Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Review: Liberty & Other Stories by Alexis Hall

Cover art for Liberty and Other Stories, featuring a montage of many people of different races and genders against a starry sky. The whole cover is tinged in purple.
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

LIBERTY & OTHER STORIES is Alexis Hall’s follow-up to PROSPERITY, a novel of queer misfits in an alternate nineteenth century where aetherships sail skies plagued by vicious kraken. Two of the stories contained herein are prequels to PROSPERITY, one is a sequel, and one is a prequel wrapped in a sequel. An additional, shorter piece deals with a previously unknown character who becomes important to the collection's final offering.

I imagine you could read the collection's first two stories as standalones if you're just after a taste of Hall's writing (each novelette or novella contained herein is also available for individual purchase), but you'll enjoy the complete package a lot more if you've already read PROSPERITY. The earlier book introduces the characters and their world, while this one expands upon them by showing us who they used to be and where they're headed next.

Besides, you don't want to cheat yourself out of PROSPERITY. You really don't.

I'm tempted to refer to LIBERTY as an interconnected short story collection, but in truth the stories are more related than directly connected. They're set in the same world and feature characters who know one another, but they don't so much overlap. The two aforementioned standalones--an account of how Ruben and Milord met, followed by Miss Grey’s letters to a former lover--help flesh out two of the characters from PROSPERITY, while Byron Kae’s oral autobiography does the same even as it gives closure to one of the romances hinted at in the first book. The final story, “Liberty,” is a sequel comprised of a number of documents concerned with a recently declassified intelligence operation. It has ties to Byron Kae's story and to the shorter piece alluded to above, and it potentially sets the stage for more stories in this world, with or without these characters.

(With would be better. I am ridiculously fond of Dil and Byron Kae, in particular, and while I know they'll have heaps of adventures whether or not I ever get to hear about them, I'd rather hear about them than not.)

Hall's skill with voice stands out across all five stories. He's so very, very good at endowing each character with their own particular syntax. It makes his work a delight to read, whether we’re immersed in Dil’s colloquial cant, Miss Grey’s otherworldly yet practical trill, or Byron Kae’s elegantly uncertain prose. The plots are exciting, dealing as they do with eldritch horrors, identity struggles, and a variety of dastardly individuals both friendly and non, but the writing is so beautiful that the stories would sing even if they described dull, workaday matters. The characters' unique perspectives carry the show.

My favourite narrators were Miss Grey and Byron Kae. “Squamous With A Chance of Rain” purports to be Miss Grey’s first encounter with the gods who dwell beyond the sky. It’s an epistolary tale comprised of her letters to an old school chum/former lover who has gone to dwell abroad and will surely be interested in hearing of these most peculiar happenings. Miss Grey recounts her adventure in matter-of-fact prose, taking everything in stride even as tentacled horrors and vast, empty dream-cities become part of her everyday life. She also devotes some small attention to her romantic conquests, with early innuendos soon replaced by a frank account of the dashing adventuress who sets her loins aflame.

“Cloudy Climes and Starless Skies” employs a slightly different structure from the other stories. We begin with a third person, present tense account of how Byron Kae came to tell Dil their life story. When they begin the story proper, the narrative switches to first person, past tense--and since we’re meant to take it as an oral narrative (albeit one Byron Kae has reconstructed after the fact as their gift to Dil; a solid, sweet context), it’s liberally studded with Dil’s comments and questions as well as Byron Kae’s responses. It’s not just a welcome glimpse into Byron Kae’s sad past as an illegitimate child and piratical runaway; it’s also a lovely look at how close they and Dil have become since their first encounter on the Shadowless’s deck. The two of them mesh beautifully.

I'm coming over all gushy just thinking about it.

In short, this is excellent fiction and a welcome chance to revisit the characters introduced in PROSPERITY. I highly recommend you seek these stories out, either as a collection or on an individual basis.


While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read LIBERTY & OTHER STORIES, you can try:

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the book through Kobo, The Book Depository, or Amazon. I get an extra month of Scribd if you sign up for a two-month free trial.

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