A Thousand Beginnings and Endings
by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman
Ebook, 336 pages
Published June 26th, 2018 by Greenwillow Books
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.
Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renee Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.
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. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me.
As many of you may already know, I love reading about retellings and mythology. They are always filled with tales of love and loss, heroism and death. Yet, despite having rich mythology, Asian myths are often overlooked in favor for their more famous siblings, such as the Greek myth. In this book, our beloved Asian stories take the spotlight and retold in a rich way.
Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi (4.5/5 ✰)
The first story in this book, and a perfect choice for that. This story is based from a folktales in Philippines, and this first story set the tone for the whole book: beautiful, intriguing, tell about relationships between deities/human, and have strong ties with its local community. We have similar folktales in my country, the familiarity as well as the beautiful prose works really well in creating an enchanting opening story.
Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong (4.5/5 ✰)
I’m third generation chinese/indonesian, so despite not really well-versed in the traditions, I’m still familiar with the Hungry Ghost Festival. I love how this one captures the essence of the festival in such a short time, about honoring your ancestors, especially your parents. It also explains the meaning of the festival through the story and Olivia has an amazing relationship with her parents.
Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee (2.5/5 ✰)
One of my non-favorites due to the android setting, but also because I am super unfamiliar with the story. It confuses me at the beginning, but I do think the twist at the end is brilliant. It’s predictable yes, but I still enjoyed the twist. After reading the original story, I have to admit this is a clever retelling of the story. Still, I think it will be better if the setting is not in the future as the transition between the first and second story; far past to the far future, is really jarring.
Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra (5/5 ✰)
One of my favorite! I’m always fond of the concept of reincarnation, and lovers who keep finding each others in each of their life. I don’t believe in the concept of soulmate, but I just think this trope is just so romantic. I also love the twist, it gave me chill and one of my favorite moment; feeling the chill creeping up on you and just shocking you in the end 😰 But my favorite is how authentic this story seems, the author managed to channel the life of Indian woman as my desi friend describe it- the pressure to be obedient and follow what your elders and male said, but also the fun of dances and festivals 💃
The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliette de Bodard (2/5 ✰)
Another one I didn’t love is this one. It’s not because I am not familiar with the original story, I can work with that. I just can’t connect with the characters and plot, and the magic really confuses me. The magical aspect was just too far-fetched and I can’t see the point of the shape-shifting. Upon reading the original story, it seemed too loosely based because I can’t see the connection except the same name of the siblings.
The Land of Morning Calm by E.C Myers (4/5 ✰)
Seeing Korean mythological creatures in this story definitely one of its star aspect, but what I love the most is the relationship between our MC and her family. She’s very close with her family, even when her mom seemed distant. And the game became the link our MC to her mother, as well as her Korean culture. This is one with modern aspect that blends the modern times and the mythology seamlessly.
The Smile by Aisha Saeed (5/5 ✰)
One of my favorite! I love the story, the prose, and the concept. While the story of Anarkali is about love, this story is about freedom. I felt like this one is pretty short, but touches you deeply. I don’t have much to say, except that this one is close on my top 3.
Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber (5/5 ✰)
Despite being loosely based on the original story, this book managed to capture the spirit of the celebration of Navratri. I’ve been to the celebration once, during the dandiya raas, and it was so much fun! This story manages to capture the spirit of celebration and the complexity of the dance, and it also incorporates the original story into the story! I think this is the only one that does that, telling the original story into the story instead of giving the short version afterwards. And while I’m loving that, it also doesn’t really mirror the story and kinda distract it. I still love it after all though, especially how it portrays the gossipy aunties 😂
Nothing into All by Renee Ahdieh (2.5/5 ✰)
I expect a lot more from Renee Ahdieh, but lately she’s been disappointing me. This story is no exception. It just doesn’t quite capture the magic of the folktale like other story does. There is no spark at all and tbh it kinda bores me.
Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia (1/5 ✰)
My least favorite story from the book, mainly because it was not a retelling at all. Other story took a whole folktale/myth, or at least an important point of it. This one just took the battle aspect, and even then, our MC doesn’t really participate in the epic universe-saving battle. Also, if you are not familiar with the story, you won’t be able to guess what is this story supposed to be based off or how does it end/connect with the larger picture. I hate the Men in Black aspect of this story, but what I hate the most is the time we spent with the MC whining about how he was destined for so much more. So yeah, I really didn’t like this. Sorry.
Code of Honor by Melissa de la Cruz (2/5 ✰)
I love the background myth; in my country we have a similar creature called Palasik (also known as Krasue in Cambodia), who usually sucks blood from cattle and baby out of pregnant women. It’s interesting to see many regions have similar tales, it makes me wonder about the truth behind the tale… But anyways, despite my love, it felt too simplistic/juvenile, and the ending seems like a self promotion for her Blue Bloods series ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Bullet, Butterfly by Elise Chapman (2.5/5 ✰)
I actually enjoyed reading the story, but it just lack some spark to make it stand out from other stories. It’s not a bad story, it’s just… there are others who are so much better than this.
Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar (2.5/5 ✰)
The beginning was intriguing and promising, but as the story goes and we are introduced to the mythology and deities, instead of making it magical and touching, there’s something I couldn’t put my finger on that makes me didn’t care about what happened next 😶 Was it beautiful? Yes. Do I enjoyed it? Unfortunately, no.
The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon (3.5/5 ✰)
This is the first Chinese myth I’ve read and discovered by myself, not through my parents stories’, so this one hold a special place in my heart. And this retelling do a justice towards the original story, but I find myself struggle to remember what happened in the retelling, so I guess it wasn’t as good as I remember it to be while reading it.
Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa (4/5 ✰)
Kitsune is definitely the most famous lore from Japan, they are literally EVERYWHERE. This story is not an origin story of the kitsune, but kinda about what makes her a vengeful spirit. Not only that, it also captures the life of Japan during the shogun era. It’s a beautiful story, and concludes this book perfectly.
Despite the presence of some stories that I did not love, overall this anthology is the best I’ve read and left me with a pleasant feeling. Despite that, the reason why I couldn’t give this book a full 5-stars is because it fell into a certain hollywood cliche: the hair streak.
In case you are not familiar or don’t realize it, this is a trend (an offensive one, in my opinion) in hollywood where Asian female character usually have a streak of blue/purple color in their hair to show how rebellious, strong, different, or exotic they are. Some of the examples are Tina Cohen-Chang in Glee (blue), Mako Mori in Pacific Rim (blue), GoGo in Big Hero 6 (blue), Kitty in X-Men Days of Future Past (purple)… and more. Really. And in the book written by asian authors, I obviously expected better. But our mc from The Land of Morning Calm and Daughter of the Sun has the streak, blue and purple respectively. It might have been me reading too much into the description, but these trait described just left a bitter taste in my mouth.
To end this review in a positive note, A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is the anthology I’ve been searching for. It is beautiful and magical, and it also pays homage to Asian cultures and values. I hope there will be a second edition, because I want to explore more stories from Asia.