Sarah Diemer 1) is self-published, 2) writes Young Adult, and 3) tells reimagined or new fairy tales and myths – all things that set off my inner alarms because I’m a harsh critic on all three of those and they tend to make me hesitate before hitting the “Buy Now” button.
Can I say, for the record, that I was an idiot for hesitating?
Sarah Diemer has proved me wrong. Again and again and again. And I love her for that.
And now? Well, now I am her biggest fan (but not like in Misery) – almost to the point where I am tempted to steal her away from her wife and have her spin tales for me every night. Very much like Scheherazade; but, without the threat of decapitation because I’m just not into that sort of thing – and I already said I wasn’t quite as big a fan as Kathy Bates was in Misery – almost, but not quite. Sadly, I also like her wife’s writing (they have collaborated on another book of shorts) – so I will leave them to create beautiful stories together and wait oh so patiently for them to be released.
Diemer’s writing has been a delightful discovery for me and I strongly recommend her as an author. She has a wonderfully lush style of storytelling that elevates her fantasy and fairy tales to a magical level. Her characters are memorable and the stories themselves are captivating. In addition to the YA novels and stories under Sarah Diemer, she also writes under the name Elora Bishop. I haven’t had the opportunity to read those books yet, but they are loaded onto my tablet in anticipation of a quiet evening with no distractions.
Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adoration is a collection of some not- so -short stories that celebrate and embrace the monster. In her introduction, Deimer muses that “Monsters were wild. Monsters were strong. Monsters were fierce and fee. If I was monstrous … perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing.” The title itself is fantastic and captures the nature of this anthology perfectly and I found myself devouring it – unable to put the book down after finishing each tale.
There’s a dark and often bleak tone in most of the stories – completely fitting for a monster anthology. But these are also love stories and the sharp edge of tragedy makes the stories all that more rich and poignant. I found that most of the stories stayed with me long after I closed the cover and she masterfully weaves themes of love, struggle, desperation and hope into rich and vibrant worlds and characters. None of the stories are simple – there’s a moral complexity that forces the reader to look at things from a different perspective. Each story surprised me in the way it unfolded or ended – which kept me hooked as I wanted to know where she was taking the story next. Not all of them have a Happily Ever After – but they are all satisfying and perfect for the tone Diemer sets.
The collection offers five dark fantasy and one science fiction story that were all published and are still available individually; but, do yourself a favour and pick up the anthology and I guarantee you’ll be captivated by all the stories.
Mana is a Runner, stealing souls from After to reanimate those who have died – the most recent soul she steals is her lover, Far. Zombie love? Yeah. But it works. The bleak and barren city, the creepy After, and Far’s desperate desire to die juxtapose perfectly with Mana’s overwhelming love for Far and her determination to keep that love alive. Far is an odd tale – almost surreal in the way that it unfolds and definitely in the way it ends. This one left me with quite a bit to think about once I finished it.
The Witch Sea
I adored this one. For three generations, Meriel’s family has sacrificed everything in order to maintain a barrier that imprisons the sea god Galo and his army, preventing them from destroying humanity. Alone, Meriel maintains the net just as her mother and her grandmother before her. When Nor, a selkie- like creature breaches the Meriel’s island she also breaches Meriel’s conviction – making her question the task that she has inherited. Who’s the monster here – Galo and his followers or Meriel? The prose in this one is beautiful and lends a lush and magical quality to the story. Definitely a stand out in the collection and I’ve gone back to read it a few times.
Seek is a different kind of love story. Seek is a knight, intent on winning the hand of the most beautiful woman in the realm –because she deserves the best. It appears to be a simple sword and sorcery type fantasy where the protagonist must complete a series of tasks to win the maiden-fair; but, Diemer has a little something else up her sleeve with this one. I wasn’t a fan of Seek the character; but, I was a fan of Seek the story.
Our Lady of Wolves
Now this was a dark one. A handful of villagers have managed to survive ongoing siege by some rather nasty monsters. Completely cut off from the rest of the world (not even knowing if there is a rest of the world at this point) for years, they are desperate, terrified and resigned. With nothing else to lose, Kelly ventures to an ancient church to beseech Our Lady of the Wolves, a goddess that the villagers had abandoned years ago, to save them. Triste and her wolf appear – offering to lead those who will take the chance to leave. I’ll put this one up as a stand out story.
We Grow Accustomed to the Dark
After the first four fantasy stories, Diemer turns to a post (peri?)-apocalyptic tale. The Rapture hits while Kate and Celia are on their way home from school and, being lesbians, they didn’t make the first cut. The Rapture has always been a fascinating concept to me – why these people and not those – it is the ultimate in prejudice. Add in the fact that Diemer subscribes to my idea that angels aren’t really all that nice (read the bible … they have flaming swords and raze cities) and you’ve got a dark story.
The Forever Star
This one is tied for my favourite with The Witch Sea. It may even surpass it. I will have to read them both again. And again. And again. The Forever Star is a wonderful blend of fantasy and science fiction and is absolutely beautiful – both in its narration style and the story itself. Elaine and her sisters have woven the worlds and stars from the beginning of time and will continue to do so forever. After eons of watching the stars she’s created burn out and die, Elaine feels an emptiness she can’t understand. Lonely and restless, she leaves her sisters. Maggie is an engineer on a world that is dying – sun flares of enormous magnitude are incinerating everyone and everything that isn’t protected by a shield that is quickly failing. The rest is just fantastic.
This review is focused on her collection of short stories; but, I really can’t write anything about Diemer without mentioning and recommending The Dark Wife, a revisionist novel about the Persephone/Hades myth. Diemer provides some interesting twists on the standard myths and gods – with Hades as Zeus’ sister, her title as “Lord of the Dead” a bitter joke. Just take my word on it. Buy it. You’ll like it.