cover image Jewel Box: Stories

Jewel Box: Stories

E. Lily Yu. Erewhon, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64566-048-4

Yu (On Fragile Waves) displays her considerable skill as a prose stylist in this collection of 22 speculative shorts. The stories range widely in style and setting, from parables of justice during the latter days of the Assyrian Empire (“The Lion God and the Two Gates”), to a techno-dystopic Orpheus and Eurydice retelling where Orpheus plays the theremin (“Music for the Underworld”). Yu is particularly concerned with the abuse of the marginalized and the blindness of privilege, examining these themes through two groups of aliens in “The Wretched and the Beautiful”; the one-percenter wedding story “Green Glass: A Love Story”; and “The Cat’s Tale,” a clever mash-up of “Puss in Boots,” the Pied Piper, and Chaucer’s “The Clerk’s Tale.” Less successful are her riffs on Hans Christian Andersen: both the footnote-heavy sci-fi story “The Time Invariance of Snow,” a take on “The Snow Queen,” and “Three Variations on the Theme of Imperial Attire,” a smug triple-retelling of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” have inexplicable disdain for their source texts. Even when Yu’s plotting confounds, however, her sentences astonish. (Of street lamps, she writes, “They were surrogate moons for an age when the moon itself was too distant and dim to guide travelers in the night.”) The result is well worth reading for any fan of speculative fiction. Agent: Marcus Hoffman, RHA Literary. (Oct.)