A frustrating collection of sf/f, with a few non-fantastic stories as well. Some are too heavy-handed, many are too short to do their ideas justice, and all too often Monette leans on technique instead of letting her (quite interesting!) worlds and characters speak for themselves. Still, there are enough ideas in here to fuel dozens of novels, so it's worth reading.
Draco Campestris--A taxonomist categorizes the dragon species contained in a universe-spanning museum, all the while hearing rumors that the Lady Archangel has fallen out of favor with the Empress. Intriguing world building, a lacquer of portentious love affairs and extinction, but actually very, very lightweight. Literally nothing happens; this is just an excuse for Monette to pile up a bunch of descriptions of her imaginary museum.
Queen of Swords--2 page story in which the king's late wives visit his current wife. I wanted this to be spooky but there's just nothing here.
Letter from a teddy bear on Veterans' Day--The brother of a soldier killed in Vietnam remembers trying to come to terms with his brother's death when he was a child, then puts his brother's old teddy bear on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Maybe if I liked literary fiction I'd like this? But the main character doesn't say anything, or want anything, and there's no plot--this is just the story of him feeling sad and confused as a kid, then looking at the wall as an adult. I dunno.
Under the Beansidhe's Pillow--a 1 page story about a Beandsidhe who is pulled to America by the deaths of the humans she swore to wail for. Nice concept, absolutely no dialog or action or plot or characterization.
The Watcher in the Corners--a young housemaid discovers a murder. Creepy. I'm not sure I bought Lilah's characterization, though.
The Half-sister--Two fated lovers reconcile, as told from the perspective of the heroine's hard working half-sister. The little hints of their society intrigued me, but there's not much story in the <4 pages, and the conceit of telling the epic story from an outside POV is exhausted by the ham-fisted last lines. <spoiler>
She strode out ahead of Gerard, eager for the next adventure I suppose, and I caught his cloak and said, 'When she dies, don't bring her body here.'
I dont' think he understood me, not really, but he understood something, because he nodded and said, a little awkwardly, as if he wasn't used to it, 'Karlin, I'm sorry.'
I shook my head. 'She's made her choice.'
He left then, following her as he would follow her anywhere, and I stayed behind, as I had stayed behind the first time she left. Stayed behind to keep the lamps clean and lit, to keep the household running, to keep carrying the responsibilities Lane had let fall.
I'm no heroine. I don't have a story. And Lane's story is not mine to tell, except for this: she made her choice.
Ashes, Ashes--newlyweds find the bones of an old family tragedy hidden on the family land.
Sidhe Tigers--1 page story about an unloved boy who dreams/knows cold tigers pace through his home. Is it a metaphor or reality? Who knows? Who cares?
A Light in Troy--A slave, a librarian, and a feral child reconcile on a beach. Intriguing world, actual characterization, and the first story I actually liked in the collection.
Amante Doree--An AU of nineteenth century America, in which Napoleonic Emperors own some of America and other European powers struggle for control of other parts, and a courtesan is secretly a spy. She and a shabby English spy investigate the murder of a Bourbon pretender. Probably my favorite of the collection.
Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home--A selkie and a neglected wife become allies against the owner of a maritime museum. Fine.
Darkness, as a Bride--An inventor constructs a clockwork virgin to appease a sea monster. I liked the twisty logic the sea monster uses, but the ending ("...they made love on the remains of the rock those manacles had chained her to.
For monsters can love.
Did you doubt it?") is unearned. The sea monster and the clockwork virgin have known each other for less than a page, less than an hour!
Katabasis: Seraphic Trains--After her poet lover's suicide, a musician seeks an audience with those who could bring him back. A modern twist on the tale of Orpheus, but told in an unnecessarily twisty style. The underlying story and ideas are good, but I felt like Monette didn't trust it, and chopped it up and rearranged it non-linearly to make it seem artier and deeper. And then there are the awful section headers (like, "the starling's path", "corrosive kisses", "lying under the gallows-tree"), none of which have anything to do with the sections themselves. And worst of all are the sections that aren't part of the plot but have been inserted anyway, like the one that reads simply "Regardless of what you may be told, there is no phantom in the city opera house." or another which is a list of things lost in the city and never recovered (3 canvases by a surrealist painter, the diary of a novelist that was burned before her suicide, a key to the secret room in the house at 549 Grosvenor Avenue, a packet of Agathe Ombree rose seeds...). None of it adds to the story. It just makes it seem more pretentious. It's frustrating, because beneath all the frippery there's a solid story and interesting characters.
Fiddelback Ferns--A short, funny story about a mother who starts a war on her garden's weeds.
Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland--A newlywed finds love letters from the Queen of Elfland to his bride. Quite good.
Night Train: Heading West--a poem of a woman playing solitaire while a conductor tells the passengers about the other times he's died. I have no idea why anyone would want to read this, or why Monette wrote it.
The Seance at Chisholm End--A housemaid helps a medium after his seance reveals too much. Good because it's not overwrought.
No Man's Land--A soldier wakes up in the body of an enemy soldier of the opposite gender. Interesting.
A Night in Electric Squidland and Imposters--Mick and Jamie, agents of the Bureau of Paranormal Investigations, work various paranormal cases. Plot AND characterization AND world building. Monette is good when she doesn't get so bogged down in ~dark word play~ that she forgets to provide an actual story.
Straw--A cool twist on the idea of fated heroes and villains.
Absent from Felicity--Horatio falls into bed with Fortinbras, now that his love Hamlet is dead. Short, but I liked the perspective on Hamlet.
The World Without Sleep--An insomniac stumbles into a city where it always night, and goblins, vampires, and angels live in an uneasy alliance. I liked the strange relationships between the races, but I didn't like the main character, who doesn't have much personality and says "er" in every single sentence he speaks.
After the Dragon--A woman defeats a dragon, but the fight takes her beauty and hand. She fights her way back to feeling grateful for her body.