From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This exquisitely rendered debut collection of 11 reprints and three originals ranges into the past and future to explore identity and belief in a dazzling variety of settings. At the Huts of Ajala, a folktale concerning a girl wrestling with a trickster god before her birth, is full of urgent and delightful imagery, while Wallamelon is an elegaic, sophisticated exploration of the Blue Lady myth. Of the several science fiction stories included, the strongest are Good Boy, an engrossing experiment in computer psychology, African gods and postcolonial anxiety, and Shiomah's Land, a cross-genre bildungsroman involving a girl who becomes the wife of a goddess. The concluding tale, The Beads of Ku, is an utterly arresting, authoritatively delivered tale concerning the diplomacy of marriage and the economy of the land of the dead. The threads of folklore, religious magic, family and the search for a cohesive self are woven with power and lucidity throughout this panorama of race, magic and the body. (Aug.)
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In these stories, characters tend to lack power in a traditional sense yet are strong and resourceful in worlds running a gamut from nearly contemporary to the strangest of futures. Beginning with “At the Huts of Ajala,” the story of a girl with two heads, and proceeding to “Wallamelon,” in which watermelon vines protect a neighborhood, magic is drawn from many sources, and magic is disguised as science fiction, as in “Good Boy,” in which a colony is stricken by a mysterious disease and healed by a woman possessed by the spirit of Elegba. The collection ends with the haunting fable “The Beads of Ku,” about Fulla Fulla, a woman who bargains in the marketplace of the city of the dead, and the foolishness of her husband. Shawl’s stories afford fascinating glimpses into the magical underpinnings of worlds springing from all sorts of places within the world we all know. --Regina Schroeder