The Scarlet Circus

The Jane Yolen Circus Collection

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Pub Date 14 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 07 Feb 2023

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The Scarlet Circus, the fourth volume in Yolen’s award-winning short fiction series brings you passionate treasures and unexpected transformations. This bewitching assemblage, with an original introduction from Brandon Sanderson, is an ideal read for anyone who appreciates witty, compelling, and classic romantic fantasy.

The Scarlet Circus is a magical collection of love stories, where love is often an act of courage and intelligence. Jane Yolen has a true storyteller's voice.”
—Anne Bishop, New York Times bestselling author of the Black Jewels series

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.

The Scarlet Circus, the fourth volume in Yolen’s award-winning short fiction series brings you passionate treasures and unexpected transformations. This bewitching assemblage, with an original...

A Note From the Publisher

About the author: Jane Yolen has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century. She is the author of over four hundred books, including children’s fiction, poetry, short stories, graphic novels, nonfiction, fantasy, and science fiction. Her publications include Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, Briar Rose, Sister Emily’s Starship and Sister Light, Sister Dark. Among Yolen’s many honors are the Caldecott and Christopher Medals, multiple Nebula World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, Golden Kite, and Jewish Book awards; the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Science Fiction Poetry Grand Master Award. She is also a teacher of writing and a book reviewer. Yolen lives in Massachusetts and St. Andrew, Scotland.

About the author: Jane Yolen has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century. She is the author of over four hundred books, including children’s fiction...

Advance Praise

Library Journal Top Titles Forecast for Early 2023
Foreword "Passion Pursuit" Featured Title

"As skillful as The Emerald Circus (2017), thematically warmer than The Midnight Circus (2020), this volume’s central thread is love. Featuring an introduction by Brandon Sanderson, it collects more of Yolen’s reimagined narratives, many of them previously published. But fairy-tale endings are not guaranteed: Characters choose badly, and death and other sadness enters in. Julie appears from her grave, mourning Roman, in a wry rewrite of Romeo and Juliet narrated by an elf. Several tales are about the power—for good or ill—of belief; merfolk, djinn, and ghosts play major roles. There is time travel and some real history as well as appearances by Merlin and Arthur, Alice Liddell, and many brave and independent young women. The rich and varied plots and tones are matched by advanced but suitable vocabulary—fortuitously, lambent, incorporeal, slatterns, sepulchral, and legerdemain, for example—much of which young readers will be able to decipher from the context. Occasional poems are interspersed among the stories. The fully realized details bring to life both this-worldly and otherworldly settings. Yolen enthusiasts will be rapt, and new fans will be won. Endlessly imaginative, superbly crafted tales that stir the heart.

“For this whimsical collection, World Fantasy Award winner Yolen (The Midnight Circus) brings together 11 fantastical shorts centered on romantic love. Yolen’s trademark fairy tale styling is on display throughout, with vivid, pithy prose animating each quirky flight of fancy.”
Publishers Weekly

The Scarlet Circus is a magnificent and beautiful anthology from a master storyteller! Jane Yolen's stories and poems reach directly into your heart and fill you with the loveliest kind of magic. I absolutely adored it!”
—Sarah Beth Durst, award-winning author of The Queens of Renthia series

“All these years, and Jane Yolen still reduces me to helpless, gibbering admiration. I'll read anything with her name on it, even if it's just a damn grocery list!”
—Peter S. Beagle, author of In Calabria

“In the fairy tales and poems of Jane Yolen’s The Scarlet Circus, there are curious permutations of haunting, mesmerizing love stories. . . It’s in these splendid spaces between the book’s winking tributes to sentimentality and its swerving surprises that an unabashed sense of romance lingers.”

“Jane Yolen is a national treasure. Cozy up, and let the master take you beyond the fields you know.”
—Sherwood Smith, author of Crown Duel

“Jane Yolen spins captivating tales of whimsy, romance, brave knights, dragons, and twist endings. It was like reading the Grimm's fairy tales as a kid—it has that same timeless feel. I was immersed in every story.”
—Heather Wallwork, author of Entwined

“Jane Yolen is not only one of the best writers I know of, she's also consistently excellent. A Grand Master, old-school style!”
—Mercedes Lackey, author of the Valdemar series

The Scarlet Circus is a magical collection of love stories, where love is often an act of courage and intelligence. Jane Yolen has a true storyteller's voice—a voice that makes the writing disappear so that only the stories remain.”
—Anne Bishop, New York Times bestselling author of the Black Jewels series

The Scarlet Circus is a charming bouquet of love stories from a heady array of fantastical viewpoints. Here be magic, and romance.”
—Susan Palwick, author of All Worlds Are Real and Flying in Place

Praise for the volumes of the Jane Yolen Circus Collection series

“Look this way, look that; blazing her consummate imagination against the shadows of human sorrow, Jane Yolen has done it again.”
—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked

“Jane Yolen is, simply, a legend. The powerful fairy godmother of every writer working in mythic fantasy today. In these dark and wonderful stories, that legend proves itself true over and over again, a sure hand pulling aside black and gauzy curtains to reveal a blaze of genius that will light up all the secret places of your heart.”
—Catherynne M. Valente, author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own

“A modern master.”

“[S]ings with magic, darkness, and wonder—perfect for anyone who has ever loved a fairy tale.”
—Meagan Spooner, author of Hunted

“An engrossing collection that will linger in readers’ minds long after reading, and a perfect (re)introduction to Yolen’s rich well of fantasy horror. For fans of Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, and Leigh Bardugo.”
School Library Journal

[STARRED REVIEW] “These delightful retellings of favorite stories will captivate newcomers and fans of Yolen as she once again delivers the magic, humor, and lovely prose that has attracted readers for years.”
Library Journal

“Jane Yolen at her best, telling stories you’ve never seen before but have known all your life, and stories as familiar as your left hand that you barely recognize, spun from shadows and moonlight and breathed through silvered glass.”
—Patricia C. Wrede, author of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles

“A master storyteller at her best.”
—Chanda Hahn, bestselling author of Reign

“Yolen takes well-known fairy tales and splits them apart, sometimes leaving them still quite familiar and other times shining a light from an unfamiliar angle to reveal new truths and possibilities”
—Margo Kelly, author of Unlocked

“The Scarlet Circus is another fantastic collection by a master storyteller, one that should be added to every fantasy lover’s library.”
—Witty and Sarcastic Book Club

5/5 stars. “This isn't your typical romance novel though.  That romance has a broad definition and doesn't always have a happy ending. In fact, some of the stories are quite dark. I really like it when Jane Yolen takes a story you think you know and turns it on its head.”
—The Neverending TBR List

Library Journal Top Titles Forecast for Early 2023
Foreword "Passion Pursuit" Featured Title

"As skillful as The Emerald Circus (2017), thematically warmer than The Midnight Circus (2020), this...

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ISBN 9781616963866
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Featured Reviews

this was a great collection of short fiction stories, I had a great time reading each story and thought that all stories were really well done. My favorite story was Peter in Wonderland and A Ghost of an Affair, those two were the strongest to me but I really did enjoy each story. Jane Yolen has a beautiful writing style that I enjoyed going through.

"Most ghost stories begin or end with a ghost. Not this one. This begins and ends with a love affair. That one of the partners was a ghost has little to do with things, except for a complication or two."

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eARC received from NetGalley for unbiased review, given voluntarily.

What an absolute pleasure to read!

I've only been tangentially familiar with Jane Yolen's work prior to reading this, so imagine my utter surprise and delight to stumble across this gem of a collection, and this gem of an author!

The writing is lyrical and lush, the pacing reminiscent of the fairy-tales of old. My particular favorite is the retelling of Romeo and Juliet from Dusty the Fae's sister's point of view. The slow realization of what story it is, the perspective shift, the final ending of "Julie" becoming Shakespeare's muse for his "dark lady" -- all of it is nothing short of delightful.

I found in this the love of stories that I developed as a child, the unconditional sense of wonder and hunger for magic and a little bit of toe-tingling terror (for all fairy-tales are a little terrifying, if they're done right).

I can't wait for to read Yolen's previous 2 collections and dig into her other works!

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Full Disclosure: I received an advanced reader's copy of the Scarlet Circus by Jane Yolen from Tachyon Publications via NetGalley.

The Scarlet Circus is a collection of "romance" short stories written by Jane Yolen throughout the years. You may have read some of them elsewhere. All of the stories have some element of fantasy to them. This isn't your typical romance novel though. That romance has a broad definition and doesn't always have a happy ending. In fact, some of the stories are quite dark. I really like it when Jane Yolen takes a story you think you know and turns it on its head. Those tend to be my favorites.

Bonus points to Jane for finding love again much later in life after being widowed. There's some romance for you! Although, if her story is one to follow, I better start looking back where I started instead of seeing if there is anything new out there.

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This was an absolute jewel of short stories, captivating exactly what Yolen always does in her books and poems. Absolute wonder, mystery and just a touch of romance. This was an excellent read as Yolen always delivers and I look forward to her next books as I always do.

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Jane Yolen is a dreamer of dreams and a weaver of tales. She’s been doing this for over 50 years as a writer, poet, and editor, and The Scarlet Circus demonstrates that gamut of experience through the frame of love. This collection will, simply put, enchant you.

Each story in this collection—the earliest of which was written in 1975!—looks at some aspect of love. That love can be wistful or valiant or silly or sad, but in Yolen’s hands every story lands with impact. She frames the stories with poems she wrote with her poem-a-day project during the pandemic. What emerges is a rich portrait of an emotion that is an intrinsic part of us all.

There isn’t a weak story in the bunch, but I loved the wise and ironic Sans Soleil as well as Yolen’s very distinctive take on Romeo and Juliet. Dragonfield is a marvelous examination of heroism, while Peter in Wonderland is a glorious return to all things Lewis Carroll. Yolen even has a medieval romance and time-travel romance with a twist all its own in this rich collection.

Yolen is an alchemist who twists everyday words into something magical. And love is something to enjoy experiencing in our reading. Yolen’s takes on it in this collection are magnificent. Pick The Scarlet Circus up, and prepare to be seduced, mesmerized, and enthralled.

Thanks to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for the advance reader's copy!

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One of the many great tragedies of adulthood is that no one tells you fairy tales anymore. But then there’s Jane Yolen who does just that. Who has been doing just that for the many decades of her spectacularly prolific career. As this collection so marvelously demonstrates.
I’ve read the previous collection Midnight Circus by Yolen before, so I knew what to expect and sure enough, this was a delight in every way.
If one had to categorize it, something like romantic fantasy might suffice. Not to say these are all love stories, but they are about love, as all fairy tales in a way are.
I can sing Yolen’s praises and use all sorts of excited superlatives…or I can just say that some people have the gift of natural storytelling and this author is one of them. He weaves her fairy tale gold just as expertly as any of the classic masters and leaves you just as warm and happy reading them.
These stories are charming, lovely, things of beauty. Don’t care for poetry in the footnotes so much but that’s neither here nor there. The main attraction is utter delight, pure reading pleasure. For you, for your neglected inner child. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.

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A delightful group of short stories about whimsical to dark fantasy romances.
This is the second book of short stories by this author I have read & reviewed. The first: How to fracture a fairy tale which while charming was nowhere near as appealing to me or good as this set of tales. Favorites would be the Merman & the ghost jeweler. I did notice as this was a pre pub that some of the poem stories were missing, this was disappointing. The Girl Speaks to the Mage is me.

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This is the fourth addition to Jane Yolen's short story fantasy collection. This has stories of first love, love of necessity, magical love and love of convenience. Each tale is enchanting. There are fairies, mermen, princess and princes. Jane Yolen is a wonderful writer and this adds to her vast collection of works admirably.

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I'm a huge fan of the juvenile titles on Ms. Yolen's list of accomplishments. That said, I am absolutely entranced with her short stories for adults in "The Scarlet Circus". I read each story with anticipation and delight. I knew the next story in the book would be equally thought provoking and entertaining. I am now a fan of all of Jane Yolen's books, even the ones I haven't read.

I am recommending this book to mature YA readers as well as my adult friends. Hoping there will be a sequel on my read list soon!

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The Scarlet Circus
by Jane Yolen

Paperback, 256 pages
Expected publication: February 14th 2023 by Tachyon Publications
ISBN 1616963867 (ISBN 13: 9781616963866)
Edition LanguageEnglish
SeriesThe Jane Yolen Classic Fantasy Stories #4

This is an entrancing collection of short stories. The Reader is drawn through remarkable tales that lead into the next story building tension and wonder. Although Published throughout Jane Yolen's career, this book shows the depth of this world building author. Embracing the writing style of notable writers she develops into her own voice that is the strongest storyteller I know. Covering topics in these stories that include history, Fey mythology, unicorns, horror and merlin stories. Her breath of work displays astounding story telling. The growth of characters, to the world making ability she inhabits is enviable. I suggest this book to any reader of mythology, and short stories it would bring endless enjoyment, and create a world they will love to revisit.

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This was a wonderful collection of short stories by Jane Yolen - all related in some way to fairy tales and all with some sort of romantic element. I really like the twists and turns made by the author, and I enjoyed all of the stories and the related poetry.

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Jane Yolen’s short stories are among my favorites in this world, which is saying a lot when you consider how many short stories I have read. These were almost all new to me and every one was magnificent

Thanks so very much to NetGalley for providing an ARC copy for my review

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I received an ARC of THE SCARLET CIRCUS in exchange for my honest opinion. Thanks go to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications.

Genre: Fantasy

This is such a fun short story collection!

I loved every single one of these stories from mermaids, to djinn, to rabbits, and ghosts. The variety was so much fun. I often found I wanted to continue the story with the characters even though it was over. That's a sign of great writing.

Yolen's ability to draw me into a story so quickly and become vested in the characters is masterful. I was particularly absorbed into the story with the ghosts, the djinn, and the unicorn. Oh, and Alice and Peter too. Okay, okay—I really can't choose.

This is also the perfect book to read while commuting, or if you need a break from heavy topics, or just want to add a touch of magic to life! Seriously, it's so charming.

I highly recommend you give this book a try to fall in love with fantasy and storytelling.

Happy reading!

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Jane Yolen is a legend, so it's always a challenge to write an intro to a review on one of her books. I hardly need to convince anyone to read her books, surely! So this time I'm, or rather Jane Yolen, has added something a little extra. She very kindly wrote a poem to go along with the review, called 'Substitute'. Do give that a read and then join me below for the review.
Thanks to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest

I used to think I don't do romance. Or rather, Capital-R Romance. I think this is a leftover from my "I'm not like other girls"-phase. Thankfully I left that phase behind once I realised that it was mostly internalised misogyny. And yet, I continued to struggle a little with the Romance genre. Perhaps I felt weird reading it, considering I'm not really a dating or relationship person. Perhaps it also felt like something that would be too sensitive for me, make me feel like I should be pursuing a capital-L Love! But I have loved everything I've read by Jane Yolen, so I decided to one again place myself into her capable hands with The Scarlet Circus. If like myself you find love a little intimidating, I can now assure you that this is a lovely collection of stories. It is not just about romantic love, about having to find a partner and sticking with them forever or being a failure; The Scarlet Circus also highlights other forms of love. There is the love between parents and their children, between siblings, between friends, between a person and their culture, or a person and their profession. I felt like Yolen was celebrating not just romance but also the embracing of love in all aspects of your life. As a romance-shy person I must also say that Yolen perhaps got me a little more interested in trying out relationships, just for the fun of it.

It would be impossible to give a good idea of each of the stories and poems in this collection, so I will just highlight a few I adored. 'Unicorn Tapestry' is the third story and the one that made me fully settle into the collection. Poor Princess Marian is the plain one of the three sisters and also not especially skilled at tapestry-making. She has begrudgingly accepted that this is just how it is, that there is no grand love and epic adventure set aside for her, so when she is granted a wish she only half-heartedly believes it might come true. But magic, much like life and love, has ways of finding you. This is a delightful story. 'A Ghost of an Affair' is a must-read for anyone who liked Outlander (the TV show) and is ready to be sad. 'Dark Seed, Dark Stone', set in a kind of northern medieval past, was a story about love in a very different way. Bryony loves her people, her family (maybe not her step-mother), and is loyal to her king. Does this story feature bone-melting romance? No. But it does feature love in a more foundational way, perhaps, and I'm still intrigued by it. 'Dragonfield' is perhaps one of the most extensive stories and features literally everything I could ask for from independent heroines, to dragons, to lore, to ironic takes on heroism, and more. Truly the stand-out for me. 'The Sea-Man' got me on multiple fronts. As a Dutch person I enjoyed the Dutch main characters and history, but as a lover of Del Toro's The Shape of Water I also appreciated the way the story took on communication across species and the universal presence of love. 'Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn' truly is a loveletter to love, very different in tone from the other stories and yet fully alive. If you could spend eternity with your beloved, even if it meant living in a bottle, would you?

I've reviewed a few of Jane Yolen's books now and I always wonder whether I will actually think of something new to say when it comes to her writing. And in fact, I always do. In the case of The Scarlet Circus I was truly amazed by the variety of genre-influences she brings into her fairy-tale writing. Some of the stories are more "traditional" in that they take their inspiration from established classic themes or tropes, such as the djinn or Romeo and Juliet or curses to be lifted by true love. Others, however, work with time-travel elements, with critiques on genre staples like the overblown hero, and with complex ideas of duty and love. There is even a story that is just footnotes to a story, which my academic heart loved! There is never a dull moment in this collection and quite a few of the stories have remained with me long after reading them the first time. They'll flash into my mind and make me go back to The Scarlet Circus to relive them in full. I also once again enjoyed the poems collected at the end of the book. The poems feel a little darker, or more vulnerable, than the stories which makes for a nice contrast. It's like a nice sweetbitter grapefruit tart after a sumptuous meal, if that makes sense. It clears the palate and brings some freshness in. Perhaps most heartbreakingly beautiful is the poem Yolen wrote for her current partner, whom she met after the loss of her husband. There is something beautiful to love returning, to accepting new love without replacing the previous love. She also discusses this moment in her life in the introduction and it added quite some pathos and weight to some of the lighter aspects of the stories.

I greatly enjoyed The Scarlet Circus and found many more gems of Yolen's to treasure and carry with me. This collection has an inventiveness that is belied by the ease of Yolen's writing. I can't wait to read more of her short stories through Tachyon's collection series.

I will update with the URL link once the post goes live on the 14th.

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A collection of magical love stories that the author has written which have been published before in magazines, story collections and anthologies.The tales includes passion and transformations. Her stories entertain, amuse, and/or touches the reader. These stories are fantasy. The romantic short stories include mermen, djinns, elves and ghosts for example. Love can end tragically. They are shorts stories filled with whimsy and unexpected endings.

I am trying my best to give you a hint of the terrific short stories that were written previously and put in one volume. It’s hard. I have never been disappointed with any of Jane Yolen books I have read. I think that this shows and highlights what a terrific author she is. Perhaps you can give this as a Valentine Day gift — probably a little late as it is suppose to be available on February 14 or to your true love.

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Ahoy there mateys!  I have always loved reading Jane Yolen's novels but as I have gotten older I have loved her short stories just as much.  The publisher is continuing the trend of gifting us with these collections.  This is the fourth one and deals with romance in lovely, untypical ways.

This collection has 10 varied tales.  Like any collection, I liked some better than others.  I also very much enjoyed Yolen's "Story Notes" at the end of the book which gives background on the short stories in the collection.

I don't want to spoil the magic of the stories and can't really do them justice with me own paltry words but I will try to give ye an idea of the bare bones of the stories:

"Sans Soleil" - This was a tragic tale of love gone wrong despite the best intentions.  Loved the sun imagery.

"Dusty Loves" - A rather unique take on the Romeo and Juliet story.  Involves the fae and a ghost.  I loved this.

"Unicorn Tapestry" - The deals with magic and unicorn embroidery and a middling middle princess.  I don't know that I understood all of the magic but the ending was excellent.

"A Ghost of an Affair" - A chance encounter has consequences across time.  I loved how the assumptions I had continued to be wrong.  Another lovely ending if somewhat bittersweet.

"Dark Seed, Dark Stone" - I loved this tale set in the 600s of a forward thinking woman dealing with the death of her warrior-hero father.  The time period came to life on the page.  The historical notes at the end were also lovely.

"Dragonfield" - Everyone knows that dragons are long gone.  Until they aren't.  A girl helps a boy become the hero he is thought to be.  Excellent.

"The Sword in the Stone" - I don't like King Arthur retellings but this one was fun.  It made me want Yolen to tell me what happens next and how things end up going wrong cause this version rocked.

"The Sea Man" - A short sea yarn about compassion and humanity in all its forms.

"Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn" - A Greek slave meets a Djinn and an usual wish is made.

"Peter in Wonderland" - This Wonderland tale was fine but didn't thrill me.

"The Erotic in Faerie: The Footnotes" - Weird.  I didn't get this piece at all.

I have to admit that I did enjoy the emerald circus better than this one but I will certainly read another collection of Jane Yolen's work, especially if published by Tachyon.  Arrrr!

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This is the fourth volume in a series collecting Jane Yolen's short fiction, in this case, romantic fantasy. It's important to be clear that this isn't Romance in the romance genre sense. These stories contain romance, but are not primarily about romance. It's not the main point of the stories, and endings may be happy, sad, or something in between.

So, expectations set, right?

"Sans Soleil" is the story of a prince born with curse; he's "as handsome as the sun," and the sun will kill him if a sunbeam so much as touches his brow. But there's a lovely young woman, daughter of a duke, who is convinced that this is an old wives' tale, complete nonsense, and who is determined to save him from his confinement to the dark.

"Unicorn Tapestry" features one of the three daughters of a king, the least beautiful, and the one without any special talent to make her stand out. She's assigned the task of embroidering the seat covers for the upcoming unicorn hunt. Her work is competent, and people will be sitting on them, not studying the quality of her work. But gradually, with the help of a very plain little bird, she discovers that her needlework can affect the world in small but significant ways. And someone may recognize what's really special about her.

"Dragonfield" features a young woman who has her father's healing gift, and is not much on doing the essential household chores. Tansy discovers evidence of a dragon back in the area after two centuries--and no one believes her. Once the dragon begins hunting in the village, no one has a clue how to stop it. When a "hero" is recruited from outside the area, with a lack of any information on what they want him for, the "hero," Lancot, also has no real plan--but he and Tansy talk. Tansy knows where the dragonbane is, and Lancot knows how to build really good kites. They both confess--only to each other--that they are not heroes, but they do at least have a plan.

"The Sword and the Stone" is a different take on, well, you know. Nicely done, Merlin is determined to get Britain bound together as one country. Some of Arthur's knights have a plan to get Arthur married. There's a nice touch of historical accuracy--among the knights, only Arthur and a few others can be called literate at all, and reading and writing are work for them. The young lad that turned up at Merlin's workshop, hoping to go to court and learn to be a knight, can read quite well, and that's a clue. Fun story!

This is a very readable and enjoyable collection. Not everyone will love every story, but they're all well-done, and I loved or seriously liked most of them, and found all but one at least enjoyable. In addition, the "story notes" include poems Yolen wrote connected to these stories--some poems were written first, and others after, but they're connected, and she includes them for the enjoyment of the reader.

A really enjoyable collection--I said that, right?

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

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"The Scarlet Circus" by Jane Yolen is a beautiful collection of short stories. Each story is a unique and captivating experience, filled with richly drawn characters and vivid imagery. Yolen's skill at storytelling makes this collection a must-read for anyone who enjoys fantasy tales that leave a lasting impression. The blend of unique plots and memorable characters make this collection a highly recommended pick.

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This ended up being my Valentine’s Day review because, to paraphrase the author’s forward just a bit, while the stories contained within are not “Romances” with a capital R, each story does contain a romantic element – even if that element is not the center of the story and seldom results in anything like a happy ever after.

Then again, one does have to kiss a fair number of frogs – and a few outright toads – in order to find the person they’ve been looking for all along.

Many of the stories in this collection are twists on familiar themes – or at least they sound familiar upon reading. “San Soleil” is one of those. It sounds just like the kind of fairy tale we all used to read – with the same kind of sting in its tail about listening to warnings provided by witches and sorceresses. It starts as a love story but is also a bit of a ‘just desserts’ kind of story. Not that anyone is evil. A bit TSTL but not evil.

As the opening story in the collection, it certainly sets the tone for the many and varied ways that love can go off the rails.

I had a sneaking bit of admiration for “Dusty Loves” in the way it takes off on Romeo & Juliet. This is one where the ‘heroine’ really is Too Stupid To Live, and consequently doesn’t. Which is pretty much what happens in Romeo & Juliet which is, after all, a TRAGEDY and not a romance. That the teller of this particular version of the tale has their tongue very firmly in cheek as they relate it makes the whole thing work a bit better than it would on its own.

On that favorite other hand, in “Unicorn Tapestry” the heroine is really a heroine, and most definitely not TSTL. If you like stories where the underdog wins the day, then this one will be right up your reading alley. It certainly left me with a smile at the end.

My least favorite stories in the collection were “A Ghost of an Affair”, “The Sea Man” and “The Erotic Faerie”. “Ghost” because it had so much promise but ended a bit ‘meh’. I felt like I was set up for a better and happier ending than I got. “Sea Man” felt like it didn’t belong here, it gave me vibes of other, more horrific tales than fit in this collection. And “Erotic Faerie” was an interesting concept rather than an actual story, a concept I’ve seen done better in Kenneth Schneyer’s “Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer” in his Anthems Outside Time collection.

Those initial stories were interesting and fun but didn’t quite touch my heart – although “Dusty Loves” certainly tickled my funny bone a bit. These next ones, however, got a bit closer to the heart of the matter – or at least my heart.

“Dark Seed, Dark Stone” takes the idea of a warrior’s child picking up their weapons to defend their king and country and changes that child from the usual son to a daughter who uses more smarts than skills to defend her homeland. This one isn’t so much a romance as it is a story about duty and purpose – and I liked it better for that. It’s more a romance in the older meaning of the word than the current commercial definition, and I liked it all the better for it.

“Memoirs of a Bottle Djinn” takes the usual Aladdin-type story and gives it a twist that’s been seen before – but does it well. In this case, the savvy but desperate discoverer of the bottle is wary about spending his wish foolishly and without thought. At the same time, as a slave he’s all too able to empathize with the djinn’s plight. So he makes a wish they can both live with, happily ever after.

“Peter in Wonderland” was a delightful surprise. It’s clearly a takeoff on Alice in Wonderland, but shows that the real Alice Liddell still travels to Wonderland even in adulthood, and gives her a fellow-adventurer on her trip that leads to a happy ever after a bit different from the one she experienced in real life.

As much as I enjoyed the above stories, my two favorite entries in this Scarlet Circus were wonderfully entertaining indeed.

“Dragonfield” was wonderful because all of its characters are so very flawed in such human ways, and yet they manage to pull each other up and together to defeat the all too real dragon that is terrorizing the town and achieve a happy ever after that neither of them expected or thought they could ever deserve. It’s a romance and an adventure wrapped into one shiny, magical ball of a story and it’s just lovely.

Last, but not least, because the Matter of Britain can never be least of anything, is “The Sword and the Stone”, a much different story than The Sword in the Stone that you may remember from either the novel by T.H. White (part of The Once and Future King), or the Disney movie or even the episode of the British TV series Merlin. For an inanimate object, Excalibur sure does manage to get around.

This version of the tale is told from Merlin’s point of view, and he’s getting pretty jaded at this point in his long life of meddling with Britain. Arthur himself is also a bit older in this version than the more traditional versions of the tale. While he’s trying his best, he’s clearly better, and happier, at some things than others. To the point where he’d much rather fight the wars than wrangle the peace that he needs to secure and maintain. Merlin cooks up the idea of the sword in the stone to give Arthur’s rule the final stamp of popularity and legitimacy it needs. Arthur thinks it’s all mummery, magic and cheating, which it most definitely is. Until it isn’t.

Which makes the ending just that bit more magical.

Escape Rating A-: Like most collections, the stories are a bit all over the map. I adored a couple, liked quite a few more, and a small number just missed the mark for me in one way or another – as the above descriptions show. But overall I’m very glad I picked this up, and enjoyed the ways that it played with romances of many types and stripes and definitions. That “love is all there is is all we know of love” doesn’t have to mean that all loves are exactly the same type.

The author has published three previous collections in a similar vein to this one, not necessarily romances but rather whole entire circuses of fractured and reinterpreted fairy tales like How to Fracture a Fairy Tale, The Midnight Circus and The Emerald Circus. I’m sure I’ll be visiting those circuses the next time I’m looking for familiar tales with just a bit of a twist in their tails.

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This is an absolutely gorgeous collection of stories that touch the heart. Jane Yolen's talent blows me away. Longer review to follow later so I can do justice to this work.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. My review is voluntary and the opinions expressed are my own.

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