Living After Midnight

It was just a few months back that I reviewed Jane Yolen’s story collection “The Emerald Circus,” and it was while I was writing that one up that I discovered there was a sequel to that book! (Actually, a couple of sequels, but I haven’t gotten the other one yet.) I grabbed it up as fast as I could, and now it’s time for a review of The Midnight Circus by Jane Yolen.

If you’re not familiar with Yolen, she’s one of the most prolific and admired authors around. She’s been writing for at least 50 years and has authored at least 400 books, ranging from fantasy and science fiction to children’s books, from nonfiction to poetry — and even a few comic books.

While “The Emerald Circus” featured Yolen’s short stories that were more fairy tale-focused, this book is considerably darker. Very few outright horror stories, but definitely many more dark fantasy tales.

Some of Yolen’s stories in this book include:

  • The White Seal Maid – A very well-told tale of a man and a selchie.
  • The Snatchers – Who is the strange stalker following a young man? And what’s his connection to a dark corner of Jewish history?
  • Wilding – When future technology allows young thrillseekers to change their shape, who will be the predators hunting them? And who will be the protectors keeping them safe?
  • Winter’s King – The bittersweet tale of the hard, cold life of a small boy born into hardship and dreaming of his lost people in the snow.
  • Inscription – A young woman turns to magic to ensnare her love, but doesn’t reckon with the toll she must pay.
  • Become a Warrior – The story of a princess who flees her fallen kingdom for the wilderness and eventually takes vengeance on her enemies.
  • An Infestation of Angels – A reboot of the Biblical Exodus, complete with a plague of genuinely dreadful angels.

And like Yolen’s previous collection, the book is rounded out with a section on “Story Notes and Poems,” which include her notes on how the stories were written, along with one of her poems on the same general theme.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a really wonderful collection of stories, again holding to a general fairy tales theme, just with a bit more violence, a bit more blood, and a bit more sorrow.

No story collection is perfect, of course. I think I may have preferred “The Emerald Circus” — this edition had at least one story I thought was weird in all the wrong ways. But for the most part, these are thoroughly excellent tales, and they more than drown out the stories I didn’t enjoy as much.

Particular favorites of mine included the beautifully sad “Winter’s King,” the brutally downbeat “Dog Boy Remembers,” the twisty “Little Red,” the filthy but still powerful “Infestation of Angels,” and “Become a Warrior,” which lures you in with a princess fairy tale and then jams a hatchet through your sternum.

If you enjoy stories that put the Grim into the Fairy Tales, you’ll certainly want to pick this one up.

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