Jane Yolen has been writing wonderful fiction, for children and adults, for decades, and this book collects her shorter works of romantic fantasy fiction. That’s small-r romance, where romance is an element of the story, but not the whole story, and happy endings may happen, but are not guaranteed. The variety here is wonderful. A duke’s daughter is determined to save the king’s heir from a curse she is certain on reasonable grounds, is an old wives’ tale. A jeweler in the late 20th century meets a silversmith in the 19th century, and your assumptions are wrong. Alice meets Peter Pan. A Greek sailor meets a djinn. There’s tragedy and happily ever after and more ambiguous outcomes.
The Scarlet Circus (The Jane Yolen Classic Fantasy Stories #4) by Jane Yolen
Tachyon Press, ISBN 9781616963866, February 2023
Review by Lis Carey: This is the fourth volume in a series collecting Jane Yolen’s short fiction, in this case, romantic fantasy. It’s important to be clear that this isn’t Romance in the romance genre sense. These stories contain romance, but are not primarily about romance. It’s not the main point of the stories, and endings may be happy, sad, or something in between.
So, expectations set, right?
“Sans Soleil” is the story of a prince born with curse; he’s “as handsome as the sun,” and the sun will kill him if a sunbeam so much as touches his brow. But there’s a lovely young woman, daughter of a duke, who is convinced that this is an old wives’ tale, complete nonsense, and who is determined to save him from his confinement to the dark.
“Unicorn Tapestry” features one of the three daughters of a king, the least beautiful, and the one without any special talent to make her stand out. She’s assigned the task of embroidering the seat covers for the upcoming unicorn hunt. Her work is competent, and people will be sitting on them, not studying the quality of her work. But gradually, with the help of a very plain little bird, she discovers that her needlework can affect the world in small but significant ways. And someone may recognize what’s really special about her.
“Dragonfield” features a young woman who has her father’s healing gift, and is not much on doing the essential household chores. Tansy discovers evidence of a dragon back in the area after two centuries–and no one believes her. Once the dragon begins hunting in the village, no one has a clue how to stop it. When a “hero” is recruited from outside the area, with a lack of any information on what they want him for, the “hero,” Lancot, also has no real plan — but he and Tansy talk. Tansy knows where the dragonbane is, and Lancot knows how to build really good kites. They both confess–only to each other–that they are not heroes, but they do at least have a plan.
“The Sword and the Stone” is a different take on, well, you know. Nicely done, Merlin is determined to get Britain bound together as one country. Some of Arthur’s knights have a plan to get Arthur married. There’s a nice touch of historical accuracy — among the knights, only Arthur and a few others can be called literate at all, and reading and writing are work for them. The young lad that turned up at Merlin’s workshop, hoping to go to court and learn to be a knight, can read quite well, and that’s a clue. Fun story!
This is a very readable and enjoyable collection. Not everyone will love every story, but they’re all well-done, and I loved or seriously liked most of them, and found all but one at least enjoyable. In addition, the “story notes” include poems Yolen wrote connected to these stories–some poems were written first, and others after, but they’re connected, and she includes them for the enjoyment of the reader.
A really enjoyable collection–I said that, right?
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
Thanks Lis. I’ve only read a very little of Yolen, so I appreciate guidance in what books to look for so I can do better.
@Andrew (not Werdna)–I hope you enjoy it!