Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Tyranny of Petticoats

As pretty much everyone reviewing this notes, it's difficult to rate because anthologies are, by their very nature, a mixed bag.  Overall, I quite enjoyed this, and some of the stories were downright brilliant.  Others were ... not.  I'm very excited that Jessica Spotswood will be doing a follow-up anthology, because I need more kick-butt girls in my life.


Review by story:

"Mother Carey's Table" by J. Anderson Coats.  By all rights, I should have loved this one.  Pirates?  Check.  Girl dressing as boy to survive? Check.  Main character is a POC?  Check!  And yet ... I think the abrupt turn we make near the end to fantasy/magical realism undercuts the grittiness of the piratical bits.  Also, I didn't understand why Joe was left in the ocean anyway.  Because the sailors saw she was a girl?  It was very confusing.  I read that part several times and could make neither heads nor tails of their reasoning.


"The Journey" by Marie Lu.  Hmmm.  It seems that the stories I'm unsure about had some plot point that didn't make sense.  In this case, Yakone drives her dogsled off frantically in the night, then decides to follow a falling star to a village, but get there by driving overland across the tundra, which also has ice?  I guess Yakone is not the best navigator?

"Madeleine's Choice" by Jessica Spotswood.  Can we have a whole novel set in New Orleans--this New Orleans?  Where relationships between black people are based on skin color (how light is your skin?) and relationships between black and white are "arrangments."  No marriages here.  At least not legally.  Madeleine and Eugenie manage to be very well-developed characters, and I really liked the inclusion of Marie Laveau as a person, not a crazy witch or murderess.

"El Destinos" by Leslye Walton.  Easily the best story in the book by far, this is also the least "historical fiction"-y.  I didn't realize how much time had passed since she released The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, which you must read.  I need more.  But "El Destinos" will keep me satisfied for a little while, at least.  The story of the three fates reborn as girls in Texan territory?  I love it.

"High Stakes" by Andrea Cremer.  I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would.  This is an alternate history (or is it?) in which the future of humanity is determined by a game played by representatives of various magical coalitions: goblins, fae, vampires, werewolves, etc.  Klio, a contract killer in 1861 Boston, is contacted by a Human Player to protect him at the Game.  The ending to this was excellent.

"The Red Raven Ball" by Caroline Tung Richmond.  Another one that was surprisingly delightful!  Espionage, secret codes, and betrayal in Civil War Washington, D.C.  And actual ravens.  Loved.

"Pearls" by Beth Revis.  This one starts in a much darker place than many of the others--Helen, the main character, has been raped, and her father blames her for "letting" Richard, the vile rapist, do this.  Instead of waiting to be married off to her attacker, Helen sets off for Wyoming to be a teacher.  This is definitely not the environment she's used to, but soon she develops relationships with her students, including Annie, a tough-talking, abused little girl who's a crack shot with her Pa's gun.  But when Richard shows up, an unexpected person pulls the trigger.


"Gold in the Roots of the Grass" by Marissa Meyer.  The story of a Chinese-American girl torn from her home in San Francisco and currently living in the Dakotas with her uncle during the gold rush, this story has magic, ghosts, murder, and romance.  It's wonderful.

"The Legendary Garrett Girls" by Y.S. Lee.  Remember playing The Yukon Trail?  Granted, it wasn't as popular as its Oregonian sibling, but it was a lot of fun.  Curse those rapids at the end, though.  Anyway, in the game, you meet a lot of real life people, including Soapy Smith, a con man.  The Garrett sisters run a saloon in the newly minted town of Skaguay.  A very successful saloon--and Soapy wants it.  Their solution to the issue was both clever and funny, and both sisters were well-drawn.  I must go read Lee's Agency books now.

"The Color of the Sky" by Elizabeth Wein.  As you would expect, Wein writes about flying.  This time, the topic is the tragic death of aviatrix Bessie Coleman.  Antonia, who witnesses the accident in Jacksonville, Florida, must decide what to do with her life.  Can she, like Bessie, become a famous black pilot?  Another burning question is: can Elizabeth Wein write anything without planes?  I am getting kind of tired of planes.


"Bonnie and Clyde" by Saundra Mitchell.  Generally, I enjoy Mitchell's stories (although I've not read any of her novels), but this one fell a bit flat.  It's about a girl bank robber during the Depression and how she's pursued by the thick-headed cop that she likes to kiss when she's not robbing banks.  Girl, you can do way better than that.

"Hard Times" by Katherine Longshore.  This was one of the more improbable stories in the book, I think.  Rosie takes care of Billy, an asthmatic boy, as they ride the rails and stop at hobo camps.  In one of the camps, they meet a teen boy named Lloyd, who is writing up an article on the camps for his father's paper.  They end up getting on a train and going through a really long tunnel, which makes Billy almost die, and then Lloyd just decides to stay with them.  Because ... I don't know.


"City of Angels" by Lindsay Smith.  I enjoyed and disliked this one in equal measure.  The realationship between goregous, movie-star Frankie and misfit Evie was surprising and tender, but I felt like it didn't belong to any particular time period.  They just happened to be riveters during WWII.

"Pulse of the Panthers" by Kekla Magoon.  Ever since I read One Crazy Summer, I've been really interested in seeing the Black Panthers in kids and teen lit.  The ending was satisfyingly unresolved, because that's how life is when you're a teen girl.

"The Whole World Is Watching" by Robin Talley.  My least favorite of all the stories, mostly because it's pretty much a retelling of her novel Lies We Tell Ourselves except it's set in Chicago, not the Deep South.  That just put me off.


Overall, this is a solid collection of pieces about, as the subtitle says, "badass girls."  I definitely recommend it for the collection.

Top picks: "El Destinos," "The Legendary Garrett Girls," and "Gold in the Roots of the Grass."




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