having previously read diemer's first set of project unicorn stories, i was definitely ready to give this collection a go. while her project unicorn anthology is also co-authored by her wife, jennifer, these stories are written solely by her (and edited by jennifer, i believe). there are six stories in this collection, and each of them vary greatly; therefore, i am going to review them individually.
far - this is the first story, and i'd consider it the weakest in the bunch. at first glance, it's a zombie love story, but by the end, it's developed into something entirely else. the titular character, far, is lovers with a girl called mana; and although we see mana loving far with a unending fervor, far seems less infatuated with mana. they both have their faults, at least in each other's eyes: mana is too complacent, and questions nothing; while far is never content, and has so many questions about the dark, hateful world that they live in. mana works as a runner, people who enter the after and collect souls to join them with their bodies again for the people that love them; it's illegal to bring these souls back, to make them into "reanima." while the concept is most certainly fascinating, i don't think it was executed as expertly as the other stories. the leads are weak (both feel thinly developed, their romance painful) and while i don't demand likable characters, there has to be a degree of empathy between reader and character. i simply didn't feel anything here. not horrible, but not great.
the witch sea - meriel lives on a tiny island in a lighthouse, bound by a curse (or gift) that she's inherited from her mother and grandmother before her. across from meriel's island, there is a sea god trapped by the spell meriel's family cast on him ages ago. when meriel meets nor, who is also entrapped along with the sea god, meriel's life changes - at first subtly, and then with sudden quickness. nor is tasked with asking meriel, for the sea god, to release the curse. but nor incites a passion within meriel that she's never felt before. this is a truly gorgeous story, a classic diemer, and it's crafted with such care. there are stunning turns of phrase in this story; but while i could talk about the prose all day, i really need to dedicate this to the equally beautiful story line. reading about meriel's (and nor's) struggles and loneliness, i felt deeply for her, and despite meriel's contact with nor, there's a true sense of isolation that i think most people can relate to. i think this story is a lot about word of mouth, in some ways, and how things can get misinterpreted over the centuries, and that you can't always trust the stories you are told over and over again. it's about learning your own place in the world, trusting yourself, and having to make decisions for yourself (and not basing them off of what other people tell you). on another note, this is a really great selkie story. i'm always dying for selkie stories, and it's nice to have some that aren't heterosexual romances.
seek - telling the story of a lady knight named seek, this is about what exactly people will do for love. this is another lovely story, but i didn't love it like i did the witch sea. regardless, it fits the "monstrous" theme to a T: this is about a muse, something dark, something which seek has been warned against. seek perceives this muse she conjures up as weak, helpless, a thing to be laughed at. seek is a vapid young woman, someone who values beauty above all else, and i think we see karmic power in this one. this is tale of vengeance but also love, and i was definitely surprised by the turn it took. i'm actually really confused as to why i didn't absolutely love it; it's more of a "me" thing, because i know a ton of people really adored it. it's definitely one of the strongest in the collection, though, and i enjoyed it.
our lady of wolves - this one is really hard to summarize, as it's about a pretty alternate future. this one also fits along with the "monstrous" theme, but less so because that isn't the primary focus here. kelly, a young girl struggling in a town cut off from the everyone and a world filled with monsters, prays in a decaying church, a place where no one has devoted their thoughts or prayers in ages. she prays for survival, for relief from these creatures; she prays for someone to rescue them. what she doesn't anticipate is the stranger who finds their town - a town where no one has seen strangers in forever. there is an immediate connection between kelly and this stranger, but things are not as they seem. this is one of my favorites, written beautifully to pair alongside the tragedy experienced daily in kelly's life. i think a lot of people disliked this one, but i found it to be quite haunting and lovely, and it's an extremely poignant story. the ending is stunning; i think it really makes the story.
we grow accustomed to the dark - kate and ceila are walking home from school when something inexplicable happens. burning creatures come from the sky. kate is convinced this is the rapture that her mother used to talk about; that these burning monsters are angels. but when these angels begin to do horrific things, kate and celia are thrust into a world where they have no one but each other, and where they must think on their feet to survive. the relationship between these two is nice, because they've already been dating and so it sets a different tone in comparison to the other stories. there's an undeniable tenderness between them; they deeply care about one another, and we witness their instinctive need to be close and to protect each other. i think it's one of the sweetest and most interesting relationships in the anthology. the concept here is great, too, and unlike far, it's also pulled off really well. this is another of the real monstrous tales, and the monsters (or are they angels? does their being angels mean they can't be monsters?) are terrifying, and superbly done in the fact that they're fascinating. my only real issue is the ending. i can understand, from an author's view, how the openness of it is interesting; but i was absolutely dying to know more. so it isn't necessarily an issue, but more of a personal preference. regardless, this one is stellar.
the forever star - this is the last in the collection, and it fits that position flawlessly. this is about the starmaker, elaine, who "can't remember a time before she made stars." elaine has two sisters, but despite their company, elaine is incredibly lonely. throughout her long, long life, elaine has watched the creation of galaxies and lives and planets; she has watched humans born, watched them fall in love, watched them die. elaine is haunted by the changeability of the world, by the fact that nothing ever lasts. elaine makes a choice, and it changes not only her life, but the future of earth. on the other hand, on earth, the sun is dying. there are shields built to protect people from the sun's rays, as well as suits, but the power systems are slowly beginning to shut down and disconnect. one of the people who works these systems is maggie, a mechanic who is haunted by the system failures (each time the system breaks down, someone - inevitably - dies). when maggie meets elaine, she feels a happiness that she knows is fleeting; she treasures the short time she has with elaine. but what she doesn't know, is that elaine is more than she could ever imagine. this one nearly brought me to tears, and it closes love devours beautifully and without any hitches. although i did feel that perhaps maggie and elaine's relationship went too quickly, i think a large theme in these stories is that many of the characters have precious little time. therefore, when they find themselves connecting with someone (and often the characters are burdened by loneliness), they let it happen. they go for it. and i think it's also an issue in short stories, because there isn't a full book to develop the relationships. so, with that being said, i think diemer pulled off elaine and maggie's relationship quite excellently. whatever the case, it's such a gorgeous story that it's hard to think about its faults. it seamlessly weaves scifi elements with fantasy, folklore and mythology, and that's one of diemer's strong suits. while these two genres/elements are often at odds, diemer joins them together and lets them connect.
overall, this collection is pretty strong, and diemer's writing is yet again at its best. recommended.