Strong heroines and riveting storytelling are the hallmarks of groundbreaking fantasy author Kate Elliott (Crown of Stars, Crossroads). Her long-awaited first collection showcases twenty years of her finest work. Captured here are many of Elliott’s previously out-of-print tales, four previously unpublished essays, and a brand new Crossroads story, “On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New.”
Elliott’s bold adventuresses, complex quests, noble sacrifices, and hard-won victories shine in classic, compact legends. In “The Memory of Peace,” a girl’s powerful emotions rouse the magic of a city devastated by war. Meeting in “The Queen’s Garden,” two princesses unite to protect their kingdom from the blind ambition of their corrupted father. While “Riding the Shore of the River of Death” a chieftain’s daughter finds an unlikely ally on her path to self-determination.
Elliott’s many readers, as well as fantasy fans in search of powerful stories featuring well-drawn female characters, will revel in this unique gathering of truly memorable tales.
Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series remains one of my favourite series ever. It’s got all the drama and sweepingness you might hope for in an epic fantasy setting, but with more than your average, garden-variety western medieval setting and world-building. It took me a while to start the series – I think Elliott was up to book four at the time – but once I did I couldn’t wait for the next instalment to come out. I’d always wanted to read more by Elliott, but somehow never got around to it. Going into her backlist seemed risky, because availability in the Netherlands was always a gamble – mind you, this was before I started ordering books of the internet – and with her latest completed series there were all the review copies that meant I never got around to buying them. All of this is a rather lengthy way of explaining why there was much rejoicing at Casa Librarian when I was approved for a review copy on Netgalley for Elliott’s short fiction collect The Very Best of Kate Elliott.
The set of tales gathered together in The Very Best of Kate Elliott is a fantastic collection, comprised of standalone stories, but also stories that tie into the worlds of her various series. There are two stories connected to the aforementioned Crown of Stars series, but also stories that were set in the universes of the Jaran, Crossroads, and Spiritwalker series. Surprisingly, while I enjoyed the Crown of Stars stories a lot, the stories that grabbed me most and made me want to read the original series yesterday are the Jaran stories, My Voice is in My Sword and Sunseeker. This is surprising because the Jaran series is straight up science fiction and I still tend to think of myself mostly as a fantasy reader. Yet these those stories, especially Sunseeker, resonated with me and the setting and universe just seemed a very entertaining one.
Two other favourites were Leaf and Branch and Grass and Vine and The Queen’s Garden. What I loved about the former is that the protagonist is a mature woman. She has a grown daughter about to become a mother herself, and two more children and one on the way, and is one of the respected elders of the village. It’s not often – and in my opinion not often enough – that you have a woman approaching middle age being the hero of her own story. Anna is wonderful and in addition we get Uwe, whose character and the way Elliott approaches how she talks about him was great. In The Queen’s Garden we have two young women protagonists instead, but their expert politicking, plotting and negotiating and the way their society was structured was fascinating and I would love to learn more about this world.
Some of the recurring themes of Elliott’s work are inclusion, female voices, older voices, and intersectionality. It’s all there in most of the stories and largely goes unremarked upon by the characters themselves. These themes are also reflected in the non-fiction included in the collection. All four essays and the introduction challenge the reader, to do better, to challenge themselves and to do the work to see beyond our default, systematic cultural views. And reading these essays after the stories one can certainly see how Elliott does that in her fiction at every turn. While I enjoyed all four essays, and had in fact read all but one of them when they were published online, the first one, The Omniscient Breast: the Male Gaze Through Female Eyes, remains my favourite. I still think that the phrase omniscient breasts is genius and the essay is such a great explanation of what is meant by the male gaze and the necessity to challenge it in fiction, not to eradicate it, but to not make it the default anymore.
If it isn’t obvious from this review, I really enjoyed The Very Best of Kate Elliott. It shows off Kate Elliott’s strengths and the themes she’s been writing about for the past twenty years. In my opinion though, this collection should come with a warning, because it is like a gateway drug. I knew I loved Elliott’s writing from the Crown of Stars series, but now I want to read ALL. OF. HER. BOOKS. I guess I have some catching up to do! Whether you are familiar with Elliott’s writing or not, this collection comes highly recommended, as it is a great introduction to her writing as well as a great retrospective.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.