Howard says in the introduction that she wrote A CATHEDRAL OF MYTH AND BONE as a way to reinvent the stories she grew up with — myth, fairytale and saints’ lives — for a new era. Howard says hagiographies fascinated her with their “glorious impossibility” and their ties into something bigger and more cosmic; at the same time she didn’t want to replicate the moral preaching that came with them. So we get stories in which ..
- A woman gets written into her lover’s fiction to the point she stops existing outside it (A Life in Fictions)
- A woman becomes a saint only to discover it’s damn hard work (The Saint of the Sidewalks).
- The legend of Camelot is re-enacted on a college campus, with Vivian and Morgan both trying to change the outcome in different ways (Once, Future).
- Getting answers from oracles requires a painful sacrifice (The Speaking Bone).
- The Green Knight’s wife gets tired of her husband using her as a pain in his game (The Green Knight’s Wife)
- In a world where science is part of religious faith, a duelist fights to defend them (The Calendar of Saints).
Speaking Bone was particularly instructive because there really isn’t a plot or a central character; it’s just telling us how this strange, grotesque oracle works. I’ve written stories that were similarly unfocused, but they didn’t sell, so it’s encouraging to see someone do it and sell it (that Howard has a lot more style to her writing than I do didn’t hurt I’m sure).
More generally I find it inspiring to read a story where the magic is believable without making logical sense. As I’ve said before, I hate magical systems so it’s good to see stories where the magic is wild and irrational, without much explanation. It makes me want to write more of them.
The flip side is that sometimes I wanted explanations. Saints Tide is an absorbing story about a dying girl and the way the sea creates saints, but the magical logic of the other stories was lacking; the ending left me feeling there was no connection between the magical events. Which is instructive too.
Overall, though, an excellent collection.
#SFWApro. Cover by Amy Haslehurst, all rights to image remain with current holders.