03.10.17 I Hate Book Reviews: C.S.E. Cooney’s ‘The Bone Swans of Amandale’

I have spent many years being critical. Of movies, of TV shows, of music albums. It’s part of my job – it’s part of what I do on a daily basis as an entertainment writer.

But I’ve never wanted to be a book reviewer. I discovered that by being critical of so much entertainment I found it hard to separate just enjoying it from seeing it through a prism of commentary – which later made it difficult to disappear into. I got out of music journalism before it became a permanent thing, but I’m finding the visual media of movies and TV may now be permanently affected.

That’s not what I came here to say, though – the point is: I don’t review books. I really don’t want to parse out what makes them tick (except to the extent that I want to be able to do the same thing with my own fiction) and why they push all the right buttons in me. Good writing is just this thing I want to keep sacred and near my heart, not at arm’s length. This may explain why whatever reviews I do put up on Amazon or Goodreads are pretty bare bones.

I am not going to go on at length here, but this is all throat clearing to say that C.S.E. Cooney’s “The Bone Swans of Amandale” is probably the best thing I’ve read in a decade or more, maybe ever. (The last time I was this excited about an author who was new to me it was Jonathan Carroll.) “Amandale” is a novel’s worth of story bundled into a novella-sized tale at the heart of her World Fantasy Award-winning “Bone Swans” collection, and is something you should put on your list to purchase right this very minute.

I’m late to the game: I met Claire before I ever read anything she wrote, and she’s as wonderful as her stories are – I mean, a true gem of humanity. I had strong suspicions that her work would also be amazing, but I held off: if it was amazing, I wanted to savor and if it wasn’t, I kind of didn’t want to know. So after hearing her read a segment at a convention a little while ago – and wow, please we should all get pro voice actors who happen to be authors to read their work aloud – I bought the book. And finally, finally! Last week I began reading it aloud to my husband.

We finished it last night. It’s one of the first things I’ve read in a while where I couldn’t bear to put it down (but, you know, life) and always felt eager to pick it back up again. I can try to describe it but I will fail: using familiar mythos like the Pied Piper and human swans, ogres and the Fairy Queen she crafts a beautifully-described, instantly addictive story that’s also hella witty and just the right touch of cynical. She deftly bounces from heart-rending, horrific images to hilarious escapades and does it through just the right sort of narrator – a rat who can turn into a man and who has a lifelong crush on one of the human swans. There’s so much imagination going on in here, sprinkled with instantly-understood turns of phrase like “fleshed down” that it’s almost too much for one story to contain. Even more importantly, it’s never too self-serious or “literary” (I am not a “literary” fan, don’t get me started). It’s just a fucking good story told in a fucking awesome, self-assured way.

I am terrible at this. My main reason for writing this is to say that if any of what I’ve said here has tickled your fancy you should buy it immediately. Even if it hasn’t, you should because eventually you’ll read it and see I was right. Claire’s writing just makes my heart sing, and I can only hope one day to be a fraction as good as she’s already shown she is.

Now on to reading the rest of the stories! And you out there, time to get started!



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