Review: The Midnight Circus by Jane Yolen

Authors: Jane Yolen, Theodora Goss (introduction), Robert J. Harris, Adam Stemple
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Released: October 1st, 2020
Received: NetGalley
Warnings: Sexual abuse, stalking, cutting

4 kitties

I received a copy of The Midnight Circus in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Midnight Circus is the latest collection of Jane Yolen’s works, and as such you just know that I had to read it. This is a collection of some (note: only some) of her fantasy works, many of which have a historical or darker edge.

Along with lots of work by Jane Yolen (sixteen, plus poetry towards the back), there’s an introduction by Theodora Goss. Finally, to give credit where credit is due, two of the short stories had co-authors, Robert J. Harris and Adam Stemple.

Below you’ll find individual reviews for each short story in this collection. It’s also worth nothing that about the last ten percent of The Midnight Circus contains notes and poetry, all of which relates to the stories that preceded them.

“In the end, with only a bit of sweat, we produced the book. You are now judge and jury of it all.”

The Weaver of Tomorrow

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

They say that you should be careful what you wish for. That may just be true in this tale. This is the story of a young woman with a rare gift. She could see the future of those around her, yet it still wasn’t enough. She wanted to know it all.

“The true knowledge she desired was each tick of tomorrow, each fall and each failure, each heartache and each pain, that would be the portion of every man.”

This was an intriguing tale, and an interesting start to this collection. I love the idea of a seer learning a greater craft, as she finds her place in the world – and it is not at all what she (or I) would have expected.

The White Seal Maid

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

We’ve all heard the tale of Selkies, how they can come to land, and how even when they do, they always crave the sea. This is Jane Yolen’s take on the Selkies, and a love (perhaps) that formed from it.

“And as she sang, the water began to fill up with seals.”

I loved this short story. My only regret is that we weren’t able to see both sides of the story – that would have been truly compelling, if you ask me. Still, I enjoyed this take very much, and would honestly love to see more like it. Then again, I’ve always enjoyed hearing about Selkies, so I might be biased here.

The Snatchers

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

This is a darker story, one that pulls details of real life and history to make it feeling even more real, and haunting. This is the story of what some Jewish people went through to avoid the draft.

“He was a kidnapper, a bounty hunter, a Jew against Jews.”

This is a dark tale, that can probably go without saying. Yolen really does have a talent for using fiction to explore the horrors and atrocities of her past. It’s beautiful, if also daunting at the same time. This is one of those stories.

Wilding

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

Warnings: Assault

Sometimes even the most civilized of worlds need a reminder of the past. Need an excuse to blow off steam, and let lose from time to time. In this world, that little bit of allowance is called Wilding.

“Sweet sixteen

Powdered green

Out in the park

Well after dark,

Wilding!”

Wilding is one of my top two stories from this entire collection. It has a little bit of everything, from science fiction/fantasy elements, to a coming of age story, and even a little bit of a thriller. Plus all that commentary on society. This is a story I would have liked to see more, if given a chance.

Requiem Antarctica with Robert J. Harris

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

This is the story that one man has carried with him alone, right up to his deathbed. Now it’s time to speak up, to speak of the horrors he learned of, while traveling to Antarctica. It is nothing like what you’ll expect, with the horrors having followed him there.

“You’ll need a drink if you are to hear me through to the end.”

Here’s my other absolute favorite from this collection. I love the themes that ran through this short story, as well as all of the implications. Admittedly I’m a bit biased here, as I love tales about the exploration of Antarctica, as well as the other surprise that this story brings. But still, it was great fun to read!

Night Wolves

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

A haunting tale of the horrors that terrify a little girl once the lights go out, but with several surprising twists along the way. This is the tale of one girl learning the reasons to be brave.

“The wolves lived under my bed, the bear in my closet. They only came out at night.”

This was one of those stories that started out dark, but got pretty sweet towards the end. It has some dark implications, but otherwise is brilliant from start to finish.

The House of Seven Angels

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

A little boy is the only one to have witnessed what happens in one man’s house. You see, Moishe has witnessed seven angels residing there, aiding the man. Until one day that all changed.

“And he was being served, Moishe said, by seven angels.”

This was an intriguing story. I love the way it was told, as it really gave it that classic folktale feel. I think that enhanced the story quite a bit in my mind, if I’m being honest.

Great Gray

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

The invasion has occurred, and with it there are countless birds now to be found. Yet Donnal can’t help but be fascinated with them, and every little detail they bring into his world.

“Donnal didn’t know a great deal about birds, but the newspapers had been full of the invasion, as it was called.”

This was an intriguing story, though I’ll admit that I found myself confused at times. Donnal’s story is complex and slightly convoluted, with intention I have no doubt.

Little Red with Adam Stemple

Rating: ⋆ ⋆

Warnings: Sexual abuse, cutting

This is the story of one young woman, and the imaginary world she delves into in order to escape the horrors of her real life.

“The forest is dark but I know the way. I have been here before.”

I’ll admit I enjoy the concept of this world being pure imagination – I’ve seen it before, and done to great effect. However, the implications (see the warnings) are just a bit too dark for me.

Winter’s King

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

There once was a baby who was brought to life by a stranger, only for all those around him to believe he was cursed by winter from that moment onward. He embraced the idea of becoming Winter’s King.

“Then he shall be a Winter King, more than any of his kin or kind.”

This is a dark and twisted tale, which actually makes it perfect for this collection. I love the themes that run throughout this short story, and honestly almost would have liked to see more of it. Though it’s also solid the way it is now.

Inscription

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

Deathbed confessions are not a new thing. This is the story revealed by one mother, to her son, on the off chance that she doesn’t survive what ails her. It’s the story of the father he never met.

“It is a lie, you know, that inscription. From first to last.”

I love how this story unraveled. It didn’t end at all like I expected. For that matter, none of this story went how I expected, and I loved that about it. This is classic Jane Yolen storytelling, if ever I’ve seen it.

Dog Boy Remembers

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

This is the story of one boy trying to live up to the standards of his father, while missing the life his mother had worked so hard to give him. With a magical twist, naturally.

“When his father came to fetch him that first time, his mother wept.”

I really wanted to like this story more, but I struggled with it. Maybe it’s the implications that were in it, but I’m not sure. It had an interesting core concept, which I respect. Likewise, I appreciate the creatures that were pulled into this tale.

The Fisherman’s Wife

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

The legends of fishermen are not to be ignored. They have warnings in them, that must be heeded. That applies even to fishermen, who should know better than to tangle with creatures of the deep.

“But every fisherman knows that when you have dealings with the deep you leave something of yourself behind.”

This was another brilliant story by Jane Yolen. Here she’s taken fishermen lore, mermaids, and a tale of love, and twisted it altogether to create something new. I loved it, though I was blown away by the ending.

Become A Warrior

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

Warnings: Death, gore

This is the tale of one little girl, and her journey to become a warrior. She once had a family, until the war took it all away. Now she’s forced to find a new path in life.

“To become a warrior, forget the past.”

What an intriguing story. I’ll be honest with you, I struggled to get into this one at first, but I’m so glad I stuck with it, because that ending makes it all totally worth it! Though I won’t ruin the ending, I promise. I will say that is was a surprise, all while being highly satisfying.

An Infestation of Angels

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

Once a contract has been signed, you must stay with it. Even when those contracts take advantage of an entire people.

“One who goes back on his signed word is no better than a thief.”

This was an interesting story, though to be honest I wish it had been longer. I think having more time to develop would have helped this particular piece.

Names

Rating: ⋆ ⋆ ⋆

Warnings: Starvation, survivor’s guilt

The past haunts us, especially those of us who have lived through the most harrowing events possible. Take Rachel’s mother, who lists out those who did not survive like she did.

“But Rachel always knew that when the toll call was done, her mother would start the death-camp stories.”

This is a dark and disturbing tale, one made all the more so because of the use of real events in history. It was an interesting piece, though the ending made me want to run for cover (maybe that’s a good thing though?).

About Liz (AKA Cat)

I am an avid animal lover, photographer, reader, and much more. While my photography blog is feeling a bit neglected at the moment, the other sites I'm involved in are going strong. ✧I review books, comics, and basically anything else in the literary world over at Quirky Cat's Fat Stacks (of Books). ✧I review comics and books, as well as write content for Word of the Nerd. ✧I review comics for Monkeys Fighting Robots. ✧I write content for Screen Rant and CBR. ✧I write book reviews for The Review Crew.
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