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The Very Best of Kate Elliott by Kate…

The Very Best of Kate Elliott

by Kate Elliott

Other authors: Julie Dillon (Cover artist)

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Kate Elliott is around 15 years older than me. It's rather interesting to see the difference in perspective that makes. I definitely grew up with the perspective that fantasy, as a genre, was woman-dominated, frequently (if not usually) feminist, and was all about challenging social conventions and traditional ways of thinking.
Elliott grew up feeling the exact opposite, as she explains in this introduction. However, the intro doesn't seem to acknowledge that things have changed. Yes, they've changed in part due to Elliott, and her large output of writings featuring bad-ass women. But I really think a larger concern these days is that fantasy is dismissed as a genre due to it being perceived as 'feminine' - not that female protagonists (and authors) who challenge social conventions are hard to find.

*** Riding the Shore of the River of Death
Sword-and-sorceress fantasy with a classic feel. Our protagonist is a young woman from a tribe which enforces strict gender roles. Uninterested in the role of a woman, her goal is to participate in a man's coming-of-age ritual: killing a random person and bringing their head back to the tribe's leader.
But when her small group meets a witch in the wilderness, for the first time, she glimpses that the two options she felt forced to choose between may not actually be the only possibilities in the world.

*** Leaf and Branch and Grass and Vine
In a kingdom torn by violence, an elderly peasant woman discovers a sorely wounded man: the General that her family members have fought and died for. In order to expose the treacherous violence of the men who have been terrorizing her village, she embarks upon a journey to bring a token to the King's sister - a quest which will take her far from her comfort zone.

*** The Queen's Garden
When a king gets too uppity, and his actions threaten to bring the kingdom to ruin, his twin daughters must take matters into their own hands. A bloody tale of court intrigue with a satisfying outcome.

*** On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New
Well, that title's a mouthful!
Here we meet a woman who lives under strange restrictions, which we don't at first understand. Her community suspects that there is a spy - or a thief - in their midst, which could lead to terrible political disaster. She wants to help uncover the traitor. The main suspect (an eagle-rider) is a man she finds distractingly attractive - something which seems to be forbidden to her. Will that attraction be her undoing?

*** The Gates of Joriun
A woman is punished, hung in a cage from the gates of the city. She no longer even remembers how long she's been there; the cruel treatment has left her half-mad. But her hate gives her strength, and we gradually learn her story, as she hopes against hope for vengeance.

*** The Memory of Peace
In a city torn by the curse of civil war, a young boy finds an unusual escape.

** With God to Guard Her
I think Elliott was going for an updated twist on tales of martyrdom here. Told in an affectedly medieval-Christian style, a pious young woman must deal with her lord's untoward lusts, and the danger of his family's revenge. However, the conclusion felt very anti-climactic.

** My Voice is in My Sword
A theatrical group is hired as 'artistic ambassadors.' They're planning to put on 'Macbeth' for an alien audience. What could be a fascinating trip is unfortunately, in large part, spoiled by the fact that their star performer is a total ass.
I felt like this story had a lot of potential. If Connie Willis had written it, it would've been hilarious. As it is, it didn't really live up to its potential.

*** Sunseeker
The disaffected child of a celebrity runs off to join a famous group of world-circumnavigating partiers. But after a political attack, her disillusionment increases to previously-unattained levels. A nice commentary on attention-seeking, 'high' society and PR at the upper levels.

*** A Simple Act of Kindness
Seems like an origin story for a character who may be further developed elsewhere. A young village girl's brave act saves a mysterious woman and child and earns her a priceless gift - but also brings the attention of some strange demons to her and her village.

** To Be a Man
Paranormal romance. Two servants, minions of a cruel mistress, encounter a shapeshifter, and sexytimes (non-explicit) and come-uppances ensue. Not one for the dog lovers.
It had its charming and amusing moments, but I thought it had a bit of a dashed-off feeling to it (like it could've been written for an themed genre anthology titled,'Shapeshifters!' or something...)

*** Making the World Live Again
A young village girl comes of age, and insists on her chosen life's road: learning and knowledge as a priestess, rather than marriage. An inspiring fantasy tale, and another one that feels like it could be an origin story for a interesting character.

** 4 Essays
These essays on fantasy writing and politics were... ok. It's not that I particularly agreed or disagreed with the viewpoints (although I have to say I've never encountered anyone using 'detailed worldbuilding' as a criticism of a book; I frequently see it as a plaudit), I just didn't find any of them life-changing, and they veered into the currently-trendy tropes of pop-psych a bit too much.

Overall, I'd say that this book is a must for Kate Elliott fans - but so far, I've found her long, epic novels to be where her talent shines brightest.

Many, many thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for the opportunity to read the collection. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

( )
1 vote AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
There isn’t much in The Very Best of Kate Elliott that I didn’t love. I’ve never read anything by her before, but I plan on reading more of her work. I hope that it lives up to this “Best of” collection. If it weren’t for a couple of the essays and one of the short stories, I would give this book 5 stars. However, the 2 essays I didn’t care for came off more as personal rants than they did professionally written and well researched essays. I appreciated her point of view. I just wasn’t impressed by the way in which it was presented. As for the one short story I didn’t like, it was an erotic story that felt way too much like amateur porn. I know there are millions of readers out there that would have no problem with that, but I prefer my erotica to be a bit more elegant. I’m not sure if that’s really the right word I’m looking for, but it’s the one I’m going with.

The rest of the stories, and the other 2 essays, are amazing. They’re Feminist without being preachy or completely excluding men or making them all antagonists. Most of the stories’ main characters are female, but there are a couple male narrators, which I found to be interesting and, in a way, refreshing. I love Feminist female authors, but they tend to write exclusively from a female point of view. While that’s perfectly fine, especially if that’s what they’re comfortable writing, I enjoy the attempt to get inside the head of a male character. Male authors have been doing that with female characters throughout the history of the novel, so why not?

While the stories do fall into the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres, they feel closer to speculative fiction than stereotypical genre fiction. All of the characters are well defined and full of depth, but Kate Elliott doesn’t skimp on the world building, since that is just as important to her, as discussed in one of the essays. There are only 2 stories that I would say are lighter reads, so be prepared for some heavy thinking, but definitely give this book a try. ( )
  FortifiedByBooks | Mar 4, 2015 |
...a praiseworthy smorgasbord!

I have loved Kate Elliot (Alis Rassmussen) from her Jaran novels through the Crown of Stars and onwards.
I really enjoyed her introduction to this collection. It is heartfelt, thought provoking and interesting. Elliott's discussion about her whys, wherefores, influences and how's of writing is fascinating. We are given a glimpse into the major factors that informed her writings.
This excellent collection showcases her considerable talent.
Set in the various worlds that form Elliott's novels, we are invited into those worlds via strong female characters caught in a variety of dilemmas, exploring their challenges alongside them. Very rewarding!

A NetGalley ARC ( )
  eyes.2c | Feb 4, 2015 |
This review originally appeared at Gnome Reviews.

The gnomes received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

This book collects the best of Kate Elliott's short stories, including many that were previously out-of-print. One of the stories, "On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New" is brand new. The collection also includes four brand new essays.

These stories feature the strong heroines and feminist themes that Elliott is well known for. In each story, women are strong in their own ways. In "Riding the Shore of the River of Death," a woman takes part in a male coming of age ritual so that she can become a warrior, not a wife. In "With God to Guard Her," a woman thwarts a powerful man's rape attempt and then defends her family from his wrath.

The essays examine the roles that the male gaze, female pain and suffering, racism, and world building play in fantasy literature. The gnomes thought these essays were fascinating and recommend the collection for that reason alone.

This book provides a good introduction to the author's work for new readers, but there is enough brand new content to interest even diehard fans.

Rating: 4 Gnomes out of 5 ( )
  gnomereviews | Feb 4, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kate Elliottprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dillon, JulieCover artistsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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"Strong heroines and riveting storytelling are the hallmarks of groundbreaking fantasy author Kate Elliott (Crown of Stars, Crossroads). Her long-awaited first collection showcases twenty years of her finest work. Captured here are many of Elliott's previously out-of-print tales, four previously unpublished essays, and a brand new Crossroads story, "On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New." Elliott's bold adventuresses, complex quests, noble sacrifices, and hard-won victories shine in classic, compact legends. In "The Memory of Peace," a girl's powerful emotions rouse the magic of a city devastated by war. Meeting in "The Queen's Garden," two princesses unite to protect their kingdom from the blind ambition of their corrupted father. While "Riding the Shore of the River of Death" a chieftain's daughter finds an unlikely ally on her path to self-determination. Elliott's many readers, as well as fantasy fans in search of powerful stories featuring well-drawn female characters, will revel in this unique gathering of truly memorable tales" --… (more)

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