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A Day at the Inn, A Night at the Palace and Other Stories Paperback – October 9, 2011
''There are writers of passion and writers of wry ventures and standing among both their companies is Catherine Lundoff. Her stories offer memorable characters that I would seek out in dark alleys during desperate times because only they can save the reader from the perils ahead.'' --Steve Berman, author of Vintage: A Ghost Story
''This is a collection well worth reading. I read it through, one after another, enjoying the vivid settings and the remarkable characters, but then I found that later I went back and reread a couple, pondering over them and savouring them a second time. With incredible style, Catherine Lundoff has opened up the world to us by writing the stories that place queer characters in the limelight, and delicious, enthralling characters they are too. A Day at the Inn, a Night at the Palace deserves a place on everyone's shelf or e-reader.'' --Kate Genet for Kissed by Venus
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True enough. The protagonists of these stories are lesbians and lesbian relationships are prominently featured, as one might expect. But to apply that label and to stop there is limiting and suggests that one's sexuality is all that defines a person, and that one is gay or straight or bisexual before one is anything else. Yes, these protagonists, these heroines, are lesbians, but they are also swashbuckling female pirates, opera singers and witches, a lovelorn editor of anthologies about cats, the Queen of the Fey, and Shakespeare's twin sister (just who did write those plays?), and even highway men (sort of).
Or a mercenary, as is the protagonist of the title story, "Corporal Maeve the Red, swordswoman, last of the Prince of Surest's Company, at your service," who wakes up feeling that "Morning has hit [her] like a kick from a horse" (187). Not the most auspicious of ways to start one's day, to say the least. Beside her on the floor is the Princess Miaqi, one of the Sunborn, hereditary rulers of the country, and daughter of the reigning king. Or is she? Where is Maeve's companion in arms and crime, her cousin, Raven? Things are not quite what they seem--a running motif in this collection and one of its strengths, as Lundoff is constantly asking the reader to question reality as is presented, as is perceived, and to question the truth of such constraints as gender definitions imposed on us by society, by custom. The supposed princess, whose presence on the floor of a room smelling of stale beer sends Maeve into something akin to a panic, isn't--she--or rather he--is her cousin, Raven, who now happens to be in the wrong body. Which means the Princess must be in Raven's body, inside the palace . . .
This does not bode well.
So, then, Maeve's adventures commence, with the help of Ginn, a quiet attractive woman (who seems quite interested in Maeve), plying her trade at the Inn and Ginn's sister, a spit girl (she turns the meat spit in the kitchen) in the palace. Like any good adventuress, Maeve has a quest to complete, with particular tasks to perform: how to get into said palace, figure what the hell is going on, find the Princess-who-is-in-Raven's body, make the switch, and get out without being caught or killed. As Raven-as-Princess says, "Maeve, I want my body back. I want it now" (200). Complications definitely ensue, as Maeve and Raven-as-Princess find themselves in the middle of sibling rivalry taken to new heights: which child of the dying King can take and hold the throne, never mind which was born first. And there is the mage who is apparently responsible for the magic necessary--will he cooperate? That switching bodies proves far more complicated than expected almost goes without saying. If there is a happy ending or not--will bodies and souls be reunited, will Maeve come back to Ginn?--I leave for the reader to discover.
That all of this seems like a dark comedy of errors of some sort (albeit a very dangerous one) is, I would argue, no mistake. Another strong feature of Lundoff's writing is its current of wry humor. How else could Maeve survive what seems to be one misstep after another? So it is with Selena, the heroine of "Spell, Book, and Candle," who is the proprietress of Lovejoy's Magical Books and Mystical Goods Emporium and is still lusting after her college girl friend, Mona Santiago, she of the corporate magic world. Six or seven years after their breakup, Selena still has dreams "about her almost every night" (150). Then, Mona shows up in Selena's store wanting a love spell to ensnare another woman. The temptation is too great: with some magical assistance, Selena can make Mona fall in love with her all over again--or can she? Complications definitely ensue, including Selena's magic causing Mona to fall in love with Selena's cat, not her--that and the cat is now hosting a ancestral practitioner of the black arts, Lady Isabelle. Attempting to fix things .... more trouble.
These are but two of the ten excellent and well researched stories that comprise this collection, stories of the unexpected, often funny, and always something of a commentary on the human condition, and on the human heart. Lundoff notes in her introduction that she grew up reading "Dumas and Sabatini and Hope, dreaming about more active roles for their women characters" --and in this collection she has created just these kinds of roles, as is illustrated in the historical tales included here, such as "The Letter of the Marque," about the real-life pirate, Jacquotte Delahaye, and the equally real opera singer, Aubigny Le Maupin, in "M. LeMaupin." And as she also notes in her introduction, "Other events and other stories are more speculative . . . other worlds, things that might have been, all of these have been a source of fascination and inspiration for [her]" (10).
And always: these are stories about what it means to be human. There are many ways to answer that question and readers will find many possible answers in these ten stories. Readers will find themselves thinking about gender as a social construct, and hear the voices of strong and powerful women, queer voices that have long needed hearing. They will ponder second chances and what could have been; what should have been. Readers will find themselves at the intersection of love and magic, thanks to this powerful storyteller.
That said, this wonderful collection of short-stories is engrossing and delightful. The stories will leave a smile on your lips, and don't be surprised if you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief and thinking, 'I didn't see that coming'.
I do have one... and only one 'complaint', which is that I reached the back cover far too soon for my own liking.