It’s a little early in the year to declare any book, even one this phenomenal, my best read of 2022. But I’m tempted. It’s rare for a collection to hit so many high notes so many times. I admired even the stories I didn’t love, and I only actually disliked one. More importantly, two stories in this collection are now on my list of all-time favorites, and all of them are discussion-generating (the true mark of a writer’s job well done). I’ll read anything Sachdeva publishes.
1. “The World by Night”: It’s a credit to the writing that I enjoyed this story so much—period pieces are not usually my thing, but Sadie’s world, especially her time within the cave network, was wholly absorbing.
2. “Glass-lung”: This was strong, immersive writing, even as the setting and perspective fluctuated dramatically. There are always a handful of riveting elements in Sachdeva’s stories; here: lightning and sand, tombs, buried expectations. Also, I feel about the desert the way Van Jorgen does.
3. “Logging Lake”: One of my least favorite of the collection, though I appreciated the commentary on the value of knowing and accepting “the real you.” But overall, I found the arc of this story vanilla.
4. “Killer of Kings”: Haunting. I liked the idea that angels fear God as royal subjects fear a tyrant king. But I wanted to know more about the specific angel in this story—her history, her desires, her pastimes. What else does she do, when she’s not collecting human poetry and walking the streets of their cities at night
5. “All the Names for God”: The most “story” story of the stories, like something crafted and polished in a traditional workshop. It’s competent and technically good, but it touched me less.
6. “Robert Greenman and the Mermaid”: Oh my god. A story built around the question, “How does one react to the intrusion of impossibility in a life?” The imagery throughout is gorgeous—of the mermaid, the sea, the shark, the deck covered with tropic fish “like a brightly colored quilt.” And, of course, the ending is perfect. An absolute masterpiece.
7. “Anything You Might Want”: The most realistic of any of the stories, perhaps—there’s no magic, no surrealism, not even a hint of something more. And yet, its grounding in hard reality is flawless and interesting and I loved it. I’d read an entire novel about Gina.
8. “Manus”: The only story in the collection I didn’t like. To be fair, I rarely like science fiction and this could be classified as nothing else. It’s an aberration in tone as far as the collection, and I felt that the villains were slapstick, like monsters from Monsters, Inc.
9. “Pleiades”: There’s a moment in this story when the perspective shifts and you realize how the first section of the narrative connects to the second. It’s absolutely breathtaking. “Pleiades” is the highest form of magic, the kind that doesn’t look like magic, the kind that creeps up on you. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the narrative—I wouldn’t even make it longer, though I’d be tempted, just to spend more time in it. (That said, on a superficial note, I do wish Sachdeva had named her sisters after the 7 daughters of Titan. It feels like a missed opportunity.)