The Midnight Circus

Jane Yolen’s new short story collection is nothing short of magical. Here she brings together tales and poems that were either published elsewhere previously or written for the dark fairy-tale collection.

The Plot in a Nutshell

As this is a short story collection, I will try to summarise each story in a sentence or two, so you can get an idea of Yolen’s wonderful mind.

The Weaver of Tomorrow
A young girl wants to know the future and becomes apprenticed to a weaver who can teach her how to know, but it comes at a price.
The White Seal Maid
A lonely fisherman meets a seal who turns into a woman, but will a marriage to her ease his loneliness or end in woe?
The Snatchers
A sixteen-year-old boy keeps seeing a mysterious man in black, who is he and how does he connect to the boy’s religious history?
Wilding
A New York teen spends her evenings “wilding”, changing her DNA to an animals for five hours. But what will happen if she, and others, loose control?
Requiem Antarctica (with Robert J Harris)
A clergyman is called upon in the middle of the night to attending a dying man who tells a story of the famous north pole expedition by R. F. Scott and his real fate.
Night Wolves
Ten-year-old Pete has a lot to deal with: wolves under his bed and a bear in his closers, but at his new house he knows he has to deal with a new problem: a crying ghost.
The House of Seven Angels
A wandering Rabbi comes to a sleepy town near Kiev and a small boy’s life is forever changed.
Great Gray
A young, troubled man watches and worships the owls he sees in his town, but has his obsession caused a madness?
Little Red (with Adam Stemple)
Little Red uses her wild imagination to escape her hellish reality. (A re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood.)
Winter’s King
A boy who can her the wind must endure losses to find his real family.
Inscription
Set in the 1500s, a young woman falls in love with a traveller and employs the help of a witch to bring him back to her.
Dog Boy Remembers
A young man learns an acute sends of smell as a child, which is used in cruel ways by his horrible father.
The Fisherman’s Wife
A fisherman’s wife is deaf and mute, but when he disappears she vows to find him and in doing so discovers secrets of the sea.
Become a Warrior
A girl flees her home so she isn’t taken by the soldiers who had killed the men in her town, she lives her life hoping she will avenger her father.
An Infestation of Angels
As the leader of the “people”, a woman must convince the gluttonous overlord that he is in danger in order to save her own people.
Names
A girls’ mother remembers the death roll call names she heard growing in a concentration camp, hearing this over and over has a heart breaking impact on the girl.

My Review

Jane Yolen is such an important author. I started reading her when I was studying the holocaust and got interested in how to teach children about the history. Yolen has a number of fiction books that turn the holocaust into accessible fiction stories for children and teenagers. So when I saw this coming I was very excited to read it.

As a collection, The Midnight Circus is brilliantly constructed, each story paired with a poem and an explanation about where it was first published and where Yolen had the idea.

Even though I loved every story, I had my favourites. The White Seal Maid was haunting and affecting; Wilding read like a classic YA novel and could easily be turned into a book; Become a Warrior is a bit like a mixture of Mulan and the Hunger Games. I also have a soft spot for Requiem Antarctica which takes the story of R. F. Scott and turns it into a dark fantasy, as one of the longer stories I can see how Yolen thought it might even become a novella, but I liked the length, it was long enough to read before bed but not too long that it took more than one sitting.

What I really love is Yolen’s imagery. Wether she talks about sea towns or forests, London or New York, the 1500s or the near future, she has his ability to transport you there in an instant.

Yolen is undoubtably a “dark” author. In her introduction she speaks about this herself and her views about what it means. In The Midnight Circus she deals with issues such as the Holocaust, eating disorders, abuse, obsession, revenge and (perhaps darkest of all) love. Although these stories are “fairytales” they are not children’s stories, they are fairytales for grown ups, or mature teens, and I can’t wait to rave about it to anyone who will listen.

The Midnight Circus is out 1 October 2020.

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