Reviews: Monstrous Little Voices, Books 1 and 2

little voices2016 marks 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, and Abaddon Books is celebrating with the publication of five novellas set in the faerie worlds of Shakespeare, with characters both well-known and new.

The five interconnected stories are being published as e-books throughout the first quarter of the year, and will be released as a print volume.

I discovered this series because the first novella is by Foz Meadows, who announced the release of Coral Bones on social media, and I pounced.

So far, two of the novellas are out – and if this is how Monstrous Little Voices starts, the next three novellas are going to be fantastic.

Book 1: Coral Bones by Foz Meadows

coral-bones-cover

Coral Bones leads the charge, telling the story of what happened to The Tempest‘s Miranda after marrying the first man she ever met and being taken to a foreign court.

Miranda is even more oppressed at court than she ever was on the island. Instead of being manipulated (and made to sleep and forget against her will) by her father, she is now neglected by Ferdinand and mocked by his court for her unworldliness. Fortunately, Ariel is still her friend.

Between flashbacks showing their relationship, and Miranda’s present escape towards Illyria in the company of Puck, Meadows explores concepts of identity: both those imposed by others’ expectations and the struggle to express one’s own often changing and even fluid sense of self.

Meadows’ command of language in this story is gorgeous. It has cadences of Shakespeare without ever feeling like pastiche or at all clumsy. There’s elegance and beauty, humour and heartbreak, throughout. The wider negotiations of faerie, and the eternal torrid clashes between Tatiana and Oberon inform the plot, but for once, Miranda gets to make her own choices.

It’s a splendid start to Monstrous Little Voices.

Book 2: The Course of True Love by Kate Heartfield

true loveIf Coral Bones is a strong start, The Course of True Love takes the energy and pulls the series into an excellent second act. Here, the aging witch Pomona stumbles across a fairy garden and its glamoured prisoner: Vertumnus, the mortal Indian boy Tatiana raised and fought with Oberon over in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, now grown to venerable adulthood.

With her loyalties pulled in several directions – towards Duke Orsino, towards Hecate and Tatiana, even towards Sycorax and Caliban – Pomona’s actions see her and Vertumnus caught at the crux of an impending war between Duke Orsino, urged on by his wife Viola (Twelfth Night), and the fairy king, Oberon. Naturally, Tatiana has a hand in it.

Like Meadows, Heartfield explores notions of identity, as well as personal integrity. Of course, where fairies are involved, the resolution is likely to be both terribly complex and really very simple, and the reader is as suprised as the characters by the charming and clever denoument.

Both of these novellas are striking, beautifully written and wonderfully constructed, giving us views of a combined Shakespearean world where the courts of Tatiana and Oberon interact with human affairs. Miranda and Pomona – and even fairy folk like Puck and Vertumnus – seek self-understanding, purpose, and a place to belong where they can be their whole selves.

In short, these stories carry on the work of William Shakespeare – telling us ways of being human, with flair, elegance, and wit.

I can’t wait for 5 February, and the release of the third book in the series.

Buy Coral Bones

Buy The Course of True Love

cannons mouthPre-order the other books in Monstrous Little Voices series

Read more about Monstrous Little Voices at Abaddon Books.