Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages (book review).

‘Wicked Wonders’ is a collection of short stories mainly about children that take the reader on a trip through numerous worlds with a wide cast of characters. Most of the stories are tinged with magical realism or science or more often than not both.

Ellen Klages has a talent for concepts. There are quite a lot of stories in this collection and, while there are similar themes running through many of them, I was amazed by how many stories have a really clever magical concept behind them. For example, one story, ‘Friday Night At St. Cecilia’s’, that stood out to me was a tale wherein the characters were transported in to life-sized board games that were conceptually very impressive. There was another, ‘Presto!’, which was essentially about the science of the art of illusion, which was quite fascinated. Klages is obviously either a very clever lady or a good researcher as these stories are brimming with careful details and facts.

Throughout the book, one of the key themes was isolation and alienation and the distance between members of families. This was shown in all sorts of different scenarios, which I thought was quite interesting. I think an unfortunate part of the development of modern western culture is that families and communities are not as close as they once were. Klages explores this from a variety of different angles across a range of her short stories. Interestingly, this is most commonly done through the way the children who are the viewpoint characters for many of the stories view their parents. What’s interesting about this is this is certainly not a book for young children. It may possibly be a book for teens and young adults, but certainly not children. Some of the children in this book are below the age of seven, which is certainly not an age at which I think children would be reading this sort of book. This is very much a book about looking back on the hardships of childhood and perhaps about encouraging adults to remember the thoughts and feelings of the children in their lives. I can’t say I’ve read a book from this perspective before so I must say it was very refreshing.

Another intriguing factor in this book is the role friendship played in some of the stories. Friendship, in particular strong unconditional close friendship, is a theme that’s often overshadowed by the theme of romance in much modern fiction and is something I feel doesn’t always receive enough attention. Therefore, I was delighted by some of the exploration of friendship in this book. There is one story in particular, ‘Amicae Aeternum’, that is about two friends who have to part. It evoked such powerful emotions in me that I would have to say it’s my favourite story in the collection.

However, I did feel that at times the characters in a story were so similar to characters in other stories in the collection, that I found they sort of blurred into each other in my brain. That said, I do appreciate that a short story is a very hard vehicle in which to establish deep characterisation. Additionally, it is a natural inclination of a writer to gravitate to writing about people who have certain traits. I could say the same on a lesser scale about some authors who have written multiple series. So, while it was a negative, I think it’s a realistic one.

Klages uses language very artfully. Her descriptions are very beautiful and rich, which leave the worlds she creates very well-painted. Her attention to small details is almost scientific. However, I did feel at times that her detail heavy writing, while beautiful, did at times make the pace of some of the stories extremely slow. I did find myself wondering as to what the point of a story was or when it would pick up. I also found some of the endings unsatisfying, which I won’t go in to detail about in this review, as I do not wish to spoil the plots of any of the stories. Overall, it was an enjoyably quirky read that I would recommend to anyone who likes short stories, well-crafted writing, magical realism and stories based around characters who have an interest in science.

Rebecca Thorne

May 2017

(pub: Tachyon Publications. 240 page ebook 648kb. Price: £ 6.95 (UK). ASIN: B01N7TJF1P)

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