The adjectives that come to mind when I start describing the stories in Jamie Lackey’s latest collection — “graceful”, “elegant”, “accomplished”, “economical”, “beautiful” — all trouble me a bit, because they all come straight out of the 19th century’s idealization of Womanhood, but I just can’t help it. They all apply, and to every one of these tales.
Which is to say that The Blood of Four Gods and Other Stories is a very feminine collection, and not just because Lackey’s protagonists are young and female — but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re going to encounter a bunch of simpering misses waiting for husbands, being pimped out by their parents, or being repressed or abused. These are fully realized people, having to deal with huge and daunting problems (and a few impediments, but rarely are these attributable to their gender), and deal with them they do — but in very traditionally feminine ways.
You’re not going to see any Xena, Warrior Princess types in here, is what I’m saying. But that type is not the only kind of strong woman that literature has to offer, is it?
Moreover, Xena is a decidedly capital W Western character, roaming, if not the completely tired pseudo-medieval, European milieu that most people still think of when they hear something is “fantasy”, then still inhabiting its neighbor-ancestor, pseudo-Greco-Rome, which is only slightly less over-exploited.
Lackey — like this reader — is more interested in taking inspiration from the mythology and magic of other cultures, mostly Asian, African and indigenous North and South American ones. And I’m here for all of it.
So we have us some heroines. Heroines who leverage the paternity of unborn children to save their villages from monsters. Heroines who first fight but then bravely accept their fates as sacrifices to weird gods in order to save entire civilizations. Heroines who accept shamanic roles and powers at great personal cost, for the good of their tribes. Heroines who sometimes even get happy endings with their loved ones. Not often, but sometimes. I’ll take it.
So, as the year diminishes and the world keeps trying to get crappier and your hopes threaten to flag, you could do worse than pick up this graceful, elegant, accomplished, economical, beautiful collection of stories. It might be very, very good for what ails you.