create, forced to fight, or forced to any duty against their true heart’s desires. This story was wonderful and made me such an emotional mess. For sure a highlight in this already amazing anthology.
➽ Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar – ★★★★
“She sang for her parents, for the hue-switching heavens, for herself. She read fairy tales, epics, and legends and imagined performing them on a stage draped in velvet. But it wasn’t enough. She longed for a friend.”
This was a beautiful story inspired by two of the stories in the longest epic poem in history, The Mahābhārata. One about Princess Savitri and Prince Satyavan, and one about Ganga and Shantanu. This was a moving story about destiny and sacrifice and how important it is to always follow your heart, regardless of the outcomes and/or circumstances. And I was high-key living for the feminist undertones that were expertly woven throughout this.
➽ The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon – ★★★★★
“…whatever I might make for myself in this life: hearth, home, or family—they would mean nothing without you.”
Please, excuse me while I go buy more from Cindy Pon because this story was one of the greatest blessings of 2018. And this is her version of the Chinese folklore tale of Cowherd, and the magical girl who saw him first. I actually had never heard of this tale before, so I spent some time afterwards reading everything I could, and I am even more in love. This is for sure one of the best stories in this anthology, and Cindy Pon’s giving a voice to this magical, fairy, weaver girl is something so beautiful I don’t even have words for it. One of the most romantic short stories I’ve ever read too. All the feels, all the happiness, all the tears.
➽ Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa – ★★★★★
“She could charm bears with that smile, Takeo thought. If he were a bear, he would lie down with his head in her lap and not move until the hunters came for him.”
I loved this with every fiber of my being. I loved this writing so much that I think I’m actually going to pick up everything I’ve been neglecting on reading from Julie Kagawa, too. Like, this was the perfect closing story. And it surrounded one of my favorite mythical creatures of all time: Kitsunes! Again, the writing was so perfect, I was instantly teleported into this small village. The main character, Takeo, was the sweetest little cinnamon roll. And this short story was honestly perfect in every way. And the ending of this was absolutely haunting. I would buy and read anything else about this heartbroken girl, and the small boy that missed so much because of evil men.
Out of a possible 75 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 15 stories) this collection accumulated 63 stars (84%). But I am giving this five stars regardless, because I loved it so much. The stories in this collection meant more to me than I have words for. And I truly hope you all pick this up upon release.
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.