Review by Pizzagreen.
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Now this book was first published back in 1996 by Penguin, and is actually a collection of 14 short stories, and I guarantee you that these are definitely some of the best, if not the best, short stories you will ever read (if I am wrong, I really want to know which short stories top them!)! Copies of this first print were highly prised, and until recently cost over $300 on ebay. So it was with great delight that in 2012 it was republished by Allen & Unwin, and is now available from their website
The 14 short stories would be amazing on their own (and in fact some of them were published in various places) but together they are fantastic. They aren’t really connected to one another, but there is recurring themes and little things (you’ll see if you read it) that appear over a couple of the stories, which can make you smile when you notice them, but don't detract anything if you don't. Now they are all fantasy, some are more out there than others, whereas some are definitely more real life but have a fantastical element to them. I won’t go into too much detail because I really don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience for them, because it is really a book you need to experience yourself. But I will say that some of the stories are haunting and sometimes shocking. They are all food for thought, and really do leave you thinking and wondering.
One thing I cannot stress enough is that Isobelle Carmody is an amazing, fantastic, awesome, inspirational fantasy writer. She creates such detailed worlds (14 of them in this book, which is an achievement in itself) over and over again, and they are all different. I cannot even imagine how she came up with these ideas and how she was able to put them together so well. Now I have to warn you that you may need an open mind to read this book, the first short story is quite out there (maybe a more real world one could have been put, but I don’t think that would have worked, because those were saved for some really powerful moments) and it may force some readers to walk away from the test, which would be really sad. Don’t get me wrong, it is a brilliant short story, but for those not familiar with Isobelle Carmody, and not really enjoying ‘full on’ fantasy, it might be confronting to have such an new and unfamiliar world thrust upon you (and there is only limited time to introduce a world, as these are short stories, with a combined page total just over 300). You may be slightly confused at first, but for me I was able to get into the worlds quickly and enjoy them. There are many surprises along the way (which I will not spoil) which blew me away, and I had not expected them to happen. It is not a kid’s book, I’m calling that now, and it deals with some mature themes (though there is no real swearing or sexual content or graphic scenes, some things a child or even young teen might be too confronted by to read) and I think it highlights that fantasy is not just for children, and Isobelle Carmody is the prime example of that.
Out of the fourteen short stories that the book contains, my favourite would have to be The Phoenix
. It is a very emotive piece, and it made the most impact on me. It made me put down the book and think about what had happened. It pushed my thinking on the boundaries of reality and fantasy, and showed how powerful belief can be. By the same token The Lemming Factor
did the same thing, though it didn't have as much of an emotional punch. The hopefulness of the journey and fear of being left behind made it riveting reading. To round out my top three, the first story in the book, The Glory Days
, would have to be my choice. It took a while to get into, and you really just have to go with it as you get used to the concept of these short stories. It was intriguing and once again, deeply emotional.
I also think that it is a book that you should not be rushing through, you need to take your time, and split up the short stories, so you can have some time to ponder and digest each one. I think it is also of great benefit to re-read the stories, because there are surely going to be things you have missed. I have to say that this is my favourite collection of short stories, and I am so glad to have been able to read it, and I urge you to find a copy and enjoy.
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