Singing My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan

singing my sister downTitle: Singing My Sister Down and Other Short Stories

Author: Margo Lanagan

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th January. 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: An outstanding collection of thirteen short stories from the internationally acclaimed, multi-award winning author of Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels.

‘We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.’ So begins ‘Singing My Sister Down’, Margo Lanagan’s internationally acclaimed, award-winning short story.

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories brings together ten celebrated short stories, along with three new ones, from the extraordinarily talented author of Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts.

A bride accepts her devastating punishment. A piece of the moon is buried. A ferryman falls into the Styx. Wee Willie Winkie brings a waking nightmare. A new father dresses a fallen warrior princess. A sniper picks off clowns one by one. Margo Lanagan’s stories will stay with you, haunting you with their quiet beauty and fine balance.

~*~

aww2017-badgeSinging My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan brings together a collection of surreal, fantastical and timeless short stories. They are not interconnected, but each reflect on the human condition, and aspects of the fantastical. In the title story, Singing My Sister Down, a bride is forced to accept a devastating punishment while her family watches and assists – it is heartbreaking and yet, has a feeling of fairy tale or the distant past, where punishments were harsh. One story, Ferryman, draws on Greek Mythology and the underworld, with the ferryman of the River Styx falling into the river he crosses every day, ferrying the recently departed to the Underworld to live with Hades and Persephone. Not All Ogre is an unusual retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a not so happy ending for the sleeping princess. These are just three of the thirteen stories that are included in this anthology, and that evoke a sense of timelessness mixed with a fairy tale or mythical feel. Another story shows a more sinister side to the Wee Willie Winkie nursery rhyme.

Each story is written in first person, and set in undetermined times and places, and at times, drawing on myth and fairy tale to create the story. This gives each story an eerie feel, but at the same time, it works really well, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the stories that Lanagan has written. In some tales, the sinister side of tradition and fairy tales or nursery rhymes emerge –Wee Willie Winkie is shown as a living nightmare, a world where the worst dreams come true and haunt people for a long time. Yet others are more surreal, where I was unsure about the setting and plot and characters – yet at the same time, show a world that is not quite perfect at times, but idealised through the eyes of some of the narrators. The characters are all flawed, but driven by their own natures and desires towards the final outcomes of each story.

Within each story, Margo Lanagan has created a world we can recognise – the world of human nature and human flaws, not a physical world. It is lyrical and full of rich language and imagery that makes each read compelling, something that I didn’t want to set aside. It is another book that can be devoured or savoured, and I tried to do both, wanting to know how each story ended, yet not wanting to finish it too quickly.

In most anthologies, the stories can be linked by a theme, or even a series of characters or other plot devices. Yet in Singing My Sister Down, each story is its own entity, and yet, this works. I liked the different stories and characters within each tale, alternating between timeless worlds or worlds of magic and wonder, or unknown worlds hinting at a non-human existence. She does all of this in a wonderful way that captures the imagination and brings together ideas of what makes us human – and how an individual might deal with certain circumstances. If I had to pick a favourite, or at least one that sticks with me, it is probably Not All Ogre – I recognised the fairy tale motifs and this was exquisitely done, even though the conclusion and events that led to the conclusion were unexpected. I think this worked well for this tale in particular, leading the reader to believe one thing and then allowing another to happen – this made it intriguing and memorable.

A good read for young adult and adult readers. It can be read in a few days, and I hope to revisit it.

Booktopia

Advertisements

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

frogkisser.jpgTitle: Frogkisser!

Author: Garth Nix

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 22nd February, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A rollicking fantasy-adventure by the master of children’s speculative fiction.

Talking dogs. Mischievous wizards. An evil stepstepfather. Loads and loads of toads. Such is the life of a Frogkisser.

Princess Anya needs to see a wizard about a frog. It’s not her frog, it’s her sister’s. And it’s not a frog, it’s actually a prince. A prince who was once in love with Anya’s sister, but has now been turned into a frog by their evil stepstepfather. And Anya has made a ‘sister promise’ that she will find a way to return Prince Denholm to human form…

So begins an exciting, hilarious, irreverent quest through the Kingdom of Trallonia and out the other side, in a fantastical tale for all ages, full of laughs and danger, surprises and delights, and an immense population of frogs.

~*~

Frogkisser is a fairy tale for all. When Prince Denholm is turned into a frog by the stepstepfather, Rikard, of Morven and Anya, Anya’s sister promise to Morven to find him and turn him back into a human. And so, Anya sets out on a Quest, with Royal Dog Ardent, a newt called Shrub, who was once a boy and Otter-Maiden, Smoothie, to find the ingredients for the lip balm needed to reverse transmogrifications. She needs to see a wizard, and meets up with the Seven Dwarves, and the Association of Responsible Robbers, to help up hold the All-Encompassing Bill of Rights and Wrongs, that Duke Rikard and the League of Right-Minded Sorcerers are trying to do away with. As Anya and Ardent embark on their Quest, The Kingdom of Trallonia is under the control of the Duke, and it is up to Anya and Ardent, along with those they meet along the way and rescue, to ensure the Duke doesn’t succeed.

Usually a fairy tale involves a prince saving a princess. However, in Frogkisser, it is Princess Anya who is destined to be the one to save the prince and go on the Quest, aided by faithful dog, Ardent. Anya is content to sit in the library reading and learning about magic – she wants to be a sorcerer, but perhaps this Quest, and what Duke Rikard does, will change her mind. In this fractured fairy tale, Anya is the one with the most agency – and is just as flawed as any other character, but it is what she does with those flaws and the knowledge she has that make her the hero of the novel.

Each character had quirks and flaws that made them complete, especially those on the Quest, such as Anya, The Good Wizard, Ardent, Smoothie and Scrub. Even Bert, the head of the Association of Responsible Robbers (ARR) was neither wholly good or bad – rather, she knew what she wanted to do, yet gave Anya fair warning of her plans. I enjoyed Anya’s growth over the book, and how she learnt to deal with unexpected changes in her Quest. She is a wonderful character, and a lot of fun. Definitely not a typical princess who waits to be saved – she does the saving herself. She is also human with human flaws and interests that make her relatable, and her trusty talking dog, Ardent, is the most adorable sidekick and Quest companion ever. He became my favourite character.

Garth Nix has combined traditional fairy tale and fantasy tropes with a mixture of well known fairy tale characters and myths, but turned them on their head: The Good Wizard is a woman, as is the Robin Hood character – Roberta, or Bert. The male and female characters for the most part work together efficiently and without question. The final chapters and climax were unexpected in some ways, but lovely in their execution. It is a delightful novel, and though aimed at a Young Adult audience, can be enjoyed by anyone who likes their fairy tales with a twist. I hope to revisit this novel soon.