Title: The Very Best of Kate Elliott
Author: Kate Elliott
Genre: Fantasy, Science fiction, anthology
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Strong heroines and riveting storytelling are the hallmark of groundbreaking fantasy author Kate Elliott ("Crown of Stars," "Crossroads"). Elliott is a highly-compelling voice in genre fiction, an innovative author of historically-based narratives set in imaginary worlds. This first, retrospective collection of her short fiction is the essential guide to Elliott's shorter works. Here her bold adventuresses, complex quests, noble sacrifices, and hard-won victories shine in classic, compact legends.
In "The Memory of Peace," a girl's powerful emotions rouse the magic of a city devastated by war. Meeting in "The Queen's Garden," two princesses unite to protect their kingdom from the blind ambition of their corrupted father. While "Riding the Shore of the River of Death" a chieftain's daughter finds an unlikely ally on her path to self-determination.
Elliott's many readers, as well as fantasy fans in search of powerful stories featuring well-drawn female characters, will revel in this unique gathering of truly memorable tales.
Before I read this, I'd read Kate Elliott's novel Jaran, which portrays a society where both men and women have power, but in the end it is the women who have the most autonomy and respect. Having read her short stories and essays in this anthology, I can say that this theme of turning gender and racial roles on their head is typical for Elliott. She is such a role model for me, and her essays and stories have really opened my eyes to how people perceive each other and the implicit prejudices we often unknowingly subscribe to.
One of the essays that really struck me was on male gaze (which you can read here). I hadn't ever made a distinction between male gaze and a male narrator; it turns out you can be using male gaze even with a female point of view. Elliott discusses the problems with male gaze in relation to how women are perceived in the real world, but also discusses the portrayal of transgender and other LGBTQ individuals in fiction and how this can be damaging or offensive. Elliott is also conscious of the issue of race; colorblind stories are all well and good, but in our world, at the present time, we certainly aren't living in a color-blind world and Elliott addresses this.
Not only does Elliott point out why we need more diverse portrayals of characters in fiction, she writes stories that do just that. In almost all of her stories, there were important characters who were independent women, somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum, or of a marked race. It wasn't just the one token character either; the entire world of the story enveloped a wide range of characters. I love this about her writing, and it made for some very intriguing reading. I felt like all of her stories were original and exciting because I'd never read anything like them. Once you step away from the usual heterosexual male gaze, you find that there are possibilities for thousands more stories than the ones that have already been told and retold a thousand times.
I highly recommend this book for people who enjoy fantasy and science fiction, but also people who want to expand their social consciousness. This is an excellent, enjoyable, thought-provoking book.
*A free e-copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*