I’ll be perfectly honest, I put in a NetGalley request for Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories based solely on the cover. Oh, ok, maybe the comparison to Neil Gaiman helped, but mostly it was those beautiful dragonfly wings.
Dreadful Young Ladies is a single-author short story collection featuring the work of Kelly Barnhill. All of the stories are of a fantastic nature, though a couple lean more literary despite the fantasy elements.
The collection starts off strong with “Mrs. Sorenson and the Sasquatch.” I enjoyed the author’s voice and how the story was told through the eyes of outsiders, and the hints of small-town life.
Beyond that, though, much of this book was a miss for me. Some of the stories just felt like they were trying a little too hard, and both “Elegy to Gabrielle — Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves” and the novella The Unlicensed Magician featured female characters who were literally too good for this world and set my teeth on edge.
Barnhill has a way with words, and a lot of really interesting ideas. I can see why she’s an award-winning author, and I suspect a lot of people will find something to love in this collection. For me, I just wanted the stories to maybe dig a little deeper, and say a little bit more.
The short story is a difficult form. Authors often have to decide whether they want to convey an idea, or craft a short plot, or present a character study. I found that most of the stories had a certain element of whimsy or dark wonder, but not a lot of substance. Some people enjoy that sort of story, something to get you thinking about an idea, but I have to be in the right sort of mood for it and that’s just not where I am right now.
Pros: Cool ideas, lyrical writing.
Cons: Most stories fell flat for this reader.
Conclusion: Your mileage may vary.
Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill releases in hardback and digital on February 20th, 2018. Thank you to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for the advanced review copy.
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