A Thousand Beginnings and Endingsby Ellen Oh, Elsie Chapman, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Renee Ahdieh, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Cindy Pon, Alyss 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
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!
ALERT ALERT ALERT
I JUST FOUND OUT THAT THERE IS A FILIPINO STORY IN THIS BOOK
as in filipino
i am crying actual tears of joy right now! i've never felt truly represented in any books before and this feels like such a huge step. i love the publishing industry. i love everyone. if you're reading this, i love you
so guess what i'm reading next
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...
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
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is a collection of short stories or retelling of lesser known Asian folktales and mythologies. Written by Asian writers, the stories cover a wide variety of genres such as sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc. Each story in the collection is distinctive in the writer’s style and take on a particular tale. But there is also an overall theme of loneliness, melancholy, identity crisis, filial piety, and morality connecting these stories. I had a hard time reading through this collection. There are some really terrible stories in here. But the brilliant ones sprinkled among the bad are really worth it! Below is a breakdown of my individual ratings without giving away any spoilers:
Forbidden Fruit: retelling of a Filipino story about Maria Makiling the mountain.This is a story of forbidden love and heartbreak. The mythology was one that I wasn’t very familiar with but was drawn towards for its classic folktale-esque writing style complete with a moral. I thought the ending was a little abrupt, but maybe that was just me wishing we would linger within the story a little more. 3.5/5
Olivia's Table: can only be described as a contemporary Chinese-American ghost story. Olivia’s Table was one that deals with food, respect for our dead, the importance of customs and traditions. The story is very atmospheric with a lingering sense of melancholy, loss, and love permeating throughout. Of all the stories in this collection, this is one that affected me the most. It's also one that I suspect would stay with me long after I’ve forgotten the rest of the stories. 5/5
Steel Skin: nice sci-fi take on a Hmong folktale which I thought was very interesting but ultimately, predictable. 2.75/5
Still Star-Crossed: seriously cliched take on the classic Punjabi “Mirza and Sahiba” folktale. I really hate reading South Asian stories when they are written for a western audience. Authors rarely do justice to these stories without giving in to the temptation of name dropping random Hindi words/metaphors in between to give it that desi flavor. This one is a classic example. It did not feel genuine or sincere to me and honestly I cringed through the whole thing. 1.5/5
The Counting of Vermilion Beads: Vietnamese retelling. As the beautiful title suggests, this one is just a wonderful story full of imagination, poetic language, and alluring imagery. Written in the classic folktale style, I really liked this take on the traditional Tấ’ M Cám story. By focusing on the sisterly dynamic the author gave the characters more depth and nuance than the original source material. It does tend to get a little bit weird and confusing at times though, specially for those not familiar with the story. 3/5
The Land of the Morning Calm: contemporary take on classic figures of Korean mythology like the Gwishin, Jeoseung Chasa, Kumiho, etc. I appreciate how the author translated these classic characters into their contemporary gaming counterparts. The core mother/daughter narrative was very well done as well. However, I just wish we had more of an immersive take on one or two mythical figures instead of a mismatch of famous story characters. 2.57/5
The Smile this is probably my all time favorite retelling of Anarkali! Mughal-e-Azam has on nothing on Aisha Saeed who so lovely crafted this story and its central character with the sort of depth and nuance that we seldom get to see of a court dancer. I loved this rendition of the story and really wish this could have been a full length novel. Although very detailed and distinctive in its mood, the story felt a little rushed due to length constraints. But that is a minor grievance compared to how much I loved this story! Now this is how you do a retelling of a South Asian story. 4.5/5
Girls who Twirls and Other Dangers: as juvenile as the title suggests, this is a retelling of the Gujarati story of Navratri. The story alternates between its mythological roots and the contemporary celebration of the festival. I liked the mythological parts well enough. Ma Durga’s portrayal was particularly badass and I wish we had continued on that story. As it stands, the contemporary bits were just too childish, equating divinity and justice to a petty revenge and morality tale. 1/5
Nothing into All: Korean Goblin mythology retold as a traditional myth with a moral. It's one of those classic fables about the consequences of selfishness and the price of magic. Underlying is the story of siblings and familial bonds. I really wish I knew what the sister used for her last wish though. 3/5
Spear Carrier: arguably the absolute worst story in this collection. Another contemporary retelling of a South Asian story, this time it's the epic Mahabharata. Ambitious and entirely unnecessary. I don’t get the point of this story. Told in first person narrative style, which is fun till you are stuck in the mind of a condescending, douchebag, fake woke asshole. It was entirely too long, and utterly boring to boot. There was just so much detail and inner monologue that could have just been edited out. I didn’t care about anything or anybody. 1/5
Code of Honor: OMG, this snowflake! How special do you have to be to be a vampire/shifter/daywalker/witch combo??? This was a retelling of the Aswangs, terrifying Filipino mythological vampire/banshee creatures with “blood frothing at their mouths and wild hair and bare breasts.” Which is all way more interesting than the paranormal teen drama-esque story we got about a special snowflake outsider girl who's terribly lonely. For once I would like a book about vampires who don’t naturally have the absurd inclination to return to high school. Or a book about a vampire chick who doesn't get riled up by puny humans! Can we please have some badassery here? Melissa de la Cruz took these horrific creatures and defanged them! All in an attempt to somehow connect this to her Blue Blood series. Unoriginal and just plain lame. I hated it. 1/5
These last four stories are so damn good, they are some of my favourites in the entire anthology!
Bullet, Butterfly: so, so good! Twist on the classic Chinese tale of forbidden love in a war ravaged time. I just fell in love with this story. It is beautifully written, deeply evocative, and powerful in its simplicity. It's a story if love, loss, and devastation in the time of war and about national loyalty and pride. I need to scour Goodreads for more books on Elsie Chapman's because man I think I just fell in love with her reading this. 5/5
Daughter of the Sun: Modern take on two Mahabharata stories. It is well written fusion of mythology with more modern sensibilities. There is an element of theatricality to the entire story that is very reminiscent of the dramatic folk reenactments of classic Hindu stories. Very atmospheric. 4.5/5
Crimson Cloak: feminist retelling of the Chinese Cowherd story, but this time with a spunky Goddess as the narrator! Wonderfully written, I just had so much fun reading this story. Cindy Pon's retelling puts the Goddess front and center in her own story, giving her agency and voice in a typically misogynistic tale. Its charming and sweet and I loved reading this! 4.5/5
Eyes like Candlelight: I dearly hope this is a prelude of things to come because if Julie Kagawa's upcoming book is anything like this I will be eating it up like desert! Very intriguing take on Japanese story about Kitsunes. I love Kitsunes, they are one of my absolute favorite mythological creatures so it's no surprise that I adored this one. I always like it when mythologies focusing on such creatures turn dark because that justifies the caution attached to these tales. Kagawa takes uses that to simultaneously tell a tale of caution while making us sympathize with these otherworldly creatures. I’m so looking forward to Shadow of The Fox if it's anything like this! 4/5
5 stars. My heart is full. Special shout-out to the South Asian stories, including Sona Charaipotra's, Aisha Saeed's, Preeti Chhibber's, Rahul Kanakia's, and Shveta Thakrar's. <3 All of the stories in this anthology are lovely, but I have to especially appreciate the South Asian ones. =)
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog***
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: June 26, 2018
Rating: 5 stars
Source: Review copy sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
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: Renée 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.
What I Liked:
It's the final days of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and I'm sneaking in this review just in time! This anthology has to be one of my favorites of all time. I've read several anthologies over the years, and I think this one is quite possibly one of the best that YA authors have to offer. I was introduced to many new Asian myths and legends, but also recognized some of the South Asian ones. I'm incredibly proud to see an anthology of Asian stories, written by Asian authors. This is the #ownvoices representation that YA - and lit in general - needs.
I read the stories but I'm only going to highlight a few, which were my favorite. You won't need much convincing, trust me. All of these authors are true storytellers, with excellent writing. You'll recognize powerhouse names like Renée Ahdieh and Roshani Chokshi, and you'll see some "new" names, like Alyssa Wong and Preeti Chhibber. Regardless, these authors all have fantastic stories to tell. This anthology contains retellings of Asian myths and legends. It is structured such that the retelling is presented, and then in the page after the story's end, the author gives a little background information about the original legend(s). This was really cool, because I didn't know about most of the legends, and reading the retellings made me want to know more.
Below are some of my favorites. Please note that all of these stories are worth reading. I just really want to gush about these in particular. If I discussed all of them, this would be a very long and boring review (if it isn't already!).
Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi (Filipino)
This story is a loose retelling of the story of a Filipino goddess, Maria Makiling, who is associated with Mount Makiling. In this retelling, the Mountain falls in love with a human male, and loses her heart to him. It ends up being a tragic story, and in quite a heartbreaking way. I found the retelling absolutely fascinating, and the legend itself was quite intriguing as well. Roshani Chokshi has a way of weaving a story together. There was a quiet lull to this story, and then things escalated in the final pages. Amazing story, lush writing, fascinating legend.
Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra (Punjabi)
This story is based on the tale of Sahiba and Mirza, two star-crossed lovers. If there is one thing I know about Indian lore in general, it is the fascination with star-crossed lovers. You see it in old-school Bollywood movies all the time! (I say "old-school" and refer to basically anything pre-2010). The legend involves Sahiba who falls in love with Mirza, a famed archer, but she is to marry a stranger. On the night of her arranged wedding, she runs off with Mirza. But the tale doesn't end there, and I won't spoil it. The retelling is set in modern times, with Taara at a dance in the beginning of the story. Taara meets a boy who calls her Soni and claims to know her, but she has never seen him before. Still, something tugs her to him. This story ends like I expected - the twist is somewhat predictable especially if you're familiar with the culture or old tales. But I loved this story. There was something so familiar about it to me - both the original legend, and the retelling.
The Smile by Aisha Saeed (South Asian)
It isn't specified, but I believe the original tale is Pakistani. The legend is the story of Anarkali, a courtesan for King Akbar of the Mughal Empire in the 1500s. The retelling is a little different from the original story - in that it binds together two potential versions of the original story. (The original legend is very old and there are several interpretations to the story.) This in itself was really cool. But in any case, I loved the retelling. The heroine is a courtesan to a prince, and the prince is so in love with her. But the courtesan knows that while she adores the prince, she does not love him, and her life is completely controlled by him, even if she is not a prisoner. One smile of hers breaks the illusion and she realizes just how little control of her life that she actually has. The ending of this story is actually really "happy" and I loved it. I was completely hooked on this story and I was rooting for one thing, but then I realized that I wanted the story to end differently. And it did. This was such a cool story and I love that the author chose to retell such an old one, and made it her own.
Nothing Into All by Renée Ahdieh (Korean)
This retelling was so cool. I feel like I've said that several times now, in this review. But it was! The retelling is the story of Charan and her young brother Chun. Charan and Chun visit the forest often, because they've seen goblins. They'd been doing this since they were children. They got older, and Charan is getting ready to leave her family to go to music school, even though she has caught the eye of a young man in the village, and the match would be advantageous for the family. Chun is not happy about this, because he thinks his sister is being selfish by not staying the village and going through with the match. One day, Charan falls through a hole and meets the goblins. They give her an enchanted club and two wishes. Chun, in a fit of jealousy, steals the club and goes to meet the goblins. All he wants is what is best for his family, unlike what he thinks his sister wants. But things do not end the way Chun wants them to. You'll have to read the story to see what happened. The original legend (a Korean fairy tale) is called The Goblin Treasure and it involved two brothers, one with a good soul and one with a disquiet soul. Anything with goblins is awesome to me, but Renée Ahdieh's retelling of the legend is especially riveting.
Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar (South Asian)
This story had me going through a roller coaster of emotions. It is based on The Mahabharata, which is the longest epic poem in recorded history. One of the tales is that of Princess Savitri and Prince Satyavan, and this is where the author's retelling comes from. The retelling is slightly different from the original story. In the retelling Savitri saves Satyavan, a cursed so of Chandra, the lunar lord. But even though she saved him from death, Satyavan is on borrowed time. Still, Savitri brings him back and they get to know each other. But Satyavan remembers nothing of his near-death, or even his being a son of the lunar lord. He knows nothing but Savitri. What happens when his borrowed time is up? You'll have to read the story to find out. This was a heartbreaking and also very lovely story. And surprisingly, the ending was very positive. I love the themes that the author wove into the story. I also loved the romance. With short stories, oftentimes the romance is tragic or nonexistent. The romance in this story was lovely.
Those were my favorite stories, but please, read the anthology in its entirety!
What I Did Not Like:
Nothing to say here!
Would I Recommend It:
I highly recommend this anthology, whether you read YA or not, whether you're Asian or not. Many of these tales read like fiction (not specifically YA fiction), so I'd encourage adult fiction readers to check out the book. There is a wide range of Asian representation - Punjabi, Filipino, Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Gujarati, Vietnamese, and more. My heart was so full, to see these authors and these cultures represented. But my heart was even more full when I read these stories and was swept away by the amazing tales and lovely storytelling. These authors wrote some quality stories. Don't just read this book because it's an Asian-written anthology of Asian stories (although, that's an excellent reason to read the anthology, don't get me wrong); read the book because the stories are incredible.
5 stars. My hat goes off to Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman for putting together this project. And of course to the amazing authors who came up with these stories. A specific thing: I didn't grow up seeing many South Asian MG or YA stories in the library, and to see so many in this anthology was heartwarming. Thank you, authors.