(2011) Robin Hobb (ed), Harper Voyager, £20, hrdbk, 400pp, ISBN 978-0-007-27377-5
As the author explains in the introduction, this anthology of shorts includes stories by Megan Lindholm and three stories by Robin Hobb. The stories attributed to Hobb, all take place in the world of the LiveShip Traders.
The anthology places Lindholm’s work first. The opening story ‘A Touch of Lavender’ deals with a young boy, whose mother keeps falling for up-and-coming musicians, while the world adjusts to the presence of music-making aliens. While it may be a bit predictable, it still has an interesting situation and a sense of sadness and loss.
‘The Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man’ is the tale of a worker in a Sears clothing store, who meets a man calling himself Merlin. It is a sweet enough story, that manages not to overdose on whimsy. ‘Cut’ is a darker piece. While, I am unsure of when it was written, it does provide a grim take on the debate on what is considered empowering and what people should do with their bodies.
‘The Fifth Squashed Cat’ is one the highlights of the collection, dealing with two women picking up a hitch-hiker, who might have found immortality. It has an interesting premise, setting and does lead up to a question, that you would find yourself asking, at the end. The cat theme is continued in ‘Strays’ about a friendship between two girls that is unable to prevent a tragic ending. ‘Fins’ and ‘Drum Machine’ tackle familiar themes, not bringing anything new, but are at least handled professionally.
The trio of stories attributed to Robin Hobb, begins with ‘Homecoming’. A lady writes the narrative in her journal, having been banished with other nobles and criminals to set up a colony. Becoming trapped in a jungle, they discover the traces of a civilisation. The story conveys the sense of deterioration in an inhospitable environment, as the community begins to pull itself apart. The lead character is convincing as someone trying to survive as everything is stripped away. This novella is one of the best stories in the anthology.
The title story ‘The Inheritance’ has a woman seeking to redress the wrongs done to her grandmother. It’s not remarkable but it is enjoyable. The final story ‘Cat’s Meat’, has a mother, trying to survive in a cottage, facing the return of a violent, free-loading husband. As with the other stories, there is a sense of realism through the accumulated details. However, this story also involves a grim twist at the end.
In conclusion, this is an entertaining anthology. While nothing here, is radically new, Lindholm has an eye for accumulated everyday details that make her narratives fascinating and a talent for conveying locations. She also displays an interest in people who have been pushed to the margins of societies and are trying to establish themselves. This gives her work a greater emotional centre then simply just having something magical happen in the narrative. There is a sense that people had lives of their own before the story started, which is always an achievement.
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