The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales

I've just noticed that I haven't written about books for a couple of months, which is unusual for me. I'm just going to put the blame right where it belongs, on the broad shoulders of Tor books. I'm sure you remember how they very kindly sent out all these free eBooks, most of which I enjoyed very much. Since they're exceedingly clever over there the books they supplied were pretty much all book in a series, so most of my reading of late has been, say, book five or six in said series. It wouldn't be fair to talk about these books because then I would spoil all the others in the series for you. But this week I've managed to finish a book that, like the cheese in the Farmer and the Dell, stands alone.

I've enjoyed tales of tricksters ever since I was a little girl. I read hundred of fairy tales featuring various characters who weren't what they seemed; whether they were a wolf in disguise, a fairy in disguise, a prince in disguise or a curse in disguise. As I got a bit older I started reading P.G. Wodehouse's work and was captivated by his nefarious characters, including Uncle Fred who pretended to be a vet who had come to clip the parrot's claws in Uncle Fred Flits By. I wondered if there were any guests at Blandings Castle who weren't there under false pretenses. I also devoured myths, which are rife with the trickster archetype, ranging from Loki to Hermes to Coyote. So when I heard that one of my favorite writers was working on a short story for a collection of trickster tales I was extremely excited. I was even more excited when I found out it was being edited by Terry Windling and Ellen Datlow, who have put together some incredible anthologies. I finally got to read this book, called The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, and it was everything I could have hoped for.

The book is a collection of new stories and poems told about the Trickster archetype, with a very good introduction by Terry Windling, which talks about the meaning behind the trickster and what he brings or takes away from us. It's illustrated by Charles Vess, whose beautiful work has graced the pages of Sandman, A Circle of Cats and many other publications. As usual, his work is exquisite. When I look at his drawings I'm reminded of books I read when I was small, although I'm never able to name any of these books. Perhaps he just taps into my unconscious and stimulates the entire fairy tale portion.

As with every other anthology I've read I didn't like every single story and poem. There were quite a few that I enjoyed very much and one that I passed around to every member of my house demanding that they read it. That story was by Holly Black and called A Reversal of Fortune. It's about a teenager with very few resources who suddenly needs a lot of money and risks everything on a bet with a mysterious stranger. I thought it was a terrific story with a character I could relate to and an excellent example of how our choices narrow in the grip of grinding poverty. You may know Holly Black best by her work on the Spiderwick Chronicles, in which case I should say this story is darker than anything I've read in that series, but not as dark as her modern faerie books.

Realer Than You by Christopher Barzak is very good. It tells the story of Elijah, a teenager who has been forced to go and live in Japan when his father is transferred. Deeply resentful and homesick, Elijah refuses to give his new home a chance until he discovers a secret temple and meets an unusual girl. This is a bittersweet, touching story with an urban legend base.

Two stories from this collection were nominated for a Nebula Award for 2008, and they're both terrific. The Fiddler of Bayou Teche by Delia Sherman is a lovely story told in an engaging voice, with terrific characters including an adopted girl who grew up in the swamp, werewolves and a trickster who is too big for his britches. The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change by Kij Johnson is a heart wrenching post apocalyptic story about a world where dogs and cats suddenly gain the ability to talk. Unable to face the truths that their faithful companions speak, many of the humans react badly. Much of this story is told through the stories that the dogs have begun to tell each other. It's a stunning story and it made me immensely sad.

Black Rock Blues is an entertaining story by Will Shetterly, told from the point of view of a gentleman who doesn't remember much at all, but has apparently done something to land him in a great deal of trouble. He's a bit of a slippery fellow and watching him figure things out is a delight.

I had a hard time with The Constable of Abal by Kelly Link, mostly because Ms. Link confused me by naming her protagonist Ozma, who, as you may know, is the true ruler of the land of Oz and kind of overthrows the existing government in the second Oz book by L. Frank Baum. Once I figured out that Ms. Link's Ozma is not the same as Mr. Baum's I was okay. The Constable of Abal is about what happens when a girl and her mother, who have been making their living by telling fortunes, leave town and go to work as fairly ordinary domestics. Ozma, the daughter, can't bear to give up all her ghosts so takes just one with her, the ghost of the constable of Abal. This story is complex and intriguing, which is what I expect from Ms. Link's always exemplary work.

If you're looking for this book at your local library you may have a bit of trouble. I couldn't find it for the longest time until I eventually realized it was filed in juvenile nonfiction. Is the library itself trying to fit the trickster mold by saying fiction is nonfiction? I don't know but I find the idea amusing.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from The Loud who comments on a film called The Quiet. "The Quiet is about a deaf mute girl that goes to live with another family when her father dies and finds out a terrible secret. It's supposed to be scary and edgy but is total crap with crazy sexed up characters. Don't watch it. Take out the trash instead. It will be more interesting and you'll learn more of a lesson." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.