Monstrous Little Voices

February 12, 2016 - 1:55 am No Comments

Monstrous Little Voices: New Tales from Shakespeare’s Fantasy World
Editor: David Thomas Moore
Publisher: Abaddon Books
Page Count: 336pp
Release date: 8th March 2016
Reviewed by Chris Amies

It is the final years of the 16th century. Unrest between factions of the de Medici family threatens to plunge the Mediterranean – Tuscany, Venice, Aragon, Illyria – into war. This will not only involve human forces, for Titania the Queen of Faery and Oberon the King have been courting humankind. The stage is set.

Or many stages, for all the worlds are a stage. Five splendid novellas take on the imaginative sweep of Shakespeare’s fantasy world mostly seen in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Twelfth Night” but also “The Tempest”, which sees Prospero the Duke of Milan exiled to a small island with his daughter Miranda. At the end of the play Miranda goes off to marry Ferdinand and apparently that’s it.

Or is it? In the first story here, “Coral Bones” by Foz Meadows, she doesn’t. Miranda and the sprite Ariel flee and Miranda is taken to Queen Titania as a votary (a sworn follower). There is much changing of sex (for why indeed should magical creatures be tied to male or female?) and name and identity while they travel roads both mortal and magical and have adventures. The stories in this collection provide many of the female characters (Helena, Miranda) with “the kinds of careers their intelligence and resourcefulness merit.”

Kate Heartfield’s “The Course of True Love” introduces us to some plant magic by the witch Pomona (named for the Roman goddess of fruit trees and orchards), bringing in myths told by Ovid and the coming of Vertumnus, a prisoner in a garden and Queen Mab who is indeed bounded in a nutshell and counts herself queen of infinite space.

In “The Unkindest Cut” by Emma Newman, where Lucia de Medici is a protagonist, we see a dagger before us, one that if used will ‘shed blood that will worsen the war’; and Miranda makes an appearance among the machinations of the de Medici family.

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “Even in the Cannon’s Mouth” sees Viola from “Twelfth Night” shipwrecked in Illyria and the Scottish One whose name none dare speak makes an entrance. It also makes good use of Helena from ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and a possible red herring that may have misled 17th-century audiences.

Finally “On the Twelfth Night” by Jonathan Barnes ties all together — imagining Anne Hathaway and a very different Will of Stratford, and a lattice of many possibilities.

It’s refreshing that instead of going for the usual – and sometimes very effective – route of a dozen or so short pieces this anthology consists of five novellas. The novella length allows for more character development, and subplots to be brought into play. Taken together, and these five are intended to be taken together along with the introduction which sets the scene in the manner of a Prologue, they can provide the reader with an entire universe.

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