Fifty Beasts To Break Your Heart: And Other Stories

Vintage. Feb. 2024. 272p. ISBN 9780593314180. pap. $17. FANTASY
In this collection, each whimsical yet unsettling tale drags readers into a painful memory. It may be unrequited love, a best friend’s betrayal, a lost dream, a callous ex, or simply moving away or growing up, but each story touches on a different universal hurt. And yet, it is a pleasant sort of sorrow, like listening to favorite sad songs and knowing that someone understands and has felt this before. Each story contains a folkloric beauty that somehow feels more solid because of the fantasy elements. Nethercott (Thistlefoot) seems to love playing with language and structure. One story is a bestiary—with illustrations—and another is composed of dictionary entries, but both tuck intriguing narratives inside the format. There’s also a calendar and a letter and a handful of fairy tales. Interspersed between these are dream fragments of teeth and foxes and thread. The language may feel too strange for some readers, yet it will likely make them ache wistfully all the same.
VERDICT Sometimes a bit Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge, sometimes When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill, but consistently reminiscent of the lush language of Patricia A. McKillip.
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