On Galactic Suburbia a few weeks ago, Tansy mentioned that she was reading this anthology and that the first story had lots of references to rock and roll – much more my thing than hers. And then I saw Stephanie Burgis, one of the editors, talking about it on Twitter and, well, I managed to get myself a review copy. Whoo!
Over here at Book Smugglers you can find out how this anthology came together; basically, someone mentioned the underwater ballroom folly on Twitter, and BOOM.
Anyway, I quickly read the first story, and not only is it about rock music but it’s specifically about Robert Plant, of Led Zeppelin, which is only my favourite band ever AND I was about to go see Plant actually perform with his new(er) band, the Sensational Space Shifters. So I was in delighted stitches at all of the Led Zeppelin references throughout the story and basically that one piece is worth this entire anthology happening. But maybe that’s my particular bias shining through. Whatever.
The rest of the stories are quite different, with some not even being set on Earth; sometimes there’s magic, sometimes not; some are romantic, some are crime-solving, some are coming-of-age. The underwater ballroom is used quite differently, as you would expect, although it is pretty much central in all of the stories. It’s an enormously fun set of stories. Sometimes a themed anthology gets wearisome; that doesn’t happen here. I can definitely recommend it; it’s got a fairly diverse set of characters, too, which I liked. Give it to the older teen in your life who is getting impatient with everyday fantasy and fairy stories. And read it yourself, of course.
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The important thing to know about this book before reading it is that it is influenced by opera – eighteenth century opera, no less. So if noble ladies with fair arms and negligees, dramatic love affairs, and sinister secret societies – with generous serves of lavish description – is not your cup of tea, then this novel is not for you. And that’s ok; just pass it by, or pass it on.
The novel is set on the real-life estate of the Esterhazys, which I had to look up to check its historical authenticity. The Prince really did employ Haydn to work there, as depicted in the story, so it’s intriguing to know that it’s based on, or at least using, some aspects of fact (and the ruler at the time was Marie Theresa – Marie Antoinette’s mother. Can’t get away from those revolutions.)
There’s lots of different narrators and a few different narrative threads that weave through this story. There’s the musico (indelicately, a castrato), the young widow, the cast-off husband, the singers, the alchemists… and ultimately everything comes together. I quite liked the young widow, who was really the focus overall; she was sympathetic and made sense. Some of the others were a bit more opera-character-ish: amusing but less believable. Also less believable was the central (although not completely overwhelming) love story; not that the two people involved were unlikely, just the way it played out.
Overall this is a well-paced, fairly light read with some charming, and some dastardly, characters. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and it all only happens over a week or so, so it doesn’t have a chance to get bogged down.