Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Review: 'Wicked Wonders' by Ellen Klages

I love short story collection! There is something about the art of writing a short story that still fascinates me. A short story author has to try and cram as much emotion, character development, world building and plot into a few pages as others authors do into a novel of hundreds of pages. I have read a lot of brilliant short stories, but I always love discovering new short story authors. So I was very excited to see Wicked Wonders pop up, with its enticing blurb promising some amazing stories. Thanks to Tachyon Publications and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date 23/05/2017
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
The Scott O'Dell award-winning author of The Green Glass Sea returns with her second collection: a new decade of lyrical stories with vintage flair.
Inside of these critically-acclaimed tales are memorable characters who are smart, subversive, and singular. A rebellious child identifies with wicked Maleficent instead of Sleeping Beauty. Best friends Anna and Corry share a last melancholy morning before emigration to another planet. A prep-school girl requires more than mere luck to win at dice with a faerie. Ladies who lunch keeping dividing that one last bite of dessert in the paradox of female politeness. 
Whether on a habitat on Mars or in a boardinghouse in London, discover Ellen Klages' wicked, wondrous adventures full of brazenness, wit, empathy, and courage.
One of my favourite literary genres is Magical Realism. When done well, Magical Realism describes ordinary life through those magical moments in which wonders happen. Although, according to Goodreads, Wicked Wonders doesn't qualify as Magic Realism, it has all the hallmarks of it. Each of Klages' stories is a snapshot of an ordinary-seeming life in which one day is only followed by another day and nothing else. And yet each of these lives is infused with something strange, magical, absurd and extraordinary that makes every story fascinating. There are twists and turns which are either unexpected or so well played they seem natural. In a way the stories in Wicked Wonders also feel like an elegy to America the way it was, with its quiet towns, forgotten corners and dreams of elsewhere. It gives the stories a nostalgic feel, yet without becoming too mourning. The reason the stories don't become a downer is because each has a subversive twist, something that makes you reconsider not just the story but also how you see the world. Why wouldn't you look at Maleficent as the hero of Sleeping Beauty? Why not set all your future hopes upon the Red Planet?

Perhaps it's a quote from Wicked Wonders itself that best describes the effects of this collection:
'Joy in a minor key.'
All the stories in Klages' brilliant collection have an understated charm. They start of so calmly and quietly, perfectly normal and straightforward except for those few notes that are both discordant and yet elevate the story. And then something wonderful happens on the pages of each story, and I think t is best described as joy. Even when a story moves you to tears, there is still an element of jubilation to it for the beautiful writing and the heartfelt emotions in each tale. The women and girls in Wicked Wonders are as the title prescribes: wonderful and wicked. They are normal, and yet not. They live in our world and yet they are a little removed from it. They are young and old, innocent and wise, trusting and heartbroken, excited and sad, and everything in between. Although it is not a collection "for women" perse, there is something brilliant about all these stories exploring such different parts of female life, even if it is the absurd or the magical.

I had never read a book or story by Ellen Klages before but I will definitely be looking into buying her other work now. Klages' writing feels understated yet really isn't. There are no over the top flourishes meant to overwhelm the reader, yet there are quiet gut punches here and there which work even more effectively. Her characters, most of them young girls, feel age appropriate without becoming boring or caricatures. There are some home truths hidden throughout the stories, about friendship, about love, kindness, loss and more which always feel honest. I don't know what it's like for other people, but I usually need the first three stories or so before I can get into the feel of a short story collection. With Wicked Wonders however I settled into the feel of the collection very quickly, from the first story called 'The Education of a Witch' really. The second story 'Amicae Aeternum', about a friendship surviving intergalactic travel, settled it for me. Each story only added to the sense of wonder that Klages created both with her writing and the themes in her story.

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

I really enjoyed reading Wicked Wonders. Every single story is filled with some wonder and some wickedness, but mainly with a lot of humanity and beautiful writing. I'd recommend this to everyone who likes short stories and is loving for a little bit of magic in their life!

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