Book Reviews, Vol. 4
Review by Dennis R. Upkins (author of Hollowstone), originally posted at Ars Marginal:
So late last year I was chatting with my buddy Ankhesen Mié about her novella Folklore, and Other Stories and I mentioned to her that I planned to purchase it. She insisted I wait because she planned to re-release it. I was already even more curious because this novella had already received some serious acclaim—Midwest Book Review, RAWSISTAZ Literary, APOOO Bookclub for starters—so how much more awesome could this book get?
I would soon find out.
Confession time. I was actually very reluctant to write this review. Not because the book isn’t phenomenal, in fact quite the opposite. I was so blown away by Mié’s prose, that expressing my amazement into words simply wouldn’t do this novella justice. Just the same, I’m going to attempt to do so anyway.
When young Kazuya Kurosaki orders the disposal of a rival’s favorite, beautiful Amisi Ryan shows up with a “‘thank you’…from the dead.” Her priceless gift, an approximately four-thousand-year-old solid gold mask, lures Kazuya into a world of myth and intoxicating fantasy, and with each telling of an ancient tale, he finds himself drawn further and further away from everything – and everyone – he knows.
As a writer, I was floored by Mié’s craftsmanship. We’re actually receiving two juxtaposed stories in one: the myth behind the mask and the fates of Kazuya and Amisi. In fact the myth of the mask plays out in the modern tale with subtlety and nuance; a testament to Mié’s masterful skills as a storyteller.
I had to put down my iPad in sheer amazement of Mié’s story structure and execution. I would be putting down my iPad repeatedly in amazement. In hindsight with the repeatedly placing down of said iPad, no wonder it took me forever to finish this novella.
While I was first introduced to the Hirosawa Clan (which reminds me, I needs to see about them adopting me because they are that badass) in Mié’s novel, The Woman From Cheshire Avenue, they actually make their debut prior to that novel her in Folklore. And per the standard they delivered the awesome. But they weren’t the only ones. Without giving anything away Hirosawa rival Raiya proved herself to be a boss chick and shows why she’s not the woman to cross.
I was gnashing teeth when the story concluded. I wanted more. I had to find out what happened next. Leaving her audience wanting more, Mié had done her job.
While I knew I would enjoy the other two stories, I was certain they wouldn’t be able to hold up to "Folklore". How do you follow such a strong piece?
I would soon find out.
Rory Zheng is a young traveler who arrives at Silver Wood Manor, an enchanting residence atop a mountain where he meets an array of characters. Among them are the mischievous old Irishman who designed the buildings and the chatty nine-year-old daughter of the beautiful, somber landlady of Silver Wood, whose husband is often away….
To unlock the mystery and history of the manor and its people, Rory employs some magic of his own: the art of storytelling.
While the action and excitement of Folklore hooked me immediately, Echo’s subtlety slowly, but nonetheless completely, grew on me. In a mythical and surreal world, it still had a small town/village feel to it where the characters were like family.
Silver Wood itself had as much atmosphere and character as the characters and the backdrop leant itself nicely to the story.
Comyna and Subira were a lovely and refreshing lesbian couple. It’s not often I see two queer characters of color anywhere and both characters were handled with respect and class. The Liangs were a riot and Hannigan was a hoot.
While Rory and Lara are the two main characters, I found myself not only being invested in them but becoming just as equally invested in the supporting cast members.
Once again, I was gnashing teeth when the story concluded. I wanted more. I had to find out what happened next. Leaving her audience wanting more, Mié had done her job.
Two separate stories had done this, there was no way she was going to pull off such a feat with the third one.
Or would she?
The divorce between Jason Rang and his filthy rich, soon-to-be ex-wife Mireille is actually going well. Or at least it does until Jason lets his new fiancée Maribel actually meet Mireille. Invited to Mireille’s newly inherited mansion (fully furnished with all manner of beautiful shirtless young men), Jason and Maribel find themselves lulled into a sensual world where they learn that sometimes – but only sometimes – an entire divorce proceeding can be just another lovers’ quarrel.
Of the three tales, the Collection was most certainly the most experimental. As a writer, I’m usually good about analyzing story structure and anticipating where the narrative is headed. This story, I honestly couldn’t get a read on. There was lot of backstory that was shrouded in mystery. The characters reacted in unexpected (but completely plausible) ways. The conclusion was satisfying, even though the mystery was never fully resolved.
The story ultimately proved to be entertaining, complex, surreal, and more enticing than I’m comfortable admitting. And while I was left wanting more, it was an intense ride and the perfect way to end the book.
In each of the stories, Mié consistently brings the highest level of quality to her work. Quality that is distinctive. She gives the most detailed description in settings, design, locale, attire, personal style, even the smell and tastes of the meals being served. These are worlds that she’s excited about and clearly in love with and it translates well in her stories. She wants her readers to have the same experience exploring her worlds as she does.
Folklore is also an example of experimentation done right. Mié knows her craft inside and out. She knows the rules and can bend them and break them to do some incredible feats. In fact she seriously needs to consider changing her name to Niobe or Trinity because I witnessed some jaw-dropping Matrix style maneuvering in her writing.
Said experimentation also lent itself nicely to the plausible deniability of the supernatural bent in the stories. Each story possesses a hint of speculative elements but it’s rooted in enough ambiguity that it allows the reader to interpret the text how they see fit.
But more than anything I thank Mié for the escapism. It was refreshing to read a book where the main characters were people of color. Three dimensional, complex complicated people of color.
It was a joy to see a same sex loving couple (possibly two and if you’ve read Echo, then you know what I’m talking about) who were portrayed with respect.
It was refreshing to see a diverse set of strong powerful women whether it was Lara, Raiya, Mrs. Liang, or Mireille.
I especially enjoyed reading these worlds where POCs are wealthy and privileged and accomplished. Silver Wood had a Latino mayor, a world renowned Asian photographer, and a rich young academic. It’s a tragic reminder that more stories like these aren’t being told and yet it’s refreshing and hopeful to be reminded that someone is.
Of course now Mié has made the worst mistake possible by allowing me to read Folklore. Now more than ever I’m a huge fanboy of hers and if she thinks I’ve been pestering her before about when her next books are going to be released, she hasn’t seen anything yet.
If this review is any indication, Folklore receives five stars. This book is what the kids would call FLAWLESS VICTORY.