Review: 'Starlings' by Jo Walton

It is no secret that I love short stories. They are so hard to write, but are beautiful to read. There is something brilliant about how authors manage to create a whole world, complete characters and stunning story in just a few pages. So when I saw Starlings I wanted to read it straight away. I had heart of Jo Walton before but actually hadn't read anything by her yet. Knowing she writes Science Fiction and then seeing the mention of legends in the below blurb, I had a feeling that I would love Starlings. And guess what, I did! Thanks to Tachyon Publications and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 23/02/2018
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
“Exquisitely written feats of imagination, each one leaving an impression long after it’s done.”Kelley Armstrong, author of Bitten and Rituals 
In her first collection, award-winning novelist Jo Walton (Among OthersThe King’s PeaceNecessity) delivers both subtle legends and reinvented realities. An ancient coin cyber-spies on lovers and thieves. The magic mirror sees all but can do nothing. A cloned savior solves a fanatically-inspired murder. Three Irish siblings thieve treasures with bad poetry and the aid of the Queen of Cats.
Starlings starts of with an eponymous poem, which immediately became one of my favourite things about this collection of work. Also at the beginning of Starlings is Walton's introduction in which she prepares the reader for what is to come. She explains how the stories that are about to come are partially experimentation, efforts on her side to try something new, to understand how short stories work, or how to write a play. For some perhaps this might lessen their enthusiasm but it actually heightened mine. I love seeing the process, the work, that authors put into creating their work. It's part of why I love Tolkien so much, because you can trace all the work he did over the years to build his work. And in the same vein Jo Walton now shows us her work. Here is a short story that was really a poem. Here is a joke that became a short story. Each story is followed by a few lines from Walton explaining how it came into being, how it started, what happened to it, how she feels about it. In a way reading Starlings made me feel very close to Walton and I admire her bravery in revealing her process to us, showing us the different puzzle pieces and how they came together.

There are too many stories and poems in Starlings to go through all of them so I'm just going to tell you about some of my favourite ones. 'A Burden Shared' is a brilliant look at a future in which you can share your physical pain with others. The story is scary, sad and sweet all at once. 'On the Wall' was a great take on the Magic Mirror in Snow White, 'Three Twilight Tales' a beautiful triple story that constantly surprised me. 'Jane Austen to Cassandra' was not at all what I expected but I loved it. 'Out of It' was another story that took a classic as a jump off point and then ran with it. I really loved those stories in Starlings. Perhaps my utter favourite in Starlings was actually a short play, 'Three Shouts on a Hill', a loving and satirical take on Irish legends, poetry, and mythology itself. I loved how it went a little meta towards the end and I also thought it was just really funny. I would pay to see this, actually... When it comes to the poems my favourite was definitely 'Hades and Persephone' because that's just the kind of person I am. It was also a great poem.

Walton is an award-winning novelist, so she really doesn't need me commenting on her writing style. But I'm going to anyway. I really enjoyed how surprising each story was. By being open in the introduction about the fact she was experimenting with these stories, I went into Starlings not knowing what to expect and being excited about that. Almost every story felt like a thought exercise, especially when you could see Walton had been inspired by something and had decided to take it one step further, to see how far she could push a certain thought or idea. I enjoyed all the different directions that Starlings went to, whether it was into space, into the mind of a computer, heaven, or the future. Also, if something perhaps didn't entirely work, then Jo Walton is the first to admit it and suggest why. For an established author to take risks like these is really interesting and as an aspiring author myself I actually found it really inspiring. I will definitely be rereading Starlings in the future, even if only for the sheer fun of some of her stories.

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

I adored Starlings and pretty much raced through the different stories! Jo Walton takes risks with her stories and imagery and it really pays off. I loved being surprised by every story, wondering what was going to happen next etc. Whether you've already read her novels or are new to Walton like me, definitely check out Starlings!


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