Title: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings
Editor: Ellen Oh
Published by: HarperCollins on June 26, 2018
Genre: Anthologies, Young Adult, Mythology, Fantasy
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Synopsis: Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings. These are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.
Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.
A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place. From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish.
Here, diasporic Asians reimagine their favorite Asian myths and legends from their own viewpoints. We would have been overjoyed to have found this anthology, filled with characters with skin and hair and names more like ours, in our beloved libraries. It’s the book that was missing in our lives for far too long.
The above quote is so right, up until recently I’ve loved any books with Asian influences I could get my hands on but always felt like they were missing something. This anthology is amazing in that it doesn’t only focus on East Asia but on other parts of Asia as well. I was ecstatic when I read stories from the Philippines and stories about darker skinned Asians. I keep saying this this month, but it feels surreal to see myself represented in fiction when I hadn’t experienced it for most of my life. I wish I had something to read like this when I was younger and used to favor characters with brown hair because I thought they were closest to being like me.
1. Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I am so happy that Filipino stories are in this anthology and that this was the first! Totally biased review here because I’m Filipino, and I want more Filipino stories. I will say that I was a little hesitant to read this because I recently DNF’d a book by this author, but I was pleasantly surprised. This was a beautiful retelling of Maria Makiling, a mountain spirit that is always depicted as breathtakingly beautiful with white hair. I thought this was the perfect choice for a Filipino retelling because it is set on and near a mountain near a small village which is something you see a lot in Filipino mythology (from what I’ve read and been told about anyways). I am also always for deities falling in love with human stories. I need more!
2. Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I’ve seen a lot of shows with night parades that featured ghosts, but I didn’t know they originated from Chinese mythos. This story is about a young girl who cooks for ghosts trying to cross over to the afterlife during the Hungry Ghost Festival. The way Alyssa Wong delicately deals with death and moving on is so tenderly done that I was left feeling warm and secure rather than dreadful. I read this at the perfect time because many people I know have loved ones who have passed on recently, so I’ve been feeling the need to hold on and show my parents how much I love and cherish them.
3. Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This wasn’t what I was expecting because it’s sci-fi, and I thought there would be more fantastical elements. This take on the Hmong folktale The Woman and the Tiger features a young teenager, her father, and their strained relationship that was caused by the death of a loved one. I thought the ending was pretty good, but wasn’t completely impressed with the story as a whole or with the mythology tie-in.
4. Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra – ⭐ ⭐
This is a retelling of the Punjabi folktale Mirza and Sahiba. I would definitely be interested in reading a different retelling of this folktale because I’ve always had a thing for stories about soulmates. However, I was not feeling the main male character. The author purposely meant for him to be stalkerish in her rendition of the story, but it felt disturbing to read through.
5. The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliette De Bodard – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This is probably my favorite story in this anthology. I loved everything about it! It is about two sisters who have been taken from their home to live in the palace and work on the Census. One sister believes in magic and making a way for herself and one sister is more realistic and believes in working hard to get what you want. From what the author says, the tie-in is more uplifting than the original Vietname legend of Tam Cam, and though I went into this anthology looking for close-to-the-original retellings, I still found this a pleasurable read. From its gorgeous, fantastical prose to its message about the power of choice and sibling love, this was complete perfection.
6. The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
If you’ve ever been a tiny bit obsessed with Korean MMORPG’s you’re going to love this one. This is another story about a young girl and her father overcoming the death of a loved one but with a heavy emphasis on Korean MMO’s. I never thought I would ever read a story that delves so deeply into the MMORPG gaming experience and how gaming can become so much more than that. When I was younger my online gaming friends and I would question if you could really be friends or start a relationship with someone you haven’t met in person and later on I decided that my answer to that was yes. I used to feel uncomfortable talking about my gaming friends or relationships because it’s often looked down upon as weird. But if you think about it, you meet and play with the same people for multiple hours a day, and there’s tons of talking that inevitably leads to getting to know each other because you can’t communicate through real life actions when gaming. I found this story amazing because creating relationships through gaming is normal and not ever questioned.
7. The Smile by Aisha Saeed– ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This is a feminist retelling of The Story of Anarkali from South Asia. In this story a courtesan learns that belonging doesn’t mean affection and being free doesn’t guarantee happiness. Slightly unpopular opinion, but my one complaint about this story is that I thought it was too short. Something happens and that’s it. What happens next?? I want more!
8. The Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would! This story switches between modern day where a young girl and her friends celebrate Navaratri and Hindu mythology. Somehow, the author was able to pack a lot of her culture into such a short story. It made want to know even more about Hindu mythology.
9. Nothing into All by Renée Ahdieh – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Nothing into All is a retelling of the Korean folktale Goblin Treasure. In this story, a girl wants to use Goblin magic to get into music school, but her brother becomes angry because she doesn’t want to use the magic to help their family. Renee Ahdieh is another hit or miss author for me, but I adored this story.
10. Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia – ⭐ ⭐
This story details the authors thoughts on the South Asian Epic Poem Mahabharata. It is a story about a boy who is thrust into a war he knows nothing about and questions why everyone is fighting. I think the concept of someone waking up and finding themselves in a war among gods sounds interesting, but I don’t think I was in the right mood for this story. There is a ton of harsh language, and because I had already read many mythical stories, I wasn’t in the right mindset for this one.
11. Code of Honor by Melissa de la Cruz – ⭐ ⭐
I am so upset that I didn’t like this one because though I knew others gave this a low rating, I hoped I would love it! This is about an aswang (Filipino witch/vampire) that disguises herself as a high school student to find others like herself. When I was little my friends and then cousins in the Philippines used to tell scary stories about an aswang called Manananggal. She was a vampire like creature whose upper body was separated from her lower body and whose long tongue was used to suck the lives out of animals, people, and children. I used to be terrified of Manananggal whenever I had to be in the dark, and when I visited the Philippines my cousins and I roamed the market place at night and freaked out because we thought Manananggal was chasing us (it was a goat…). I didn’t feel scared at all while reading this, and I think it’s because there was more telling than showing.
12. Bullet, Butterfly by Elsie Chapman – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Ah man, this one gave me so many kinds of feels. This is a retelling of the Chinese legend of the Butterfly lovers. In this, a boy disguises himself as a girl and falls in love with a healer who treats him. When he confesses to being a boy and loving her, the girl becomes angry but still admits to loving him, too. Unfortunately, they are unable to be with each other because of their duty to the war. The story along with the writing left me heartbroken.
13. Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This story is a retelling of two stories from the Mahabharata. In this story, a lonely daughter of the sun finds the lonely son of the moon and decides to save him from drowning. The son of the moon is taken from her, but the daughter of the moon cleverly gets his capturer to allow him to come back to her. Like the author, I enjoyed how feminist the original stories sound, and I also enjoyed how Shveta Thakrar incorporates those feminist aspects into her retelling.
14. The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This story is a retelling of the Chinese legend The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. In this story, a goddess sets the records straight and tells her story of seeing the man she fell in love with first and how she got him to fall for her. This was a funny and adorable read with a playful and flirty narrator.
15. Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa – ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This is the one story I think many people will already know something about because kitsunes come up a lot in popular cultures. This is a lovely yet creepy ending to the anthology that tells the story of a boy and then man who comes across the Japanese kitsune. In this story, a boy comes across a kitsune and lets her go while promising not to tell anyone he’s spotted her. Years later, his village is unable to reach their rice quota and the kitsune decides it is the perfect time to help him.
Again, I loved this anthology and know I will be reading it and referencing it throughout my lifetime. If I ever have children, you bet I will be reading some of these stories to them because I want them and other children to grow up knowing that these cultures are beautiful and they shouldn’t feel the need to push them aside because it doesn’t seem “right” to most of society.
I gave this anthology 5 stars even though I didn’t give every story 5 stars because I am in awe of it as a whole, and I think it’s important that others read it. I also encourage you to seek out own voice reviewers because their experience with some of these stories are most likely much different from my own.
This ARC was provided to me by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. All quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof and may not be the same in the finished work.