Today I’m really excited to have my friend Louise here to write a guest post, reviewing some short stories from the anthology Quest.
This was set up by the Hay Festival and written by the Aarhus 39- 39 emerging writers under 49 from across Europe, and edited by Daniel Hahn.
Over to Louise…
Lady Night by Alaine Agirre
This reads like a gentle bedtime story, which is appropriate because it is about three children who are afraid of going to sleep. Wink, Blink and Nod are afraid if they go to sleep, they will never wake up. One night, they follow Sleep’s shadow into a wonderous place. Off all the stories in the Aarhus collections, this stood out as being suitable for the very youngest readers.
Journey to the Centre of the Dark by David Machando.
The protagonist wants to always be brave, and protect his little sister. When a monster comes out of her dreams, she says she must take it back to the darkest place inside her mind. The story raises some interesting philosophical questions children start to ask at a certain age – am I here or am I in someone else’s dream? Can I prove this? It was interesting to have this side by side with Lady Night. Machando’s story has a darker tone, but the same reassuring message that fear can be overcome.
Dagesh And Mappiq Are Friends – Jana Šrámková.
A gentle story about making friends, which was one of my favourite stories. Dagesh is a field mouse with a bad reputation. He wants to turn over a new leaf and make friends, but nobody trusts him. Nobody except Mappiq, who is new to the area.
The pair become friends. When Mappiq hibernates, Dagesh’s new found responsibility is tested to the limits. If he wakes Mappiq early, Mappiq will die. I loved the message of second chances.
The story is brilliantly illustrated by Axel Scheffler. His illustrations informed how I saw the character, which is always a compliment. I love his animals in Julia Donaldson’s work, and his experience at drawing characterful animals brought this story to life.
The Day We Left Songstrup by Dy Plambeck
Mikkel is too old to play. He wants to explore beyond the village. Agnes is hesitant, but she goes along with her friends and lets different people in the village equip her for the journey.
This was fun to read, but also worked as a metaphor for the journey into adolescence and beyond. Do you remember being a pre-teen, and feeling wobbly about the idea of leaving childhood? Agnes learns that it won’t all happen at once, and that she’ll have her friends beside her. Songstrup will always be waiting for her when she returns.
The Travel Agency by Maria Turtschaninoff
I loved Maresi. The community of nuns working to shelter and educate women was a fascinating idea. The Travel Agency is also intriguing. It is set in a travel agency, as you’ve never seen one before. Instead of booking a flight, the customers choose a portal – maybe an object, or a picture if they are feeling wealthy. Turtschaninoff doesn’t tell everything at once. Loads of questions built up in my mind. Why was the girl alone? Did her friend escape?
The Honey-Bee Cemetery by Stefan Bachmann
One of my favourite stories across the two anthologies. I’m a time-slip fan, so Bachmann was already on to a winner, but I love the language, the message and the exploration of historical attitudes.
Benny moves in with Aunt Lucette, an absent Uncle and two cousins who delight in telling him he’s not a guest, but a burden. Aunt Lucette locks the good rooms a her skeleton key, and puts Benny in the smallest room. Benny can’t imagine anything worse, until he opens the cupboard in his new room. There he finds servant girl Hezra, awaiting execution in a different century. She’s been accused of witchcraft, after she buried some of the Lord’s honey bees.
The message is lovely – regardless of whether or not they are noticed, the bees continue to buzz. It’s a familiar structure, but it is told beautifully.
Between the Trees by Katherine Woodfine.
Set in the English Civil War, this is straight out of Du Maurier. A bodice-wearing heroine rides a horse through the forest to escape the Roundheads, and take a message to her uncle. Woodfine is masterful at suspense, and keeps us asking questions. The forest setting was described so well I felt I was experiencing it with all my senses, and I love how the protagonist sees the forest differently now she is no longer treated as a noblewoman.
The Journey Within – Annelise Heurtier
Aveleen’s father will join the Other Worlds any day. He appears fit, but the tree has spoken, and the tree is at the centre of all things. A new Chosen One must be found, but the tree has rejected every person who has put themselves forward. Aveleen journeys into the centre of the tree to learn who must be the next Chosen One.
This has a fairytale structure. I loved Aveleen’s development, and how her self-belief grows as a result of her journey.
Have you read this anthology? What were your favourite stories? If you haven’t read, which stories do you most like the sound of?