A Thousand Beginnings and Endingsby Ellen Oh, Elsie Chapman, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Renée Ahdied, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Cindy Pon, Alys Published 26 Jun 2018
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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. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me.
"A Thousand Beginnings and Endings" Reviews
This is definitely one of the better YA short story collections I have read. As with all anthologies, some stories are much stronger than others, but I enjoyed far more than I disliked. Plus, it was just so great to see the exploration of mythologies we don’t often see in the mainstream. My average rating over the fifteen stories was 3.7.
A few years ago, collections like these might have just been a way for me to go on some literary tourism of other cultures, but it's now very important to me on a personal level. My two sons are mixed race - Japanese and British - and it is so so important to me that they see their Japanese heritage represented in all forms of art and media.
And, honestly, it's just so refreshing to see fantasy stories outside of the vaguely-Medieval Euro-centric books we've come to expect. There's a whole world of fascinating history and culture out there - it's time to explore it!
Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi - 5 stars
The collection gets off to a bang with this gorgeous Filipino fairy tale and love story. I didn't love Chokshi's first novel The Star-Touched Queen, but I have to say that her flowery, poetic writing works MUCH better in a short story. It's lush and vivid, raising goosebumps along my arms at its end. A goddess falls in love with a human man - oh, what could possibly go wrong?
It was an ill-fated thing to claim that a heart is safe. Hearts are rebellious. The moment they feel trapped, they will strain against their bindings.
Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong - 4 stars
This was a little strange, but in the best possible way. Wong takes on the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival in her story. A young girl who has lost her beloved mother makes it her duty to feed crowds of ghosts. It's a tale about grief, told in sweet, subtle interactions. There is something so wonderful and sad about this uniting of the living and the dead through food.
Don’t talk to strangers, Mom had said, over and over. And don’t trust the ghosts, especially not during the Ghost Festival.
Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee - 3.5 stars
If I was rating the ending alone, this would probably get five stars. It's a science-fiction story with androids, but also about grief and the loss of a loved one. There's the familial aspect: the narrator's relationship with her father hasn't been the same since her mother died; and also a mystery aspect: she teams up with a friend to uncover the truth behind the androids that were recalled. For the most part, I glided through the story, kinda enjoying it but not really loving it like the previous two. And then the ending happened. Perfection.
And now that she knew the truth, who would she decide to be?
Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra - 2 stars
It's a shame about this one because it took some interesting steps but stopped very abruptly and strangely. I turned the page and was shocked to discover that it was over! It's a Punjabi folktale retelling and the author's explanation for the story was really interesting, but I didn’t think her intentions came across at all. The main guy was pretty creepy, too.
You don’t know, Bebo, what you’ll do,” my mother says, a sudden anger simmering under her words. “You don’t know how to choose until you’re right there, on the precipice, giving away your everything for something that may be real or may be a shadow, a ghost you’re chasing.”
The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliette De Bodard - 4 stars
Like a lot of these stories, this one was quite weird. Though I found myself really liking it. I also found myself doing some reading into the Vietnamese story of Tam and Cam, which starts like something of a Cinderella tale, in which a jealous sister envies the other's beauty and it leads to tragedy. Here, Bodard rewrites it with a more positive spin, showing the power of sibling love above all else.
“So many precious places to discover. Come on, Lil’sis. Let’s go see them together.”
The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers - 5 stars
Aww. This was one seriously emotional, beautiful story about loss and gaming. As gaming is such an important part of Korean culture, it was great to see it explored here. And while I usually find video game-centred stories too light and silly, Myers did a fantastic job of showing how a game can be really important for someone. It can be a much-needed escape, a creativity outlet, or a doorway to an unending universe. I liked this story so much because it took something I don't usually love and did something new and deeply moving with it.
“I finally know how it ends.”
The Smile by Aisha Saeed - 4 stars
Well, I always like a good feminist fairytale! And I LOVE what Saeed did with this one. She takes a tragic love story and rewrites it to give a king's courtesan choice, freedom and agency. It's a gorgeously-written South Asian addition, and somehow both happy and sad. Happy, because it is about a woman finally getting to make her own choices and understanding what love really is. But sad, because much must be given up for the sake of freedom.
The prince always said I belonged to him. I had thought this word protected me and kept me safe, but now I understood. Belonging meant he could place me wherever he liked, whether in his bed or in this dank tower. Belonging is not love. It never was.
Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber - 3 stars
This was okay. I enjoyed the alternating between Hindu myths and a modern-day celebration of Navaratri, a holiday I had never heard of before. But, though educational, I didn't feel as much of a spark with this one as I did with the others. It was light, but fairly bland. It seemed a little too long, too.
Nothing into All by Renée Ahdieh - 4 stars
I really enjoyed this one! It's a retelling of the Korean folktale Goblin Treasure and I loved what the author did with it. A girl makes a trade for goblin magic so she can achieve her dream of going away to music school, but her brother becomes angry that she isn't using the magic to make gold that could benefit the family. It's a tale about siblings, forgiveness, the decisions we make and how bad actions can be hiding a good person.
It is Chun’s fault he has become a thief. But please let him have the chance to make it right. Give him the chance to become a great man.
Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia - 2 stars
Too long and emotionless for my tastes. I felt like this story was droning on and on in parts, and I neither learned something new from it, nor experienced an emotional response to it. The protagonist goes on and on about wanting to be a hero, and about life and death, and I just took so little away from reading it.
Code of Honor by Melissa de la Cruz - 2 stars
There was a definite slip right around this later middle part of the book. My two least favourite stories were lumped together here. Melissa de la Cruz's work seemed to be a companion to her Blue Bloods series, which I have not read and don't particularly have any interest in. This story was about Filipino aswangs - vampire witches - and contained a lot of gore and gruesomeness, but not a lot of emotion. A potentially interesting concept that left me feeling cold.
“I almost murdered a girl yesterday.”
Bullet, Butterfly by Elsie Chapman - 4 stars
Gorgeous. Chapman retells the Chinese tale of the Butterfly Lovers - a "tragic tale of two young lovers kept apart by familial duty". Set during a war, this reimagining sees a boy posing as a girl and falling in love with another girl called Zhu. The author breathes new life into a very old concept - that of forbidden love and being torn between duty and what your heart truly wants. Beautifully-written with a touching ending.
“Promise me, Lin,” she said, “that wherever we end up stationed, we’ll stay alive long enough to find each other again, to be friends always.”
Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar - 4 stars
Inspired by two stories from The Mahabharata, this is a powerful feminist tale about sticking to your guns and putting your true passion first. Always. I loved reading about the two stories this was based on - about “Savitri and Satyavan” and “Ganga and Shantanu”. The theme of a smart woman cleverly tricking a god or demon or jinni seems to come up a lot in South Asian folktales and I must confess: I like it.
Together, her voice sparkling like diamond dust, his smooth as clove smoke, they ensorcelled the audience as they had ensorcelled each other.
The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon - 5 stars
Oh, I loved this! I'm not sure why but I sometimes love it when the narrator speaks directly to the reader with a conspiratorial wink (You can never out wait a goddess, Dear Reader. I have all the time in the world.). In this, Pon retells “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”, which is itself a wonderful folktale, but here becomes even more so. It's very romantic, definitely a love story, but it's a good one. The author gives a voice to the mostly silent weaver girl in this version, allowing her to tell the story from her perspective. I couldn't stop smiling as she tells us:
“All the storytellers get it wrong.”
Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa - 4 stars
I wonder if this story has anything to do with Kagawa's upcoming novel Shadow of The Fox because it is also about foxes (well, kitsunes, to be precise). Takeo, the protagonist in this story, is an extremely likable hero and we get pulled along for an adventure with one of Japan's most loved mythical creatures: kitsunes. Typically, human/fox shapeshifters. It's also a little creepy, too. Kagawa captures the eerie small-town setting perfectly and, let's not lie, there's something deeply unsettling about never knowing whether a human is really a human or something else.
Takeo never saw the fox again. But sometimes, on warm evenings when he was outside, he could almost imagine he was being watched.
Overall, this was a stunning anthology. I would really love to see more fantasy short story collections exploring mythologies around the world with own voices authors. If you like fantasy and you like short stories, I highly recommend these.
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ARC provided by HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.
This is the anthology I’ve been waiting my entire life for. As a Filipina woman, I have no words to express how happy my heart is to just read a collection of short stories that are all ownvoices. And at the end of each short story is an author note on why they wrote the story that they did. And, I think I cried reading at least 75% of the author’s notes. This anthology is so beautiful, so powerful, and it means more to me than I have word combinations to express.
“We fell in love with all those myths about powerful gods being vulnerable, about humans becoming heroes. Such stories taught us about mythology, about the beauty of folktales and legends, and about how stories of gods and goddesses are also stories about the human heart. But we never found similar compilations that were distinctly Asian.”
Friends, please preorder this and fall in love, too! If you’d like to get me a birthday gift this year, please just preorder this, read, and review this collection. Honestly, it’s the only thing I want in 2018. I’ll beg, I’ll plead, I’ll scream from the rooftops: please preorder this anthology and show the world that Asian stories can not only sell, but can also change lives. I will cherish this book forever and ever. (While also apparently rereading Roshani’s from my ARC copy over the phone to my grandmother 100 times!)
This collection honestly has so many amazing additions, but my personal favorites were Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi, Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong, The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon, and Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa. But my all-time favorite of the collection was The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers.
But I'm going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!
➽ Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi - ★★★★★
“It was an ill-fated thing to claim that a heart is safe. Hearts are rebellious. The moment they feel trapped, they will strain against their bindings.”
I am in tears writing this. Best opening story of any anthology ever. This is a version of the Philippine mythos of Maria Makiling that my grandma has been telling me stories of since I was a little girl. And Roshani’s take on it was beyond words beautiful. This opening story was enough for me to preorder three copies of this book. And I know I’m being completely biased, but this was nothing short of magnificent, and I’ll cherish it forever and ever. Roshani, thank you, with every bone in my body, thank you.
➽ Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong - ★★★★★
“Can’t they see the ghosts all the time?” she asked. “Not like you and I can. The Festival is when ghosts are most themselves instead of what the living want them to be. Not everyone will like what they see tonight.”
Everyone knows I’m a huge fangirl of Alyssa Wong, but the reason for that is because she truly writes the best short fiction out there right now. There are so many amazing authors out there, but talent like Alyssa’s, where it just shows that she was meant to weave words together and craft these life changing stories, is so rare, but so awe-inspiring. She is such a blessing to the literary world, and I'm forever thankful. Every anthology collection I’ve read that includes a story from her ends up being ten times better for the inclusion. And her story always ends up completely stealing the show, my soul, and my heart, while also becoming my favorite. And Olivia’s Table was no different. This is a perfect story about a girl dealing with grief and depression but honoring her family by cooking at the Hungry Ghost Festival. And this was such an honor to read, and I know I’ll carry this tale with me forever. TW/CW: loss of a loved one, terminal illness, grief, and depression.
➽ Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee - ★★★★
“The brain is just a highly complex circuit of electrical impulses, so it stands to reason that it can be artificially manufactured. Scientists have been trying to understand this process for decades. What. Makes. Emotion?”
This is a sci-fi tale about a girl and her strained relationship with her father, who hasn’t been the same since her mother died (TW/CW: loss of a loved one, grief, and abandonment). But she and her friend soon start to unravel a mystery concerning the androids that were recalled long ago for being too intelligent. And this was such a beautiful story, with such an amazing ending. And the end note about this reimagining of The Woman and the Tiger, a Hmong folktale, completely made me fall even harder in love.
➽ Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra - ★★★
“You don’t know how to choose until you’re right there, on the precipice, giving away your everything for something that may be real or may be a shadow, a ghost you’re chasing.”
This one wasn’t my favorite in the collection, just because it stars a young girl at a club with her friend when a strange young man appears and keeps following them. I mean, all the red flags, right? And even though his intentions always seemed good, it still made me uncomfortable to read. I did love the author’s note for this one, I just sadly didn’t love this vision. But oh my gosh, the atmosphere and the food descriptions? Perfection. Like, don’t read this if you’re hungry, because my stomach is growling just thinking about the food and drinks from this short story.
➽ The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliette De Bodard - ★★★★★
“We can’t go home, but that doesn’t mean we have to be caged.”
I loved this tale about two sisters and that unconditional bond. This story felt so full, so atmospheric, so perfect. This story was inspired by Tấm and Cám, but the version that Aliette De Bodard created is so heartwarming and so inspiring. This is an empowering little tale, that truly emphasizes that we can be anything we want in this world, with whoever we are in this world, regardless of what others want to shape and mold us to be.
➽ The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers - ★★★★★
“I finally know how it ends.”
I cried through 80% of this story. Easily, this was one of my new favorite short stories of all time. I will never forget this story for as long as I live. And I am immediately buying everything E. C. Myers has created. This is a story about a gwisin (ghost), and a girl that is still dealing with the death of her mother, five years later. It doesn’t help that she’s still living with her father and her mother’s father (her grandfather), who reminds her of her mother’s presence constantly. But it is undeniable when the MMO that was her mother’s life, and the reason her parents met, is being shut down forever, but has drawn Sunny into playing again. And Sunny has just found out about a new private server that will preserve the game, and maybe the memory of her mother. I loved this more than words. MMORPGs have meant so much to me during my life. I have played them since high school, and I have some of my very best friends and loved ones to this day because of them. And this short story is a love letter to video games and the impact they can make on your life. And video games are such a huge part of Korean culture, and the significance and importance shined through this story so very brightly. This story just had such a profound meaning to me, because it made me realize that one day I’m (hopefully) going to be a mom that is a gamer, and a con lover, and a writer, and so many of the things that Sunny viewed her mom as. Like, I promise, I was bawling through almost this entire story. This was beyond words beautiful. I have no word combination to string together to let you all know how perfect this was and how much this story meant to me. TW/CW: death, loss of a parent. And RIP to my favorite NPC of all time, Ephoenix (Ezra Chatterton).
➽ The Smile by Aisha Saeed - ★★★★★
“Belonging meant he could place me wherever he liked, whether in his bed or in this dank tower. Belonging is not love. It never was.”
This was so beautiful, I couldn’t help but fall in love. I need a full-length of this story, I need to know what happens next, I need so much more. But I guess that’s the beauty of this tale; anything could happen next. This is an extremely feminist short story about a girl who serves a prince who is in love with her. But this story is about love, and how it should only be given freely and to those deserving. Seriously, this is such a treat of a story. I think this will be one that everyone who picks up this anthology will love.
➽ Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber - ★★★★
“There are three reasons I know fall is awesome: the most anticipated Bollywood movies are always on a fall release schedule, my mom starts practicing her delicious party dishes, and it means it’s time for Navrātri!”
I loved this adorable story that switched between Hinduism mythos, and to current time to a girl celebrating Navaratri at a party with her friends, while they also plot revenge on a boy that’s being rather rude. Navaratri is celebrated in honor of good defeating evil, and the battle of Durga and Mahishasura, a buffalo demon. And Preeti Chhibber does such a wonderful job transitioning and showcasing these two stories together. Also, I just loved learning about this Hindu holiday that’s so empowering to women. This was expertly crafted and such a joy to read.
➽ Nothing into All by Renée Ahdieh - ★★★★
“Many years ago, a girl and a boy lived with their parents in a bark-shingled home near a flowing river’s edge.”
Oh, this was such a fun and whimsical read! This was a super unique spin on The Goblin Treasure, which is actually a story I grew up hearing, too. But Renée Ahdieh did such a wonderful job making me feel every single thing for this set of siblings. And there is such a wonderful message about how we all carry goodness and badness inside of ourselves, but how we choose our actions based on which is what is truly important.
➽ Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia - ★★
“When I’d agreed to his offer, it was because I had thought I’d be a hero.”
This is a long short story about what it truly means to be a hero, and if being a hero only means accomplishing what you set out to do or winning the battle you set out to fight. There are a ton of lighthearted pop culture references in this, but a ton of hard-hitting questions of war and what is worth losing one’s life for. I just thought that sometimes the writing was a little too harsh and a little too dry for me.
➽ Code of Honor by Melissa de la Cruz - ★★
“I almost murdered a girl yesterday…”
Friends, I’m heartbroken. I was supposed to love this one! I just read the Fresh Ink anthology, and Melissa de la Cruz’s story was easily my favorite out of the entire collection! But this? This just didn’t work for me at all. It’s about a vampire that is living in hiding, but has lost her journal that has a spell attached to it, so no human can read it. But it is still causing her a lot of trouble. Also, TW/CW for sort of a graphic animal comment, since she feeds from them. One line in this kind of made me shudder upon reading, so use caution. But I think this might be a set-up or something for her series Blue Bloods, but it just really felt strange being a part of this anthology, and I really didn’t enjoy it as much as it pains me to say.
➽ Bullet, Butterfly by Elsie Chapman - ★★★★★
“Don’t forget we’re only ever soldiers here in Shangyu, and soldiers never get to be the ones who wake up from a spell, or who even get to break a spell. We’re just the dragons guarding the gate, ordered to keep breathing the fire of those who cast the spell in the first place.”
I loved this so much. I loved this more than words. This is a reimagining of the Chinese legend Butterfly Lovers, and it was so beautiful and so impactful. The theme of loyalty to one’s family, but also to one’s heart and happiness is constant throughout this tale. And just all of the ways that war impacts every single person, whether they are forced to create, forced to fight, or forced to any duty against their true heart’s desires. This story was wonderful and made me such an emotional mess. For sure a highlight in this already amazing anthology.
➽ Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar - ★★★★
“She sang for her parents, for the hue-switching heavens, for herself. She read fairy tales, epics, and legends and imagined performing them on a stage draped in velvet. But it wasn’t enough. She longed for a friend.”
This was a beautiful story inspired by two of the stories in the longest epic poem in history, The Mahābhārata. One about Princess Savitri and Prince Satyavan, and one about Ganga and Shantanu. This was a moving story about destiny and sacrifice and how important it is to always follow your heart, regardless of the outcomes and/or circumstances. And I was high-key living for the feminist undertones that were expertly woven throughout this.
➽ The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon - ★★★★★
“…whatever I might make for myself in this life: hearth, home, or family—they would mean nothing without you.”
Please, excuse me while I go buy more from Cindy Pon because this story was one of the greatest blessings of 2018. And this is her version of the Chinese folklore tale of Cowherd, and the magical girl who saw him first. I actually had never heard of this tale before, so I spent some time afterwards reading everything I could, and I am even more in love. This is for sure one of the best stories in this anthology, and Cindy Pon’s giving a voice to this magical, fairy, weaver girl is something so beautiful I don’t even have words for it. One of the most romantic short stories I’ve ever read too. All the feels, all the happiness, all the tears.
➽ Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa - ★★★★★
“She could charm bears with that smile, Takeo thought. If he were a bear, he would lie down with his head in her lap and not move until the hunters came for him.”
I loved this with every fiber of my being. I loved this writing so much that I think I’m actually going to pick up everything I’ve been neglecting on reading from Julie Kagawa, too. Like, this was the perfect closing story. And it surrounded one of my favorite mythical creatures of all time: Kitsunes! Again, the writing was so perfect, I was instantly teleported into this small village. The main character, Takeo, was the sweetest little cinnamon roll. And this short story was honestly perfect in every way. And the ending of this was absolutely haunting. I would buy and read anything else about this heartbroken girl, and the small boy that missed so much because of evil men.
Out of a possible 75 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 15 stories) this collection accumulated 63 stars (84%). But I am giving this five stars regardless, because I loved it so much. The stories in this collection meant more to me than I have words for. And I truly hope you all pick this up upon release.
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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
This is a collection I couldn’t wait to start. When I was about eight years old, my grandma bought me a volume of Asian Folk Tales and thus, she opened a window to a world that was exotic, mysterious, a land of fairytale to my young mind. This was the beginning of my fascination with Asian cultures, especially the ones found in India and China. I thought that this collection, edited by Ellen Oh, would feel like a magic carpet to the lands that seem so distant, hidden, often misunderstood. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be...In fact, it was a severe disappointment.
This collection consists of 15 original, mostly contemporary, tales that are retellings of myths and legends, focused on ghosts, star-crossed lovers and angry spirits, heroes and deities, combined with modern aspects of our societies, e.g. androids, role-playing games, school cliques. Unfortunately, this combination didn’t work for me. While the human need for revenge and love and understanding lies behind the tales, the writing is choppy, uninspiring. Turning traditional tales into naive stories about bots or teenage vampires results in ridiculing the subject matter. Following each tale, there is a note from each writer, explaining their inspiration behind the story. What they don’t explain is the reason for turning beautiful myths into Nickelodeon, Twilight-inspired, cringe-worthy fanfiction. A look in their biographies answered my question. YA ‘’novels’’ and Hallmark scripts. Not really Pulitzer-worthy material. If YA audience was the target crowd for this collection, then, I’m sorry, I had no idea….
The stories that saved the book from being an unexpected DNF were:
Forbidden Fruit : A Mountain Goddess falls in love with a mortal but she hadn’t anticipated the evil done by humans. A sad tale from the Philippines.
Olivia’s Table : A young Chinese-American woman arrives in Arizona for the Ghost Festival. She is a peculiar exorcist who continues the work of her late mother. Once a year, the ghosts need to eat in order for their soul to rest in peace. They walk among the living, waiting...A beautiful story whose roots lie in the vast Chinese tradition.
The Land of the Morning Calm : A beautiful story of a family who tries to cope with a sudden, tragic loss. Korean traditions are paired with the strange world of RPG in a tale of motherhood, obsession with an artificial world and the need to move on.
Bullet, Butterfly : A tale of love, war and loss. Based on a well-known Chinese legend of star-crossed lovers.
In my opinion, the weakest moments in the collection were the stories based on the Hindu traditions. I felt the writers were highly disrespectful towards them, creating superficial ‘’tales’’ full of cliches and horrible dialogue. I think the only ‘’tradition’’ that may have inspired them was the Bollywood industry and its atrocities because the beliefs and customs of India are rich, complex, mystical. Not this, whatever it was. For example, the story Spear Carrier is supposedly inspired by the epic Mahabharata and it is an abomination.
To my extreme disappointment, this was an extremely uneven collection with very few gems in an attempt to salvage a collection that could have been glorious. Instead, it was barely passable. I definitely suggest you give it a try, though. You may find what I wasn’t able to distinguish. Having read tons of short stories collection based on myths and traditions, written with quality and taste and not like scribbles for a Nickelodeon TV series, this one appeared to me frightfully average.
My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.word...
We would have been overjoyed to have found this anthology, filled with characters with skin and hair and names more like ours, in our beloved libraries. It’s the book that was missing in our lives for far too long.
I have been so excited about this collection ever since I first heard about it. Ellen Oh is a wonderful woman (you may know her as one of the co-founders of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement!), and I knew that her co-editing efforts would lend to a perfectly wonderful anthology. I love retellings, but more than anything, I was obsessed with the idea of this collection being written singlehandedly by Asian authors, writing Asian stories. Honestly, this is the kind of diverse representation we need more of in the bookish world!
It’s hard to narrow down my favorites to just a few, but if I had to pick a top 3, it would go to:
Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong
The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon
Eyes Like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa
→ Forbidden Fruit — Roshani Chokshi ★★★★★ ←
They were beautiful in their fragility, disappearing as fast as a bloom of ice beneath sunlight.
What a stunning introduction to the collection! I’ve never read any of Roshani’s work before, but this made me immediately wish to do so. It’s the retelling of an old myth about Maria Makiling, a goddess associated with Mount Makiling in the Philippines, and her mortal lover. The writing felt so reminiscent of a classic, old myth or legend, in all the best ways, and I only wish it could have been longer!
→ Olivia’s Table — Alyssa Wong ★★★★★ ←
“If you honor everything I’ve taught you, then I promise that I will never leave you.”
Alyssa Wong is probably my singular favorite short story author, and she always writes these gorgeous, haunting tales (typically with some horror-esque or death-related vibes, and often a queer protagonist, which this story features both of). This did not disappoint at all. It’s about a Chinese-American teen who takes over preparing the Yu Lan (Hungry Ghost Festival) meal at a hotel in Arizona, after her mother—who had spent many years holding the task—has passed away. It not only displays the importance of remembering and honoring your ancestors and culture, but it also offers a brutally honest look into how it feels to mourn a lost loved one. I cried through probably half of this story, and now I just want to go hug my mom, but kudos to Alyssa for breaking my heart in the sweetest possible way, as usual.
→ Steel Skin — Lori M. Lee ★★★☆☆ ←
Yer’s father was an android.
This sci-fi piece is a retelling of a children’s story, and in this rendition, Yer is a young girl who believes her father has been replaced by a coldhearted, emotionless android. I didn’t have any complaints about the story, but I wasn’t particularly sucked in, either—it was an interesting concept, but I thought the ending was kind of predictable, and it isn’t a story that I think will stick with me in any way.
→ Still Star-Crossed — Sona Charaipotra ★★★☆☆ ←
“You don’t know how to choose until you’re right there, on the precipice, giving you’re your everything for something that may be real or may be a shadow, a ghost you’re chasing.”
Unfortunately, this piece didn’t work well for me, either. It’s a very loose retelling, and depicts a young woman who’s trying to learn how to press her parents’ boundaries through partying and letting loose, when she meets a young man who swears he knows her, though she can’t fathom why. There isn’t much I can say without spoiling the ending, but this was an odd story with an ending that I honestly found slightly disturbing (and not in a good way). I didn’t hate it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it much, either.
→ The Counting of Vermillion Beads — Aliette De Bodard ★★★☆☆ ←
But nothing gets through the wall. Not leaves, not birds, not girls—not the sister of her heart, the one who’s always had enough fire for both of them, dragging her into scrapes and trouble as if there were no other way to live.
Two young women have been taken to live in the Emperor’s Palace, working as accountants, but the Palace is surrounded by a massive wall that nobody can overcome, and they desperately want to go home to their families. I loved the bond between these two sisters, but the story itself didn’t hold a lot of interest for me. I thought it was a little bit jumpy and would have benefited from being about twice as long and having room for more explanation of what was happening to the girls.
→ The Land of the Morning Calm — E. C. Myers ★★★★★ ←
I don’t believe in ghosts in the real world, but that’s the joy of the Three Kingdoms.
This story was so sweet, and sad, and precious. Sun’s mother passed away when she was 11 years old, and her biggest tie to her mother’s life is The Land of the Morning Calm, an MMORPG, which is scheduled to be shut down in just over a week. Sun revisits the game and finds a familiar spirit trapped therein. Not only is it a sweet reunion story, and a gorgeously modernized folklore retelling, but it also presented an interesting view into both sides of a popular debate: video games can be bonding experiences and create wonderful memories for families who play together, but all hobbies have to be kept in moderation, as we see through Sun’s lamenting over the times she didn’t get to spend with her parents because of their gaming habits.
→ The Smile — Aisha Saeed ★★★★★ ←
Belonging is not love. It never was.
This reads so beautifully like old folklore, with a brilliant young dancer who has found herself trapped in an unhappy relationship with a jealous prince. The depiction of the courtesan was so brave and empowering, and there was an incredibly authentic feeling in the darkness of the tale as she was forced to choose between her freedom or her life.
Origin: South Asian
→ Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers — Preeti Chhibber ★★★☆☆ ←
Let the gods have their battles of good and evil. We were here to dance.
This installment was fun in that it paralleled the original story and the retelling, one piece at a time; on the one hand, we had the infamous Hindu legend of the battle between Durga and Mahishasura, while on the other, we had a story of three young girls celebrating Navaratri and seeking revenge on a rude boy from their community. I enjoyed how heavily inspired the story clearly was by the legend, and I liked how heavy-handed the Hindu references were (I had to look some of them up, admittedly, but it was a great opportunity to learn more about the religion and celebration). Unfortunately, my complaint is just that the writing felt so young—I think this story would’ve been better suited as middle grade than YA. It almost felt like a modern parable, which isn’t what I expected.
→ Nothing into All — Renée Ahdieh ★★★★☆ ←
But in truth the brother and sister were searching for something else entirely. Something they’d sworn to keep secret. Something they’d caught sight of only once, eight years ago: Goblins.
It’s no secret that I love stories relating to all manner of feyfolk, including coldhearted, greedy little goblins, so I knew I would like this one. I strongly believe whimsical fantasy is where Renee’s writing niche is, and I felt so sucked into this retelling of these siblings seeking goblins—one for simple magic in her life, the other for gold.
→ Spear Carrier — Rahul Kanakia ★☆☆☆☆ ←
But a hero wouldn’t be so lonely and so afraid. A hero wouldn’t shout for help, and then, hearing only silence, go back to his trench and cry.
I genuinely hoped that I would not be 1-starring a single story in this collection, but this was awful. It’s about a kid who dreams his whole life of becoming a hero, so when a god randomly appears and asks him to join in some celestial warfare, he agrees without knowing what he’s signing up for. The stream-of-consciousness writing is not well done, the narrator comes across as very juvenile, and there are some downright insensitive quips about people who die for others or for the furthering of knowledge and science.
Origin: South Asian
→ Code of Honor — Melissa de la Cruz ★☆☆☆☆ ←
I almost murdered a girl yesterday. Literally.
I recently read a short story by this author that I adored, so I hoped I would love this, too, but this was definitely not my cup of tea. It’s hard to root for a narrator who feels this much like a mid-2000s Mary Sue protagonist, much less when she’s busy slaughtering poor baby animals to calm herself down from her “rages”. This story also just felt so weird and out of place to me, and after I learned that this story apparently ties into the author’s Blue Bloods series, it felt too self-serving for me to give it much merit.
→ Bullet, Butterfly — Elsie Chapman ★★★★★ ←
The commanders keep telling us we’re so close to finishing the way, that it’s almost the end—but whose end?
This story was breathtakingly beautiful, and so sad. A retelling of “The Butterfly Lovers”, a two-thousand-year-old Chinese legend of star-crossed lovers, it depicts a China in which war has ravaged everyone, forcing young women to work in factories creating weapons for young men to utilize. When Liang is awaiting his station, he dresses as a girl to visit the factory, and falls in love with a young woman therein. The writing in this piece is so powerful, and I loved every word of it.
→ Daughter of the Sun — Shveta Thakrar ★★★★★ ←
Savitri Mehta’s parents had named her for light.
I enjoyed this story so much, as it portrays a young woman—born with the light of the sun in her chest—who seeks a companion, finding it in a boy full of moonglow—a boy who’s been doomed to die in one year. This is such a gorgeous story, but more than anything, I loved the fact that, despite having been inspired by a mix of two stories instead of one, I could absolutely feel the resemblance to the Mahabharata. My favorite stories in this collection have mostly been the ones that felt like folklore to me, and this one is a shining example of that.
Origin: South Asian
→ The Crimson Cloak — Cindy Pon ★★★★★ ←
All the storytellers get it wrong.
I have never read Cindy Pon’s work before, but after this story, I absolutely must, because this was astoundingly beautiful. In the original story of “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”, despite the Weaver Girl being a goddess, she is given no real autonomy or dialogue; in Cindy Pon’s retelling, however, she is the one who makes the first move, who plays her charms, who gets her way. It is so empowering and sweet, and the bits regarding how fast her mortal loved ones’ lives flash before her eyes was tremendously poignant. Throughout the story, I kept thinking about how much I would adore a full novel or even novella extension of this little masterpiece.
→ Eyes Like Candlelight — Julie Kagawa ★★★★★ ←
Takeo never saw the fox again. But sometimes, on warm evenings when he was outside, he could almost imagine he was being watched.
Julie Kagawa is another author in this collection whose work had been on my TBR for a while, so I was particularly excited about this story, and it definitely did not disappoint. I’ve always loved Japanese lore and stories about kitsune in particular, and I thought this piece had such a sweet, sad little twist to it. I especially loved the ending; even though it was sad, it went above and beyond to display the depth of emotions that Japan’s most infamous trickster spirits are capable of. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to scurry off and read Julie’s entire bibliography.
FINAL AVERAGE RATING: 3.87/5
Normally, I’d round this up to a solid 4/5, but honestly, there are so many gems and this collection feels so important that I didn’t hesitate to give this 5 stars. ♥
All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Greenwillow Books for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
You can find this review and more on my blog, or you can follow me on twitter, bookstagram, or facebook!
DNF at 48%.
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is a collection of short stories that re-imagine South and East Asian myths, penned by fifteen authors tasked with representing their culture. While the myths themselves are interesting, the re-tellings lack sparkle. Halfway through the book, the only alluring tale is found in its opening pages: 'Forbidden Fruit' by Roshani Chokshi. Chokshi conveys a bittersweet tale of love and heartache with colorful prose, though the moral of the story is delivered clumsily.
I requested A Thousand Beginnings and Endings for one reason and one reason only: Julie Kagawa. Her Talon series crashed and burned, she'll always have a special place in my heart due to The Iron Fey series. To my surprise, I found myself enjoying the other stories just as much, some even more.
Anthologies are always a bit of a mixed bag, so I'm going to review them individually:
Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi — 5 stars
“Do not trust the fruit of Maria Makiling.”
Alright, I didn't enjoy The Star-Touched Queen, but this was just wow. It's about a semi-forbidden romance between a mortal and a diwata (mountain spirit). The writing is lush and just the right amount of purple. It has very distinct The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic feel, which I love. A Filipino folktale.
Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong — 2.5 stars
“Don’t talk to strangers,” Mom had said, over and over. And don’t trust the ghosts, especially not during the Ghost Festival.”
This one revolves around the Chinese Ghost Festival. I'm Chinese and live in Hong Kong. One of my earliest memories involves around my mom telling me not to pick up the yellow paper money scattered on the ground because it’s for ghosts. Even though the theme is familial and revolves around coping with loss, it failed to make an emotional impact on me, partially because I'm too close to it in a way. There is another Chinese-inspired tale in this anthology that I quite liked though, so maybe it's not my thing.
Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee — 2 stars
“She has this memory. Only a chaotic set of images and sounds, but vivid, like neon scripts streaming across a black screen.”
Illuminae does it better.
Steel Skin takes place in the future where androids have been banned because they gained sentience and rebelled. The protagonist suspects her dad has been replaced by an android. The what-it-means-to-be-human plot is old and tired, this story was just too short to really do anything with it or hit the right emotional notes. A Hmong folktale.
Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotha — 2.5 stars
“You don’t know how to choose until you’re right there, on the precipice, giving away your everything for something that may be real or may be a shadow, a ghost you’re chasing.”
There's really not much to say about this one without giving away the ending. Taara meets a beautiful, seductive stranger who seems to recognize her. It could have been longer because it ends abruptly without any closure. An Punjabi folktale.
The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliette de Bodard — 3.5 stars
“At night, it sings—a quivering, warbling sounds that rises in her dreams, becomes her sister’s voice. It wouldn’t be so bad, if the bird spoke of cryptic wisdom, or of the dream Tam had, the one that started everything, but instead it’s small, everyday things, the kind of talk they had before Tam changed.”
Asian folklore is speckled with stories of men and women transforming into animals. The Counting of Vermillion Beads is a beautiful story of sisterhood. Tam and Cam are forcibly escorted from their village to be census girls for the palace. One night, trying to climb over the wall and escape, Tam falls and transforms into a bird. A Vietnamese folktale.
The Land of the Morning Calm by E.C. Meyers — 2.5 stars
“Harabeoji says my mother is a gwisin. That’s the Korean word for ghost.”
A quirky millennial spin on Korean myths. The Land of the Morning Calm is a multiplayer RPG that the protagonist's mom used to play all the time before she suddenly passed away. Like Olivia's Table, it's a story about grief and moving on. It dives into gaming culture too.
The Smile by Aisha Saeed — 5 stars
“Belonging meant he could place me wherever he liked, whether in his bed or in this dank tower. Belonging is not love. It never was.”
I loooved this one. Gimme your feminist fairytale retellings. Saeed weaves a gorgeous narrative about freedom and choices with a peasant girl-turned-courtesan and the prince who invited her to the palace after he saw her dance. A South Asian folktale.
Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber — 1.5 stars
“This whole holiday is about good defeating evil, right? Dinesh is not going to magically get what’s coming to him. So, it’s on us.”
My least favorite in the entire anthology. It's just really silly. Three girls team up to punish a rude boy, which parallels Navratri, a Hindu holiday. It's based on a myth that champions the physical manifestation of divine female energy to defeat a demon. I like the portrayal of female friendship, but that’s all.
Nothing Into All by Renee Ahdieh — 4 stars
“As the leaves fall/As the sky turn to night/Summon the magic/To turn nothing/Into all”
I still have issues with Ahdieh's writing (“...words of rebuke flowing past her lips like water from a steaming kettle”; I mean, come on), but this compact story appealed to me far more than anything else of hers I've read. Inspired by a Korean fairy tale called The Goblin Treasure, a sister is granted three wishes by goblins, but her jealous brother plots to steal it. Sibling rivalry is a traditional fairytale framework, though here it works perfectly.
Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia — 2 stars
“When I’d agreed to his offer, it was because I had thought I’d be a hero. But a hero wouldn’t be so lonely and so afraid.”
An interesting story about war from the perspective of a statistic—an ordinary person, out of millions on a battlefield, who dreams of becoming a hero. It didn't make me feel much though. A South Asian epic.
Code of Honor by Melissa de la Cruz — 2 stars
“I try not to let myself get angry because that’s when I most desire human flesh.”
Another story that has a fascinating concept, but left me feeling hollow. This Filipino-inspired tale
touches on immigrants—an aswang (vampire) travels to America to flee prosecution in the Philippines.
Bullet, Butterfly by Elsie Chapman — 3 stars
“Don’t forget we’re only ever soldiers here in Shangyu and soldiers never get to be the ones who wake up from a spell, or who even get to break a spell. We’re just the dragons guarding the gate, ordered to keep breathing the fire of those who cast the spell in the first place.”
Each tale is followed by a short essay by the author explaining the inspiration behind the story. Bullet, Butterfly is a retelling of one of the most famous Chinese folktales, the Butterfly Lovers. They are kept apart by familial duty. Here, Liang disguises himself as a girl and sneaks into the armory for a bet, but ends up falling for Zhu, one of the workers there. A queer romance along the lines of Mulan.
Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar — 3 stars
“She yearned for someone who didn’t fear her brilliance.”
This one is very weird. It's set in modern times yet has a strong fairytale vibe. Maybe it's the purple-drenched writing—a girl with a heart that glows like the sun who falls for a boy with a heart as silver as the moon. Based on a South Asian epic called Mahabharata.
The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon — 5 stars
“Despite how the legend goes, the truth of the matter is, Dear Reader, I saw him first.”
The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl is another popular Chinese folktale. The star-crossed lovers are only allowed to meet on the seventh day of the seventh month each year when a bridge of magpies form the Milky Way. Pon puts a fresh spin on it by granting the usually silent weaver girl her own voice and reshapes certain events. I've read Pon's contribution to the villain anthology Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy and honestly, her writing is top-notch. I seriously need to pick up one of her novels soon.
Eyes Like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa — 3.5 stars
“Yuki met his gaze, eyes glowing a subtle gold in the candlelight, the tip of a bushy tail peeking behind her robes.”
Best for last, I suppose? Ironically, I didn't like it as much as a few of the others mentioned. Nonetheless it's an enjoyable read with all the elements I've come to anticipate from Kagawa's work—solid writing and a forbidden romance between a mortal and a supernatural being. In this case, it's the well-known kitsune which appears time and time again in Japanese popular culture.
Ultimately, there were highs, there were lows. But the highs are worth it.
ARC provided by Edelweiss