Review copy provided by the author, who is also a personal friend. Also the title is a Fire and Hemlock reference, which, come on, how can that not bias a reviewer.
If you’ve read any of Brennan’s work before, there are through-lines to it: anthropology, history/quasi-history, and adventure fantasy. These are clearly visible in this short story collection, although the adventure fantasy is the smallest strain in this bunch. I think it’s in some ways hardest to write something that feels like adventure fantasy and still has plot at this length. In any case, if you haven’t read Brennan’s work before, that’s the place where this collection is least representative of the spread of what she’s doing.
Other than that, there is quite a lot of what Brennan does. There are bits with faeries and bits with odd artifacts, stories of self-discovery and stories of community relationship. There are funny bits and deathly serious bits. There’s a lot of range here.
What there is not–and this was important for me the day I read this book, and it may well be important for you–is a lot of gratuitously depressing or cruel material. The characters are not all sweetness and light–some of them are basically no sweetness and light–but what this collection is unlikely to do is leave you numbed and helpless in the face of an uncaring world. I feel like when I ask for things that are not staggeringly depressing, people think I want books in which the teddy bears have their picnic, and this is not one of those. This is just…balanced. Sometimes we can use some balance.
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