Thursday, April 19, 2012

Anthology Review: A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories by Catherine Lundoff

A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories by Catherine Lundoff is an anthology of short stories that I heartily recommend. An entertaining and varied collection that leans strongly towards the dashing and romantic adventure, but with plenty of drama, intrigue, and occasional twists of parody to keep it interesting.

A mixed bag of fantasy and historica, including Shakespeare, piracy, Regency society, and modern day urban fantasy, Catherine Lundoff has a talent for finding fascinating female figures in history and bringing them to life. We meet a delightful variety of characters; from mannish impersonators, to graceful ladies, to plump lovelies, to plain Regency orphans. Generally, the writing style is very similar within each genre, and markedly different between them. For the historical stories, romantic liberties have been taken, but she obviously did her research.

Catherine Lundoff has written many short stories and published two other anthologies (both erotica). She is also the editor of the recent and well received paranormal/fantasy anthologies, and has recieved several awards (mostly Golden Crown Literary Awards awards and Gaylactic Sectrum shortlists in the Short Fiction and Other Work categories). She also contributed a marvellous guest post to the Introducing Lesbian Fiction event, recommending her top five lesbian books for a beginner.

This collection is, basically, all her non-erotica short stories published to date. All the stories, with the exception of the title story, have been published in various other anthologies and magazines. With the exception of the last two or three stories, excepting the final one, there are no noticeable grammar or typo issues. The only real downside to most of these stories is that most of them could be developed into full novels and leave you wanting to read more! That, and most of our leading ladies don't spend a lot of time romancing each other (though there's a nice diversity of established lovers, first loves, not really that interested in loves, lightskirts and respectable marriages and so forth).

The Stories

1. The Egyptian Cat (page 11) (urban fantasy, Eygptian mythology)
Reprinted from Tales of the Unanticipated. Vol. 30, 2010.
Erica receives a mysterious cat statue, followed by her long lost beloved who vanished to chase after her missing mother years ago. Frustration and magical showdowns follow.
An entertaining but not especially unique urban fantasy about two women, ancient Egyptian cat magic and evil servants of Set. My least favourite in the book; but then urban fantasy often feels a bit forced to me. Certainly the weakest one to open with. I suspect the overly obvious parody of the main character editing her latest anthology was meant to be self referential, hence it being first, in order to ease readers into the world of disbelief.

2. The Letter of Marque (page 37) (historical, pirates, 17th century)
Reprinted from Lacuna: A Journal of Historical Fiction. October 2010
A marvellous adventure of 17th century spies and pirates, with two French ladies engaged in derring do, cross-dressing and double crossing, set in the colony of Jamaica. Our protagonist, Celeste, who plays the lady and the mysterious swordswoman by turns, is frustrated in her quest to obtain a recently discovered treasure for the government of France, by the dashing pirate Jacquotte. Jacquotte Delahaye was a real person, a pirate who disguised herself successfully as a man for years. You can learn more about her on Wikipedia.

3. Great Reckonings, Little Rooms (page 61) (historical, Shakespearean)
Reprinted from Time Well Bent: Queer Alternate History. Lethe Press, 2009
A tragic tale of politics and betrayal and identical twins; a story about Judith, Shakespeare's twin sister and fellow playwright, who loved the same woman as her brother (though this only takes up part of the story) and is drawn into intrigue and danger after their (gay) friend Christopher (Kit) Marlowe. It opens a little self consciously, and alas, we see too little of the lady Emilia (I want more lesbian time!) but there is impersonation and cross dressing (in both directions), and a clever interpretation of the three main characters of Shakespeare's sonnets; the Fair Youth, the Rival Poet, and the Dark Lady. Essentially, a reinterpretation of real moments in history.

4. Regency Masquerade  (page 83) (historical, Regency period)
Reprinted from Kissed By Venus, May 2008 and originally published in the Harrington Lesbian Fiction Quarterly. Vol. 3 (1), Alice Street Editions, 2002.
In the style of everyone's favourite Austen stories, this one features a penniless orphan lady in the Regency era, too bookish and plain for her own, and dependent on her kind, but proper relatives. Who, naturally, are set on helping her find a man. While travelling with her pink and pretty cousins to a society event, they are set upon by a mysterious dashing highwayman who seems to know her... reminds her of her dearest friend, Olivia, now lost to her. Surviving this dreadful occurrence, she then crosses paths with a young man of Quality, and learns she may indeed get a happily ever after.

5. Vadija (page 105) (fantasy, mythological)
 Reprinted from Such a Pretty Face: Tales of Power and Abundance, Meisha Merlin, 2000.
 A fantasy fairytale type of story, with no obvious lesbian content, about a farmwife who leaves her valley following the laughter of the mysterious Vadija, travelling and becoming a talespinner, until she reaches the City of Sorrows, and an old woman who rescues her from its terrible grief and sends her on her way.
This is the most fancifully written of the stories, with no obvious beginning or end, of the kind where the protagonist learns a mystical lesson, or that they were following themselves all along, or they didn't really need what they thought they needed. I liked the glimpses of the world, through the eyes of an ordinary middle aged woman with a rolling belly; she liked to imagine Vadija the same way and slowly learnt to become a talespinner, a role reserved for tall, dark, mysterious people.

6. A Scent of Roses (page 115) (historical fantasy, mediaeval fairy tale)
Reprinted from So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction. Lethe Press, 2009
The aftermath of the fairy tale of Tam Lin, in which the faithful Janet held onto her Tam when he was stolen by the fairy queen and chosen t be paid as their tithe to hell. This sequel shows Janet and Tam trapped in a a depressive spiral with no real prospects, as Knights have no place on the farm, and they have no children, when the fairy queen comes back for a look at bold Janet.

7. M. Le Maupin (page 129) (historical, France, theatre) 
Reprinted from Lesbian Short Fiction, Vol. 3, 1997 
Julie d'Aubigny was another real person, an actor, opera singer and swordswoman who trod the boards as the androgynous M. Le Maupin. This short story is her first real adventure; while it differs significantly from the actual history (for example, in this version she is fatherless), the elements are familiar. In this story, the young Maupin plays the youth on stage, until she falls for a plump and delectable young lady. Unfortunately, the lass is betrothed, leading to a fatal duel and our heroine having to flee the city, on her way to many more adventures. Learn more about her on Wikipedia and here.

8. Spell, Book and Candle (page 149) (urban fantasy, modern witches and love spells) 
Reprinted from Khimairal Ink, January 2008
A fun alternate reality urban fantasy, where magic is commonplace and slightly anthropomorphic. When her gorgeous ex comes to her for ingredients for a love spell, Selena can't resist trying to save  her from herself... by redirecting Mona's attentions back to her. Unfortunately, of course, it goes badly wrong when she summons up a powerful and unscrupulous ancestor instead. A fun story, with a rather good twist at the end that saved it from being 'yet another urban fantasy love spell story'.

9. Red Scare (page 165) (science fiction, crime noir, parody)
Reprinted from Simulacrum, Vol. 1 (2). January 2004. 
A science fiction story set in a space colony, which has an industry based around producing films and with the citizens all falling into enforced crime noir roles (heavily reminiscient of Dick Tracy, Bugsy Malone, and so on). Femmes (women) don't get much say in matters, but apparently sex change operations exist for those who aren't happy in their roles. Our lead character is a woman passing as a man in order to live as a gumshoe (detective), rather than a femme. She's dragged into some local gang warfare, which soon turns out to be connected to the local drug trade, one of her exes and her current sweetheard. Matters get swiftly out of hand, and highly political, and soon she's in the middle of the opening volleys of a war between the restrictive ruling body and the mutated victims of the drug trade.
This one was fascinating and frustrating. It just tried to cram too much in, and didn't have enough space for exposition. I was actually left uncertain of some aspects of the settings (for example, was it deliberately created and enforced, or just something that evolved in response to the film industry? Was the society something that sprang up after the alien threat, or was it always that way?). It was certainly original, and a fast paced mystery, though our detective didn't have to figure much out as everything exploded on her instead.

10. A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace (page 187) (swords & sorcery fantasy)
Original to this anthology.
A slightly silly sword and sorcery fantasy, featuring body switching, genderswapping, assassination and politics. 
Maeve the Red, and her cousin Raven, are feared fighters, wandering the land in search of coin, battle and women. They're not quite foolhardy enough to get mixed up royal assassinations though, and turn down a job from Princess Miaqi. Unfortunately, the princess mixes them up anyway - literally - when she arranges for a body switch, so as to create an ideal alibi for herself while she assassinates her loutish elder brother herself. The mercenaries aren't too happy about this and infiltrate the palace and attempt to get Raven's body back...  not quite successfully.

Author Awards
This anthology is a bit recent to have anything to its name yet, but an impressively high proportion of Catherine Lundoff's published work has picked up awards, from her own short fiction to anthologies she has edited.

     Gaylactic Spectrum Award winning short stories
    Golden Crown Awards
    Other Awards

    You can buy A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories from Amazon as a Kindle eBook or paperback, and from Smashwords in various formats. 

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