The Scarlet Circus by Jane Yolen

A rakish fairy meets the real Juliet behind Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. A jewelry artist travels to the past to meet a successful silver-smith. The addled crew of a ship at sea discovers a mysterious merman. More than one ignored princess finds her match in the most unlikely men.

From ecstasy to tragedy, with love blossoming shyly, love at first sight, and even love borne of practical necessity―beloved fantasist Jane Yolen’s newest collection celebrates romance in all its glory. (Taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Tachyon Publications for providing me this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Scarlet Circus will be available on February 14th.

Jane Yolen is a name that most readers know. Not only has she written an extensive list of fantasy books, but children’s books, historical fiction, and poetry are among the genres of books she has penned. I have loved many of her books and was thrilled to have the opportunity to read an early copy of The Scarlet Circus.

The Scarlet Circus is the third in Jane Yolen’s “Circus” series, but you don’t need to read the others to read this one. This particular short story collection is all about love in its many forms. Now, this might seem like an odd read for me seeing as, when it comes to books, I have the romantic sensibilities of a chewed-up piece of gum. That being said, I am a big fan of stories with fairy tale vibes (whether the more lighthearted kind or the darker ones) and I knew that’s what this collection would bring.

Smart, heartwarming, funny, and at times a little dark, The Scarlet Circus has a wide variety of tales. There are no descriptions of sex, which I vastly appreciate (sex scenes are not my thing). Instead, these take on the cadence of stories told around a fire to an appreciative audience. While they all feature love in some shape or form, each story is unique and adds something new to the collection.

I loved the entire book, but a couple stories stood out to me for various reasons. I’m a sucker for Arthurian tales so of course The Sword in the Stone was a favorite. It’s an alternate idea of how that pesky sword was originally yanked out of the stone and by whom. I loved the cleverness of it and how just a few tweaks turned that whole legend on its head. Merlinnus was delightful, a cunning wise man who played the long game, but could still be taken by surprise (his reaction to the word “cushion” made me laugh).

Dragonfield follows Tansy, a misfit who is in the wrong place at the right time (or the right place at the wrong time) and finds herself embroiled in a battle to defeat a dragon. Unfortunately, the hero who is supposed to slay the dragon isn’t quite a hero. He’s something better: a roguish coward with more muscles than scruples. I absolutely adored the characters in this story, and the amount of growth they did in so few words just goes to show what a great writer Yolen is. I did feel a bit sorry for the dragon, though.

Oddly enough, what really elevated this collection from great to amazing to me were the story notes and poems found at the back of the book. They shone a spotlight on the creativity and brilliance of The Scarlet Circus while adding extra details and revelations about the author herself. The poems often had a darker slant which I loved, especially compared to the happily ever beginnings found in several of the stories. The Girl Speaks to the Mage had me laughing out loud and cheering a little. An Old Story About the Mer was chilling with its sudden gruesome ending staying with me.

The Scarlet Circus is another fantastic collection by a master storyteller, one that should be added to every fantasy lover’s library. Turning the pages gave the sense of wonder and adventure that first drew me to fairytales as a child, making this a book to treasure.

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