These collection of three short stories have two themes:
One is Tyromancy. The ancient art of predicting the future using cheese (traditionally by cheese making) beyond just “we’re going to have something tasty to eat.” This is actually a thing and our ancestors were odd odd people. I do appreciate this rather unique little twist uniting them,
The second is the old Polish saying “Not My Circus, Not my Monkeys.” A saying basically saying (simplistically) “not my problem.
This is most excellently done in Prelude to War from the IronDruid Chronicles a story between Shattered and Staked which nicely fits into the main plot line of the series, filling in some gaps and expanding on some points. In fact, if I have any criticism about this short story at all it fails one of my tests for a short story: it’s probably pretty incompressible if you don’t follow the main series of books. Since I do, I loved it because it excellently added to that main series, showing how Atticus got the information he needed to track down what he finds in the next book
I also always appreciate Kevin Hearne’s dedication to research – as while the other authors have come up with their own ideas for what Tyromancy involves, Hearne has actually gone to the original definition and method.
The “not our circus” comes in when he finds – and learns she “betrayed him”. A definition she gloriously rejects by pointing out she doesn’t owe him anything. He bought services from her once. He is now buying services from her again. She didn’t swear loyalty. She isn’t his friend. She doesn’t owe him anything – she certainly isn’t required to risk her life or die for the sake of protecting Atticus or helping in a fight or war that doesn’t remotely involve her. I appreciate this even more since Mekera is a Black woman – and a Lesbian or bisexual woman. This genre – and the media in general – is absolutely full of minorities being sidekicks for straight white men, serving straight white men and, of course, sacrificing for straight white men that having Mekera declare firmly that she didn’t sign up for any of that, she isn’t responsible for any of that and Atticus has no damn right to expect that from her is a wonderful subversion of that continued expectation. This isn’t her circus. These aren’t her monkeys. She isn’t involved and she doesn’t want to be and won’t be shamed into it or feel guilty because her loyalty was expected
The story also nicely touches on her last relationship – a deep and abiding love that led her to seek isolation when her lover died which is a nice element of character building I appreciated along with examination of her ethnicity and history. It’s a short story and she’s a briefly appearing character, I could understand her not being well developed. I like that some effort was made to make her more than just the woman who tells the future using cheese.
Not My Circus, Not my Monkeys is a Blud Short Story by Delilah S Dawson – and unfortunately I’m less of a fan. But, then, I think that stems from the same criticism I had of Prelude to War. If you’re not familiar with the series and world building, this is a hard one to follow. And while I know the Iron Druid Chronicles I don’t know this series and was kind of lost. There was a lot introduced in a very short time, a lot of concepts and creatures to understand with a lot of different cultures and shifts that I just found too much work to invest in and follow a rather alien character as Stain as well. This isn’t a criticism of this story – in fact it makes me hopeful for the main series because it’s clear it is involved and rich and with a very broad and deep world building which is impossible to sum up easily. I also wasn’t a huge fan of this main character but, then, I don’t think I was meant to be, or of his romantic ambitions (with a nice twist at the end). On the whole I didn’t enjoy this story but I’m intrigued by the series.
Interlude: Swallow by Churck Wendig, is part of the Miriam Black Series which, again, I am familiar with. And, again, I think you need to be – none of these short stories stand well as stand alones.
I think my opinion of this story reflect my opinion of the Miriam Black Series in general – it has some beautiful, elaborate writing. It has some incredible imagery. The concept is fascinating. I really admire the artistry of the production – but ye gods it is GRIM.
The most common thought I have whenever reading a Miriam Black book is always “was that necessary” and it’s the same here. This series is so over-the-top grim, tries so very hard to be nasty that it feels almost contrived. Like the other stories had the traditional methods of telling the future by cheese making and by interpreting through melted cheese. This story? Had the seer mash freshly killed organs and viscera into cheese and start mushing it around. Miriam continues to take the foul-mouthed-bad-girl image to almost comic extremes.
I like a lot of the writing, I like the very direct and unhesitating poking of the world without any rose tinted glasses. I even like the grimness of trying to save someone without even knowing if they need saving – the grey ambiguity of it all is classic for this series, with Miriam in the middle doing her best but generally knowing everything is bad. So there’s definitely good there. But it’s interspaced with grim grim grim grim more grim and some grim and throw in a bit more grim and dirty and foul and gritty and grim