“The story knows the way of its telling.”
I have said on numerous occasions – I have a lot of trouble with short stories. I have only ever been impressed with a couple of short stories, and more often find them tiresome and not consistent enough to be liked as a whole. I always fall in love with one or two stories, like a couple and feel meh about the rest. However, I was always sure that there were short story collections for me out there, I just haven’t found them yet. But I have now. And that’s all thanks to my obsession with pretty covers.
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone is a collection of 16 short stories by Kat Howard, some of which were published previously and some of which are new. The central topic is myths and storytelling and all stories have a similar core to them, which is in my opinion extremely important.
All of these stories revolve around myths and legends and thus have a common theme of storytelling interwoven throughout all of them. Every story is set in our world, but not quite. It’s our world but deconstructed and mixed with symbols and aspects of different stories.
There’s also a common theme of a story being retold through time – always being the same, but also always changing and evolving and I loved that. All of these stories have women in the center and all of them involve women losing and reclaiming agency in some form or the other. And this is sort of a linear trend – the first couple of stories women lose themselves and their narrative, and as the collection progresses forward, we see them reclaiming their place. It’s incredibly clever and incredibly well done. I was in awe with some of the stuff that Kat Howard managed to pull in these stories and I was so impressed by her craft and the way she constructs these narratives.
On top of all that there’s also a sense of grandeur and urgency in these stories. They feel epic and otherworldly, but also really well grounded in our world and they have meaning that surpasses the stories themselves. I just cannot praise the subtlety of the storytelling in A Cathedral of Myth and Bones. Moreover, there isn’t a single “bad” story in here. None of them felt like fillers. Sure, I did like some less and some more, but there wasn’t a single one I did not like, which is saying a lot.
A Life in Fictions – 5 stars
A girl keeps getting written into stories by her ex-boyfriend – but she lives in them and starts losing herself and her real life for the stories.
It’s scary and also captivating at the same time. Loved this one and it’s a great opener for the collection because it really sets the tone and highlights the central themes of the collection.
The Saint of the Sidewalks – 4.5 stars
A girl, desperate for help, prays to the saint of the sidewalks, only to be made into a saint herself.
A really intriguing concept that manages to explore being put to a really high standard, having power you did not want and not knowing how to really use it. It’s such a great and clever story.
Once, Future – 5 stars
A retelling of the King Arthur legend, where students take on the roles of people from the myth, only for real life to start mirroring the story and vice versa.
This is my absolute favorite story in the collection and I think the main one that inspires and grounds all others. It’s unbelievably smart and unique, and goes above and beyond the myth itself and manages to deconstruct it in really clever ways. It’s a fantastic exploration of human nature, the way we experience stories and how they manage to track and follow us through time. And I would easily read a whole book based on this story.
Those are Pearls – 4.5 stars
A story which is based on the fact that everyone carries their own curse and what happens when those curses are broken.
This one is gorgeously written and is so clever in dissecting what a curse can mean for someone and also tackles gender norms in a really interesting way. Really enjoyed this one.
Returned – 4.5 stars
A woman gets unwillingly brought back to life by her lover, and her memories of how she died are hazy.
Again, a super smart story that puts women and violence in the center and gives said woman her agency back. I really adored this one and I love that this is a running theme of the collection.
The Calendar of Saints – 5 stars
A story that revolves around a sword-for-hire that settles disputes between people with her sword in duels.
I think this would make a great full length novel, and it’s my second favorite story in the collection. It does some really interesting things with saints and sainthood again, but also tackles subjects of science and religion and it’s beyond amazing. Truly.
Breaking the Frame – 5 stars
A woman becomes a model for a photographer in his fairy tale shoots, only to start changing the stories.
Again a really interesting way to handle women reclaiming agency and the way we can change the existing narratives. It’s a fantastic end to a fantastic collection.
And just because I cannot highlight how brilliant this is, here are some quotes:
“That was how saints were made. Some piece of strangeness happened, and it hooked itself in the heart of someone who saw it and called it a miracle.”
“Sleep is dying, and has been for a long time now, through uncounted ticks of clocks and the flickers of thousands of too-brief candles. Sleep is dying, a slow exsanguination of dreams, a storm-tossed suffocation of nightmares. Sleep is dying and she is not alone in her throes.”
“We don’t talk about how the curses happen. We grow up knowing that certain curses run in families, that boys get cursed into monstrosity and girls into sleep, and we leave it at that.”
There are more. It’s just a beautiful and magical collection.
I cannot recommend this more. It speaks volumes that I loved so many stories in this one and that I haven’t shut up about this collection. Please get it as soon as it hits shelves in January. You won’t regret it.
Final verdict: 5 stars
I would love to hear from you! Has this book been on your radar? Do you have any favorite short story collections? Let me know in the comments!
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