cover image The Scarlet Circus

The Scarlet Circus

Jane Yolen. Tachyon, $17.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-61696-386-6

For this whimsical collection, World Fantasy Award winner Yolen (The Midnight Circus) brings together 11 fantastical shorts centered on romantic love. Yolen’s trademark fairy tale styling is on display throughout, with vivid, pithy prose animating each quirky flight of fancy. In her author’s note, she complains that dictionary definitions of romance are all too “human-centric.” Indeed, these tales feature romance between all manner of magical creatures: a fey man falls for a ghost in the comic “Dusty Loves,” though she’s more interested in haunting the boy she left behind; a sailor witnesses the love between a family of merpeople in the sweet “The Sea Man”; a princess meets a man who may or may not be a unicorn in standout “The Unicorn Hunt”; and an enslaved man finds romance with a djinn in the dated “Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn,” the weakest piece. Many stories riff on the familiar: “The Sword and the Stone” offers a fresh take on King Arthur, while “Peter in Wonderland” imagines an adult Alice falling down the rabbit hole again. Despite the variety of romances here, with endings ranging from tragic to blissful, there’s never any hint of queerness, a glaring omission in a celebration of love’s possibilities. Still, this enchanting collection is sure to charm. Agent: Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown. (Feb.)