I received this story collection from the author, in exchange for an honest review.
This time around, the delightful surprise in receiving Stephanie Burgis’ new work to read and review was compounded by the discovery that it was a collection of short stories and, more important still, that they went in quite unexpected directions – narratively speaking – from this author’s usually light and playful style. Which does not mean, of course, that you will not find some of her spirited and plucky heroines here, or that you will not travel through some of her Regency-inspired worlds: there is that, of course, but also some darker stories and themes that follow the time-honored fairy tale pattern of mixing darkness and light for added narrative depth.
And speaking of fairy tales, Touchstones contains not one but two retellings of the Cinderella myth, a longer one where the girl in question is quite reluctant to accept her destiny, and a shorter story that takes a very, very unexpected direction: in both instances I was thoroughly amused at the way Ms. Burgis turned the well known fable upside down, particularly in The Wrong Foot where we get a closer look at the famous Prince Charming only to discover that he’s… well, no, find out for yourselves! 😉
Staying with the lighter mood of the collection, The Disastrous Debut of Agatha Tremain is a fun romp through the idiosyncrasies of Regency society thanks to a spirited girl and her evil aunt, very much in line with the author’s previous offerings, while The Art of Deception follows a somewhat unlikely sword master and his friend as they move through the treacherous waters of a magical academy. On the other hand, Love You, Flatmate is set in our present world during the Covid outbreak, but it will make you smile as you consider the effects of forced cohabitation between… ahem… different species.
For the darker themes, I would like to mention Dreaming Harry, in which we discover that a child’s imagination, when fueled by the wrong images (and a particular accident at the time of birth…) can be a quite dangerous thing. Dancing in the Dark is a very poignant story about loss and the way a friendly ghost can assuage it. And again, True Names will take you on the harrowing path traveled by a young woman whose unexpected visitor brings a deadly threat. My favorite story, however, is House of Secrets: the dark journey of a very special girl whose distant father you will come to hate and despise as much as I did.
Once again, Stephanie Burgis managed to take me out of this world into her special realms, in a variegated tour that proved to be both amusing and shocking, whimsical and weird, but always, always totally engaging: I mentioned only a handful of the stories included in this collection, but there are many more that will take you down unusual paths and fuel your imagination.
If you already encountered her works, you will find in Touchstones her trademark narrative skills; if she’s a new-to-you author, this anthology might very well be the way to get to know her writing. In each case, it will be a reading experience not to be missed…