Imagine an eternal bar managed by Gilgamesh himself. It has existed everywhere and when, and always has exactly what its patrons need on tap (which sometimes differs from what they think they want). What started as an idea a group of authors came up with while in their cups translated magnificently into a collection that is the perfect combination of humorous and haunting. Each story has something new to offer- a bit of insight, a cunning use of Gil and his bar- and they all come together to build a beautiful look at humanity as a whole, the good and the bad. Snatches of life from a barkeeps eyes, without all of the cliché. It was a fun, often surprising, read from a very talented group of authors.
Benjamin Tate sets the scene in his “An Alewife in Kish”. Here we meet Gilgamesh, and find out how exactly he came into possession of the bar. Immortality always come with a price and bargains seldom are without a catch.
S.C. Butler lays out just “Why the Vikings Had No Bars”. Odin sees an opportunity to gather a good handful of warriors in Gil’s bar. Drinking and hailing and berserking ensues.
Jennifer Dunne reminds the reader of the dangers in dealing with Gods in “The Emperor’s New God”. Mars is not a deity to be trifled with.
“The Tale that Wagged the Dog”, by Barbara Ashford, is a brilliant look at Tam Lin and his selkie lover. I would suggest not drinking while reading this one. The biting humor will most likely lead to choking.
Maria V. Snyder writes a darker tale about a woman’s place in Japanese society in “Sake and Other Spirits”.
In “The Fortune-teller Makes Her Will” Kari Sperring moves us to 17th Century Paris and weaves a haunting story involving an innocent young girl who speaks with the voices of angels and the Poisons Affair.
“The Tavern Fire”, by D.B. Jackson gives us a possible explanation for the fire that started at Boston’s Brazen Head tavern in 1760, and its lack of casualties.
Patricia Bray reflects on the dangers of unicorn vomit as well as how rough a life of hunting the supernatural actually is in her story “Last Call”.
In Seanan McGuire’s “Alchemy of Alcohol” we meet the King of Summer and his Lady and their very unique problem.
“The Grand Tour” by Juliet E. McKenna walks the reader through the tensions of pre-World War Europe, through the eyes of two youths who experience the worst and the best strangers have to offer.
Dreams of glory are not all that they seem in “Paris 24” by Laura Anne Gilman.
“Steady Hands and a Heart of Oak” by Ian Tregillis looks at a talented sapper in WWII London and his drive for recognition (and penchant for womanizing).
“Forbidden” by Avery Shade is an eerie look at the 1980’s from a far future point of view.
In “Where We Are Is Hell” Jackie Kessler somehow managed to roll a story about loss and redemption into a couple thousand words without leaving anything out. (And managing a very ‘Lady or the Tiger’- style ending.)
Anton Strout winds up the anthology with “Izdu-Bar”- a cunning combination of alcohol and zombies.
“But I am telling this story, and the honor of refracting the angle of the reader’s vision is mine and mine alone.” –Secret History of Mirrors, from Ventriloquism by Catherynne M. Valente.
It is Valente’s unique perspective that makes this book stand out. Each story sings with startling individuality and makes the reader take notice and really read.
Ventriloquism is an eerie and beautiful read, an effortless melding of the familiar and the strange into something that is alluring and horrifying and impossible to put down. It is an exultation of words and images- weaving stories with sensation and emotion, raising goosebumps and heart rates.
It would be impossible to pick out favorites, but the strongest pieces were the ones that crept up on the reader, revealing something familiar from the core of something strange and catching the reader breathless and surprised. Valente has a way of taking rather worn out fairy tales and images and coaxing from them something so new that the original is made stronger as a result. There are beautiful and horrifying relatives to Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White… Valente touches upon some of the most beautiful and quiet mythologies and breathes life into them.
If you find yourself reveling in the way a story sounds, tastes, and feels as you read, this is most definitely the book for you. The words aren’t just written to form the stories, they are the integral pieces of the puzzle and every one of them is carefully chosen and important.