Jun 16, 2014

Saffron and Brimstone by Elizabeth Hand

Widely praised and widely read, Elizabeth Hand is regarded as one of America's leading literary fantasists. This new collection (an expansion of the limited-release Bibliomancy, which won the World Fantasy Award in 2005) showcases a wildly inventive author at the height of her powers. Included in this collection are "The Least Trumps," in which a lonely women reaches out to the world through symbols, tattooing, and the Tarot, and "Pavane for a Prince of the Air," where neo-pagan rituals bring a recently departed soul to something very different than eternal rest. Written in the author's characteristic poetic prose and rich with the details of traumatic lives that are luminously transformed, Saffron and Brimstone is a worthy addition to an outstanding career.

I've received this book via Netgalley and the summary is from Amazon. Saffron and Brimstone, Strange Stories, is a book filled with different types of short stories. I'm going to review the first four separately, because they are so versatile.

It starts with Cleopatra Brimstone which is a story about a beautiful girl named Jane. She's very smart and cares more about her brain than her looks. Insects have always drawn her which is why she wants to study them. When she is a student something goes very wrong though which changes her life forever. 
Jane has a gift and that is what makes this story so special. She is far from ordinary and when she wants something she makes sure she gets it. The difference between the Jane in America and the Jane in London is huge. A bit strange becomes very weird all of a sudden. I loved to see that transformation. The story ended too soon, I didn't want to stop reading because I liked it so much, but what happened was spectacular and unexpected.

Pavane for a Prince of the Air is a sad, but wonderful story about a man named Cal who's married to Tina. He's a wonderful person living an alternative lifestyle. The narrator is a writer named Carrie. Tina and Cal are her best friends. When Cal hears he has a brain tumor she does everything to help them and to let them mourn in their own way.
This story is really sad. It's hard to read about the devastating effect cancer can have. I loved the friendship element. Tina and Cal have unusual beliefs, but they really work. The choices they make about life and death are the reason why this is such a good story. 

In the Least Trumps a tattoo artist named Ivy buys a scarf that has been wrapped around something she can't see in advance. When after she's paid she opens it she finds a deck of old tarot cards. The Least Trumps are very special. So special Ivy wants to use one of the images for a tatoo. The cards bring back old memories and maybe something more.
This is my favorite story of the book. I liked Ivy and her pain was so obvious and understandable. She's a woman who needs to be loved, but unfortunately she isn't very lucky when it comes to relationships. She suffers from panic attacks and the way they were described made them so real I could almost feel them. I loved the descriptions of the body art and the island Ivy's living on. This story feels very lonely, but magical.

Wonderwall is a story about self destruction. The main character lives in a dump, she uses drugs, she smokes and she drinks. She drops out of college and makes just enough money to get by. The story is also about a friend named David and the way his life turns out. 
Wonderwall is chaotic. It's a fast paced story which is realistic and has a lot of dark and destructive content. It is so well executed that it made me feel like I was in an ongoing roller coaster ride.

 After four longer stories there are four shorter ones as well which are called The Lost Domain, Four Story Variations. These are too short to review separately. Calypso in Berlin was my favorite one of the four. Calypso is very old, but she's always adapting. She still needs victims though and this is a story about one of her muses. It didn't end very well for him. Calypso is presented as someone quite innocent though and her actions feel logical and justified  I liked this story because it is such a creative tale that's playing with your mind.

I've been a fan of Elizabeth Hand ever since I've discovered her books when I was a student. She has such a beautiful style and her special way of narrating makes you really feel the story. It's like you're watching it on a screen in your mind. This collection of short stories is very special and I think it's a real treasure!

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