I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of C.S.E. Cooney's How To Flirt In Faerieland, which is newly released and making waves all over my friendslist right now. Let me help to boost the signal a little: it's brilliant. If Cooney writes like anybody, it's Christina Rossetti in goblin mode, though she's more like herself. Seventeen funny, sexy, freaky, frightening and lovable poems and lyrics, with a strong feel for rhythm, alliteration and cumulative repetition that appeals to me as a folkie. A lot of the verses force you to chant them or speak them aloud.
"The Robber Bride" never saw a top she couldn't go over:
“I’ll buy your husband for a song
Or steal him, if you say I must
I’ll woo him well and love him long
If to my care this man you’ll trust.”
“Buy him? Nay – I’ll give him you!”
Replied my wife, her eyes agleam
“So take him – only take me too!
I’m twice as handsome, thrice as clean."
Cooney's better-known "The Sea-King's Second Bride" goes back and fixes the tragedy of Agneta and the Sea King, and is particularly heartwarming for those of us who have cried over the English-language equivalent of that legend, as told in Matthew Arnold's "The Forsaken Merman."
This is also your best chance to read "Wild Over Tombs Does Grow," a narrative poem (too rare these days) set after the end of the world. "Wild Over..." is a precursor to Cooney's novel The Big Bah-Ha, and they have the same feel: crazy humor, ghastly inhumanity, and echoes of my favorite children's horror/fantasy creators. Here's a shade of Ray Bradbury, there's a glance of John Bellairs, Tim Burton's filming the proceedings and Doctor Seuss did the dialogue. It all feels American in a way that few other dark fantasies do.
I love it, I can't get enough of it. To give you some idea how grisly the humor is, one of the nicer and more reasonable characters in both the book and the poem is the Flabberghast, a demon clown who eats little kids. And the kids tend to win, which I also like (if a child appears in a horror novel, it's usually a safe bet he or she is just there to be tormented, murdered, or used as a plot coupon, and it makes me cranky). In both book and poem, masses of inexplicable-yet-right images parade past and make sense even without an explanation for anything in sight. Is this what people mean when they say "dream-logic"? I think it is.
One chill gloaming
Thin from a thousand-year fast
In ragged saffron parade
From thorny hills and barren land
White lights on their shoulders
Burning roses in their hands
They sent an emissary
Their diplomat and clown
A Tall One of renown
Known to everyone who asks
As the Flabberghast
This poem is worth the price of admission in itself, but there are sixteen other wild and varied delights. Highly recommended.