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Errantry: Strange Stories
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
There's a lovely scene in "Errantry," the title story of Elizabeth Hand's newest collection of short fiction, in which a character finds a print of a painting she loved as a child and describes what she used to imagine about the world it depicts: "A sense of immanence and urgency, of simple things [...] charged with an expectant, slightly sinister meaning I couldn't grasp but still felt, even as a kid."

It's probably not a coincidence that the same painting graces the cover of the book, because that quote is a perfect way to encapsulate the atmosphere of many of the "Strange Stories" in Errantry. The magic in Elizabeth Hand's short fiction can usually be found at its edges, just slightly out of reach. It's there for a moment, but it's hard to see without squinting. If you blink, it might be gone--but you'd never lose the sense that it's still there, pushing in on reality from the outside.

These are stories of the overwhelmingly mystical breaking into our world in small, almost unnoticeable ways, seen from the point of view of the few people who get to witness those minor intrusions and who then have to try and process their meanings. The subtlety is deceptive: there's something huge going on, but it's as if we and these characters are peeking at it through a keyhole, only seeing a small glimpse of what's on the other side and only being hit by a small portion of the light it sheds. The suggestion that that door may open further is only part of what gives these stories their "slightly sinister" atmosphere.

The nature of Elizabeth Hand's characters contributes to that edge. The people who experience those vague, confusing hints of magic are usually slightly broken individuals, often coping with a major change of life or about to experience one. In "Near Zennor," the main character's wife just died. In "The Far Shore," a man who already lost the ability to dance is fired from his position as a ballet instructor. In "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon," a key character's old lover is terminally ill. Loss is a theme popping up again and again in these stories, and often the coping mechanism is a short journey: a step outside of the familiar environment that brings that slightly broken person to a far stranger situation than they expected.

But as to what really happens on that intersection of the real and the mystical, explanations are rarely forthcoming. All we get are traces, suggestions, remnants. Hints are strewn throughout the stories, offering tantalizing glimpses of what may or may not be going on, but even if the witnesses could lift the veil and explain those secrets, it's virtually certain that no one would believe them. Are their losses compounded by that inability to explain, or does the hint of magic help the healing process? The end result is almost always, and in more ways than one, ambiguous.

Elizabeth Hand is one of those authors who can create fascinating characters and environments whether she's working in the longer novella format (see: the Hugo-nominated "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon" and "Near Zennor") or in just a few pages of short story. "Cruel Up North" and especially "Summerteeth" (maybe my favorite piece in this entire collection) cram an amazing amount of meaning and impact into just a few pages, turning them into stories you'll want to read more than a few times. The novellas and novelettes allow more room to build and expand, making their characters and plots more instantly accessible and rewarding, but it's in the density of the shorter pieces that Elizabeth Hand really shines.

If there's one piece that Errantry: Strange Stories could have done without, it's "The Return of the Fire Witch", which was originally included in the Jack Vance tribute anthology Songs of the Dying Earth. Don't get me wrong: it's a wonderful story that fit perfectly well into that anthology and did Jack Vance proud, but it feels ridiculously out of place here. There's a certain flow to Errantry, the same kind of rhythm that makes a great album more than just a collection of songs. Many of these stories have a common atmosphere, or recurring settings, or shared themes and images that echo back and forth across the collection. As hilarious and well-executed as "The Return of the Fire Witch" is, it sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other nine stories.

However, that's really the only minor complaint I can come up with when it comes to Errantry, because, taken as a whole, Elizabeth Hand's latest collection is a gorgeous set of stories. It's tough to review a book like this one, because avoiding generalization is almost impossible. Each of these stories really deserves its own separate write-up.

So. In "Near Zennor", the main character is at one point is looking at a sparse landscape from a moving train: "again and again, groves of gnarled oaks that underscored the absence of great forests in a landscape that had been scoured of trees thousands of years ago. It was beautiful yet also slightly disturbing, like watching an underpopulated, narratively fractured silent movie that played across the train window." A beautiful image, and a great summation of what it feels like to read these stories.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2012
Format: Paperback
This new collection from Elizabeth Hand does not disappoint. All the elements that make Hand's novels so memorable are present in these stories, only in concentrated form. Here are characters wrestling with age and loss and desire, whose lives are upended by irruptions of the fantastic -- strange and often frightening intrusions that have the capacity to redeem or to destroy. In the chilling "Near Zennor," a grieving husband finds a collection of old letters from his deceased wife . . . which lead him on an eerie trip into a haunted past. In the extraordinary, dreamlike "Summerteeth," old lovers meet up at an artist's colony where nothing and no one are as they seem. And in the searing title story -- reminsicent of her Cass Neary mysteries its sudden flashes of a horror all too real and of this world--a group of slacker knights errant encounter a modern-day ogre.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2012
Format: Paperback
In Errantry, the latest book by Elizabeth Hand, we are presented with ten distinctly unique stories. Every one of these odd little tales draws you in and doesn't ever really let you go again. From the tale of a man who folds pages from magazines and fast food wrappers into works of art that evoke the oldest of memories, to a singular observation of creatures who only exist for any two people at one time, these are stories every bit as dangerous as any of Ms. Hand's novels. Once you have read a single one of them, you will never be able to view life in that same way ever again. And you will return again and again, to explore more fully each of the worlds she has introduced you to.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Elizabeth Hand is at the top of her game with this collection. The description on the product page says that no one in the book is innocent, but I found that to be inaccurate. Instead, I would say that in these tales innocence fails to provide protection.

The stories range from whimsical to dark, but all are written in her distinctive style. Most contain elements of the unexplained, and Hand is unapologetic about leaving it that way. She wields language the way a surgeon uses a scalpel, carving details with words to make an ultimately unsettling but satisfying whole. Recommended for fans of her work and for fans of short fiction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2013
Format: Paperback
Elizabeth Hand never fails to please me. This is a collection of her short stories that have been published elsewhere over the years, but don't let that put you off. This is a well thought out, highly desirable collection of stories, that I found utterly captivating.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This was my first encounter with Elizabeth Hand's writing. I am in love with her haunting & lyrically visual style. The short stories are all diverse. Each has a macabre and other-worldly, mystery. She masterfully paints eerie atmospheric scenes and develops characters. The tensions build up with the visuals. But she builds mists and haziness so the reader never fully glimpses the otherworldly horror--sort of like never seeing the Boogeyman in a horror movie and relishing the anticipation of the "brush" with horror, rather than revelation of the big bad frightening horror that bumps in the night, only to be disappointed.
Hand's stories are the perfect snowy, Sunday reading when you want to analyze, dissect, and visualize every word.

As a result of this collection of short stories, I went out and bought more books written by Elizabeth Hand.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I had to choose a collection of short stories to read for a Mass Communications course, and this one sounded interesting so I chose it! These were good reads! A few of them had me turning pages as quickly as I could, the stories were that engaging. I liked the length of the majority of them, and the story lines were [mostly] easy to follow and get into. There were a few edgy stories that caught me off-guard; however the overall tone of the collection was dark, so the edgy stories fit in. If you like short stories, this is definitely worth the few dollars for the Kindle edition!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I started my acquaintance with Ms. Hand with her first novel, Winterlong. I fell out of touch with her in the years in between, but what a wonderful work to come back to! This book has something for almost every fan of fantasy, but specializes in the peculiar dreamlike quality that first attracted me to this author. A reality strange beyond the waking imagination, yet seeming totally normal while you're still wrapped up in the dream. Brava!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Elizabeth Hand has a really unique take on fantasy writing. I found many of the stories to be both strange and quite emotionally powerful. Highly suggested.
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on September 14, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
What a great writer she is! The very first story will show you her skills & how well she can craft a tale. I've bought all of her book since reading this collection.
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