Krait reviews Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older

longhidden

Long Hidden features 27 stories, focusing on (as the editors put it) “stories from the margins of speculative history, each taking place between 1400 and the early 1900s and putting a speculative twist—an element of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or the unclassifiably strange—on real past events.” The anthology features many people and women of color, trans* characters, lesbians, and stories from all over the world.

My love affair with speculative fiction started after a childhood spent devouring sci-fi and fantasy books left me with the realization that very few stories actually featured people I might know or people I could be. With that in mind, I had very high hopes going into Long Hidden and I’m pleased to say that were not in vain.

Anthologies can often be hit-or-miss when it comes to story quality, but Long Hidden is nicely consistent. A few stories – “Angela and the Scar;” “It’s War;” “Medu” – didn’t have quite as strong a narrative or quite as engrossing characters, but they still entertained. “Angela and the Scar” and “It’s War” both occur during fascinating events and encouraged me to brush up on my history, but the character arcs and the magic conceit just didn’t hook me. I found Medu’s snake-haired women to be an interesting concept and the story starts strong, but the conflict and the resolution fall flat.

It’s really only in comparison to the brightest stars of the anthology that these stories fizzle.

But oh, those stars. Meg Jayanth’s “Each Part Without Mercy” follows a dreamer with gorgeous imagery and lovely prose. “Marigolds,” from L.S. Johnson, is deliciously disturbing and tells of blood-magic in a French Revolutionary Parisian brothel. “Marigolds” left me with a few shudder-worthy images but a surprisingly uplifting ending. Jamey Hatley’s “Collected Likenesses” is thought-provoking, with fascinating magic and heart-rendingly real characters. A young black woman in 1913 Harlem struggles with dangerous memories and magic passed down from her grandmother (and even farther back). Kima Jones’ “Nine” features Tanner, a possibly genderqueer woman of color, who runs a small motel with her lovers, several other women. All escaped the remains of slavery back east, and they provide a safe stopping point in Arizona for others doing the same. And finally, several days after I’ve finished the book, I’m still thinking about “Lone Women,” by Victor LaValle. I would absolutely read a novel featuring Adelaide (the protagonist), her sister, and the community of strong single women out on the Montana frontier. There’s just enough horror and magic to put an interesting twist on the story of a frontiers-woman, and I’d love to see that story expanded.

It’s difficult to discuss some of the stories without spoiling some essential element, the hidden magic in the characters or their surroundings, so the ones I’ve mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg. The plots run the gamut from romance, crises of faith, self-discovery, to overcoming the terrible odds and obstacles thrown at you by life. But all of the stories have some element of magic or fantasy or horror, and all tell the narratives of people typically ignored by fiction.

In short, I loved Long Hidden, and would absolutely read another anthology along the same theme. However, I’ll warn readers: many of these stories are dark, and not just those that feature horror elements. Violence against women, rape, violent racism, and other trigger-worthy events are touched on more than once, though never shown in detail. Not all of the stories have happy endings – but I think they’re still well worth your time.

[Editor’s note: This book was published through a kickstarter campaign, but will be available more broadly in May]

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