The Book of Apex, Volume 4

Hello there, and welcome to my first stop on the Book of Apex Blog Tour! My quest to dive deeper into the world of short fiction continues with this collection from Apex Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas. Today I’m reviewing the contents (big thanks for the review copy I received!), but be sure to return later in the month when I’ll be hosting a guest post from one of the authors featured in this book!
For now, though, let’s get to the goods…
Cover art by Julie Dillon

First off, if you haven’t come across any of the fiction published by Apex before, I would absolutely suggest seeking it out. Whether you lean more toward fantasy or toward sci-fi, there seems to be something for everybody, and in the best way possible. By that I mean that the stories they publish don’t stay put in one category or the other; from what I’ve read here, they are intriguingly difficult to pin down. As someone who generally leans more toward reading novels than short fiction, this anthology proved to be a very interesting exercise in finding things to enjoy about it. I like stories that leave me thinking, whether it’s about their content, their characters or even just the style in which they’re written. With this collection, I also found a few authors whose other work I will now go on to happily chase down and add to my reading pile!

On that note, let’s examine a few of those authors, and their Apex stories…
The Bread We Eat In Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente
It seems like I’m just one of many voices singing Valente’s praises, but hey – there’s a very good reason for it! The Bread We Eat In Dreams tells the story of a demon named Gemegishkirihallat (try saying that five times fast), cast out of hell and forced to live on earth. We never know if the demon is male or female, but it prefers the form of an old lady called Agnes, and has a love of baking. Indeed, ‘Agnes’ was the baker of Hell. And who doesn’t love sweet things?
The story follows her/him/it as a small town, called Sauve-Majeure, rises up around the house it builds in the middle of nowhere, as colonists begin finding their way to and claiming land in the New World. There’s a certain fate that, as we know, tends to await strange women in God-fearing communities in that particular time, and ‘Agnes’ is no exception – but what makes her most intriguing is that there’s relatively very little hellfire and brimstone involved here. This demon is making the most of a life in exile until it is allowed to return home. Any evil activity undertaken here is, perhaps arguably, on the part of those settlers and their kin…
Valente tells this story beautifully, which as I understand it is fairly typical of her work. I’ve already set myself up nicely with more of it, having bought a collection of her own short stories and gotten my hands on a couple of her novels, and I can’t wait to get stuck into them. I think that speaks for itself, don’t you? *Grin*
The Leavings Of The Wolf by Elizabeth Bear
This was another one that stood out for me in terms of striking prose and lingering imagery. Norse mythology with a modern coat of paint, this story left me wanting to brush up on the Viking pantheon! This is the story of a woman named Dagmar, a solid Viking name if ever I heard one, who’s just gotten out of a failed marriage but seems to be having trouble leaving it behind. Even her wedding ring refuses to come off (oh symbolism, how I love thee). We follow her on a daily jog that takes her further than usual. Much, much further, thanks to the crows that have been following her of late – on this day, Dagmar decides to follow the crows instead…
Yep, crows. If you know anything about Norse mythology you’ll probably have caught that one already…
This story is interspersed with Dagmar’s memories of her husband, some pleasant, some less so, and while I won’t speak of how it ends here I have to say that this was another story that struck me with how simple yet eloquent it was. I love any story that can nail that quality, and Elizabeth Bear certainly does. She’s another one I’ll have to look out for!
Weaving Dreams by Mary Robinette Kowal
Once more we have something that’s different from everything else here, and once more I absolutely love how it’s done. This story is much more in a sort of urban fantasy vein, mixing Native American magic with that of Faerie. This alone was more than enough to hit the right buttons for me, as anyone who knows me will be aware – but what I appreciated most is how well this story is brought full circle, yet still leaves enough of a question open at the end to leave me pondering it, wondering where the characters will go next… Clever. Very clever.
As was the way the Fae are represented. Tricksy with their wordplay? Heck yes. All about promises, riddles and underlying threats? Most certainly. Tackled with knowledge and cunning of the MC’s own instead of plain old brute force? I’m in love. If this is typical of Mary Robinette Kowal’s work, then I’m ashamed of not finding it sooner. Gimme.
Blood From Stone by Alethea Kontis
Last, but most certainly not least…
If you’ve ever (or, like me, often) wondered about the second-fiddle sidekicks or the animal familiars to all those villains in fairytales and Disney movies, then you may well enjoy this story. I certainly did. The only thing I enjoy more than a fairytale-type story is a fairy tale with a twist, and this story definitely counts as one of those. The central character is in love with a baron who is obsessed with black magic, and learning how to wield it. She’s so in love that she sneaks her way into his good graces, and into his heart, by helping him with his rituals. As his experience and his power grow, so their relationship blossoms.
But there’s only ever going to be one result of such a thing, and Henriette, our MC, knows it…
This is the one that provoked a good old heartstring-tug of sympathy from me, and once again I’ve gone searching for more work by this author (darnit, Apex people, I have enough to read!) – but again, it’s something completely different from everything before it. It was a little frightening to me, how deeply Henriette reveres her baron and how far she’ll go to please him – but for all that, she never comes across as fawning or fluffy, or even irritating in any way. She is absolutely no fool, as the story’s climax might demonstrate – but on the other hand, the reverse could be true on account of how it actually ends. It’s a question I’m still chewing over, even days after I finished reading this anthology. One thing’s for sure – I’ll never overlook a Disney familiar again…

5 thoughts on “The Book of Apex, Volume 4

  1. I completely agree – the story about the Baron totally intrigued me – in fact it kept me thinking for days after – I didn’t actually put it in my review because I thought I’d run on a bit but I thought that story was really intriguing – and the ending!
    Lynn 😀

  2. Amazing I hadn’t heard more about this since there are lots of authors I like on that list. I’m not a big reader of collections or anthologies and such though, so I know I’ve missed out on a lot. This year I’m going to try to change that.

  3. I haven’t gotten to the Mary Robinette Kowal (haven’t read the whole volume yet? What kind of awful tour host am i?), but the others you reviewed are three of my favorites out of the collection.

    You hit it right on the head in your intro too, these stories refuse to be categorized. not quite scifi, not quite fantasy, not quite horror. just straight up damn good!

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