Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings. These are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.
Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.
Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renee Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.
A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place. From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish.
**** Thank you to Greenwillow Books for providing me with a copy via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review ****
I knew the second I saw this book that I wouldn’t be disappointed with it, and I am happy to say I was right! This is an #OwnVoices (written by Asian authors) anthology filled with some amazing retellings of East and South Asian folklore and mythology, so I mean really what’s not to like? I know I absolutely loved reading these tales and exposing myself to mythology and folk tales I had never heard of before, it’s truly a great thing to experience and we need more books like this for sure!
I will break down my thoughts on each individual story but I have to say my favorite stories were: Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi, Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong, The Smile by Aisha Saeed, Nothing Into All by Renee Ahdieh, The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon, and Eyes Like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa. A lot of the stories were hit and miss with me, I either loved them or didn’t there were few in betweens.
Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi – 5 Stars
This was definitely one of the best stories to start the collection off with! Chokshi’s writing is beautiful and poetic, retelling the Filipino myth of a mountain goddess who falls in love with a mortal man. I loved how it felt like reading a “classic” myth but with more modern (and lovely) writing.
Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong – 5 Stars
I think if I had to pick an absolute favorite story from the entire book this would probably be it, there’s just something about Wong’s writing that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go. There’s so much punch packed into so short a story weaving in the grief of losing a loved one as well as doing a spin on the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival. I really liked the way the main character could interact with the ghosts and how it was her duty to make and serve food to them, the backstory added so much complexity.
Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee – 3 Stars
I’m not too sure how I felt about this story, it wasn’t terrible but I wasn’t crazy about it either. It deals with androids, which is almost always at least a little interesting, and there’s a pretty good twist at the end. Other than that it was a bit underwhelming as it built up to that ending, I pretty much am giving those 3 stars to the end.
Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra – 2 Stars
This is a retelling of a Punjabi folk tale about a young girl who is out partying and runs into a strange boy who swears he knows her. It was all really strange and weird, I still don’t think I really “got” it. I can’t say much else without spoiling the ending but the boy was kind of creepy….
The Counting of Vermilion Beads by Aliette De Bodard – 3 Stars
This is based off the Vietnamese story of Tam and Cam, I really liked the author’s spin from the classic tale which portrayed sibling/sisterhood in a positive light. However, apart from the great sisterly relationship I found the story to be pretty boring.
The Land of the Morning Calm by E.C. Meyers – 4 Stars
This story had me pretty emotional, it was sad but beautiful telling the story of a girl who has lost her mother and tries to deal with her grief by playing an online RPG that her whole family would play together. I loved the bits of Korean mythology weaved into the story but also really enjoyed the gaming parts as well, Meyers did a fantastic job of showing just how important gaming can be to some people as it is a form of escape.
The Smile by Aisha Saeed – 5 Stars
Another story that reads like a classic myth or folk tale, which you can probably tell I love, that is South Asian in origin. It’s about a dancer who becomes the courtesan of a jealous prince, I really liked the spin Saeed put on the end of this story as well it was brilliant.
Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber – 4 Stars
This story was actually a lot of fun! It not only told the story of three girls at a celebration for Navaratri who seek revenge on a rude boy but also told the Hindu legend of Durga fighting Mahishasura throughout as well. I loved the jumping back and forth between tales and I actually really liked the characters, which was impressive since the story is so short.
Nothing Into All by Renee Ahdieh – 5 Stars
Of course it doesn’t surprise me at all that I loved Ahdieh’s short story, her writing is never anything short of wonderful. This was a retelling of a Korean tale dealing with magic and goblins, I don’t know why but I always like a good goblin story. I liked how the themes of the story focused around family (specifically siblings) and forgiveness.
Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia – 2 Stars
I liked the idea behind this retelling but it could have been a lot better, this was just bizarre. I thought the writing and dialogue were kind of clunky and choppy. It’s a retelling of a South Asian epic poem about a war/warfare and the main character has dreamt of becoming a hero his whole life and is approached by a god to join a battle which he agrees to but realizes soon it was a mistake. I did like the pop culture references to Fallout, Star Wars, etc. because I’m a geek like that but I didn’t like how the character seemed to hate on people giving their lives for others or for a cause.
Code of Honor by Melissa de la Cruz – 4 Stars
This story is linked to Melissa de la Cruz’s other series “Blue Bloods” which I have not read so I can’t really comment on that but it’s about a Filipino mythological creature called an aswang, which is essentially a vampire witch/warlock. I really liked how gory and creepy this story was and it’s no doubt the author is a great writer, I enjoyed her writing style.
Bullet, Butterfly Elsie Chapman- 3 Stars
Another story I’m not quite sure what I fully think about it. On the one hand I was kind of bored but on the other hand this was a really beautifully sad tale and was well done as a retelling of the Chinese tale “The Butterfly Lovers”. Chapman said in her after note that this is essentially the Chinese “Romeo and Juliet” so you can imagine how the story goes, still I thought it was beautifully done even if I did get a bit bored in the middle.
Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar – 2 Stars
This short story combined two stories from the epic poem The Mahabharata called “Savitri and Satyavan” and “Ganga and Shantanu”. I liked seeing how Thakrar weaved the two tales into one and her writing was very pretty, but I was bored with the story overall. I wasn’t really invested in what was happening whatsoever which may have to do with the fact it was solely romance based.
The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon – 5 Stars
This is based off of the Chinese folk tale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”, and once again it was told in such a classic folk tale way which made it all the more enjoyable to read. This was a cute love story and I really loved how it was told from the weaver girl’s POV (which the original tale is not) and she is given her own voice. I’m also a big fan of being talked to by the narrator (breaking the fourth wall), that’s just a personal preference but I think it makes the story a bit more fun.
Eyes Like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa – 5 Stars
I looooove foxes or in this case kitsunes (Japanese mythical creatures who often shapeshift from fox to human), they’re just so interesting to read about since there are so many different ways to portray them (benevolent and helpful or tricksters). This was just a fantastic, if not heart-breaking, story all around as we follow the young main character who saves a fox as a child. When he goes to pray for help with his village’s rice tax he discovers that it was in fact a kitsune he had saved years ago. Kagawa does an excellent job setting the atmosphere and I can tell she’s a magnificent writer, hopefully I can start one of her books one of these days!
Overall I highly recommend checking out “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” it’s very much worth the read especially if you’re looking for a diverse #OwnVoices book or just an anthology full of East and South Asian myths and folk tales!