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Holly Black & Ellen Kushner – Welcome to Bordertown

July 6, 2012

68. Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands ed. by Holly Black & Ellen Kushner (2011)

Length: 544 pages
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Short Story Anthology

Started: 13 June 2012
Finished: 20 June 2012

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s SantaThing.
Why do I have it? Picked for me by my secret Santa.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 29 December 2011.

Bordertown: made from
equal parts magic, mundane,
misfits, and madness.

Overall Summary and Review: Bordertown is much what it sounds like: a strange, ever-changing city that exists on the border between the human world (“The World”), and Faerie (“The Realm”). It’s populated by humans, elves (or as they prefer to be called, “Truebloods”, but never “fairies”), and their half-blood progeny. It is a world neither here nor there, where neither technology nor magic works reliably, where runaways from both sides of the border live in everything from squalid squats to fabulous mansions, where coffee and creativity are prized more highly than gold. Thirteen years ago, the way from Bordertown into the World was closed, and the stories and legends that built up its mystique have grown in its absence. Now the way is open again, but time passes differently close to the border, and the residents of Bordertown have only been away for thirteen days.

This year has marked the first time I’ve really gotten into the realm of shared-world anthologies, and while I enjoy the idea in theory, I’ve been finding that there are some problems with it in practice. In this case, the fact that a bunch of different authors were writing in a single world meant that a fair number of the world-building details got repeated. I can understand that hearing the same thing in several ways is meant to reinforce and provide depth, but after the first three or four times, I started to feel like “Yes, we get it, both magic and technology are unpredictable. Can we move on?” I also quickly grew tired of the “here’s why I ran away to Bordertown” stories, with the result that the few stories told from the point of view of Bordertown natives wound up being some of my favorites. And while the stories themselves were each technically well-written with no obvious clunkers, I felt like a lot of them only skimmed the surface, rather than exploring the full potential of the world and magic and emotion they were creating, and most of them have not stuck with me particularly well. Bordertown is undoubtedly an interesting world, full of interesting story possibilities, and I can see why so many authors are drawn to it. But I was left with the feeling that there was a greater whole out there, something that was more than the sum of the parts of this anthology, but something it also (frustratingly) never quite reached. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Individual Stories: – “Welcome to Bordertown” by Ellen Kushner and Terri Windling was an excellent (albeit long) story to open with, about a bookish small-town girl who ran away to Bordertown before the borders closed, and her now-not-so-little brother who came looking for her thirteen years later.

– “Shannon’s Law” by Cory Doctorow is a story of how Bordertown’s “internet” works, and about an attempt to get any information across the Border into the Realm. I thought the ending was a little abrupt, but I liked the way Doctorow worked his typical tech-heavy style into a world where the tech is made of equal parts magic.

– In “A Voice Like a Hole” by Catherynne M. Valente, a homeless teenage runaway who didn’t even believe Bordertown existed tells the story of how she wound up there.

– “Incunabulum” by Emma Bull is the story of a young Trueblood, who crosses into Bordertown covered in blood and missing his memories, and how he finds out who he is. The tone of this one was different, darker than a lot of the other stories in this collection, but I liked it quite a bit, and not just because it was a nice change of pace after three runaway stories.

– In “A Prince of Thirteen Days” by Alaya Dawn Johnson, the main character hears a prophecy that in thirteen days, she will lose her virginity and fall in love… and she appears to be the only one who can hear the thoughts of the statue in the park. It took me a little while to get my bearings in this story – it’s comparably light on the exposition – but I really enjoyed it; several interesting twists meant it never went quite the way I expected.

– “The Sages of Elsewhere” by Will Shetterly stars Bordertown’s resident wolfman and bookseller, who comes into possession of a valuable and powerful book, and gets caught up in a nasty struggle with one of his less-scrupulous competitors. I enjoyed this one; I think at least in part because it features an older, established Bordertown resident rather than a new arrival… and also a bookstore!

– “Crossings” by Janni Lee Simner features two close friends, one obsessed with vampires, the other with werewolves, who find their way to Bordertown in search of romance, only to discover that the creatures that inhabit the shadier parts of town are not so interested in the true love part of the vampire story. While I undoubtedly found the narrator a little silly in parts (as I think you’re supposed to), this story had a number of unique elements that I really liked – particularly the focus on friendship over romance, and the subtly dark ending.

– “Fair Trade” by Sara Ryan, drawn by Dylan Meconis is a short piece about a girl who goes looking for her mom in Bordertown, but what she expects and what she finds are substantially different.

– “Our Stars, Our Selves” by Tim Pratt is the story of an ambitious young musician who travels to Bordertown in search of stardom, but learns – like everyone else – that there’s a world of difference between wishing for something and getting it.

– “Elf Blood” by Annette Curtis Klause is the story of a girl who doesn’t fit; even in Bordertown, she’s treated like a half-blood. But the consequences of a decision she made to ease that lonliness are catching up with her, and she might have to do something terrible to save herself. I really enjoyed this one, in no small part because Moss, the leading man, was extremely appealing.

– “Ours Is the Prettiest” by Nalo Hopkinson is the story of a vodou Bordertown native, a tempestuous half-blood, and a newcomer to Bordertown, and proves that relationships are even more complicated in Bordertown than in the World.

– The narrator of “We Do Not Come in Peace” by Christopher Barzak is a few years older than many of the other narrators in the book, an established Bordertown transplant who is attempting to keep a new arrival from making the same mistakes he did.

– “The Rowan Gentleman” by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is a story of Ashley, a young woman who works at Bordertown’s only movie theater (as a live actress, for when the projector stops working). One day, a young woman staggers in and dies with only a few cryptic words, and Ashley’s boss starts acting highly suspicious. Another story I really enjoyed, in part because it tells a good, complete story, and in part because it actually does some unique worldbuilding about a side of Bordertown that’s not covered elsewhere in the book.

– “A Tangle of Green Men” by Charles de Lint is about a young Native American man who is headed down the path of self-destruction, and is given a miraculous second chance to make something of himself, thanks to the saving grace of an extraordinary young woman. This was a really beautiful story, smoothly written and heart-tearing in places, that fit well with the Bordertown feeling without spending more than a tiny fraction of its time in Bordertown proper.

I’m not going to comment on the poems (listed below) individually, but I do want to note that the editors did an excellent and very thoughtful job with their placement throughout the collection. In several cases, they either add an interesting counterpoint to the story that preceded them, or provide a bridge between the perspectives of the stories on either side.
– “Cruel Sister” by Patricia A. McKillip
– “Stairs in Her Hair” by Amal El-Mohtar
– “Run Back Across the Border” by Steven Brust
– “Soulja Grrrl: A Long Line Rap” by Jane Yolen
– “Night Song for a Halfie” by Jane Yolen
– “The Wall” by Delia Sherman
– “A Borderland Jump-Rope Rhyme” by Jane Yolen
– “The Song of the Song” by Neil Gaiman

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

“For the next two hours, I forget about Trish and my folks and every other thing on this earth, and I live only in that music, in sweat and motion, in that heaving crowd of kids. Trish used to say that dancing can be a sacred thing, and I think that I now know what she meant. Something happens when you share that high, that joy, with a room full of equally blissed-out strangers. You change, they change, and by evening’s end, no one is quite such a stranger anymore. –p. 61

Other Reviews: Bibliophile Support Group
That’s it? Surely I’m missing some. Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Anyone writing urban fantasy today owes a debt to Terri Windling.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 191: “It was a simple-enough trinket: a plastic azabache eye attached by a leather thong to a pair of windup chattering teeth.” – jet; a form of compact, glistening coal often used in jewelry.
  • p. 197: “She’d play songs and I’d sing the descant harmony to her throaty melody.” – a melody or counterpoint accompanying a simple musical theme and usually written above it.
  • p. 357: “Beti wanted nothing more than to find Gladstone, her new girlfriend, in all this comess, but Gladstone was pissed at Beti and was cruising to do some bruising.” – from the context [they’re at a street party/parade], it’s clear enough what it means, but I can’t find an actual definition.
  • p. 371: “A breeze tugged at my hat, horripilated the little hairs on my arms.” – to produce a bristling of the hair on the skin from cold, fear, etc.; goose flesh.
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10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2012 8:05 am

    I have to admit, I never seem to get into the swing of short stories. I realize that they are a craft of their own, but I always feel as though I need more. (With a few exceptions). SOME of these sound intriguing, though, so perhaps I’ll check them out from the library and go from there. :)

    • July 6, 2012 9:36 am

      christina – I like short stories, but I absolutely understand what you mean about them leaving you wanting more. I think that’s particularly prevalent in this volume, too. But there are some that feel more complete: “Welcome to Bordertown” and “A Tangle of Green Men” in particular (which are, not coincidentally, also the longest), but also “The Sages of Elsewhere.” If you do grab it from the library, I’d love to hear what you think!

  2. July 6, 2012 3:20 pm

    I’d not heard of Bordertown until a few months ago, I think somebody tumblred a picture of the bookshop which was really amazing and I had a good look at some of the previous books as well as this one. Never got around to picking one up though.

    • July 20, 2012 9:34 am

      Darren – The bookshop was one of my favorite parts of this anthology, so I’m definitely interested in picking up one of the earlier books in which it’s featured!

  3. July 6, 2012 3:56 pm

    I liked the novels better, myself, partly because I do like novels better than short stories, and partly because there was less “Poor runnaway, rinse, repeat.” (That’s not quite fair to Welcome To Bordertown, but I did get tired of it after a bit, even if I would have liked each individual runaway had they been introduced separately).

    • July 20, 2012 9:35 am

      Bookwyrme – “Poor runaway, rinse, repeat” is the perfect way to describe it. Any suggestions for which novel to start with?

      • July 30, 2012 9:20 pm

        I liked Finder quite a bit. I believe it was the first book by Emma Bull I ever read & it got me looking for others by her.

        Nevernever & Elsewhere are also good, though. All 3 do a really good job of building the crazy world & developing a variety of characters & allowing them & the world to develop.

  4. July 21, 2012 12:07 pm

    My library JUST got a copy of this, but it’s still in cataloging so I can’t check it out yet. After reading your review I’m feeling a little hesitant about it, but I’ll still read it whenever I can finally get my hands on it. I had never even heard of the Bordertown books before I saw this. Have you read any of them yet?

    • July 30, 2012 9:24 pm

      The *novels* are good.

      I’m really hazy on my memory of the earlier anthologies, but I had positive enough opinions about them that I pounced on this one when it came in–and I would not have pounced on anything based on this one (though there were a couple stories I liked–“Crossings,” “Welcome,” and “Sages” stand out.


  1. Short Story Podcast Reviews – September 2012 « Fyrefly's Book Blog

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