Fabulous Beasts

“Eliza, tell me your secret.”
Sometimes I’m cornered at parties by someone who’s been watching me from across the room as they drain their glass. They think I don’t know what’s been said about me.
Eliza’s odd looking but she has something, don’t you think? Une jolie laide. A French term meaning ugly-beautiful. Only the intelligentsia can insult you with panache.
I always know when they’re about to come over. It’s in the pause before they walk, as though they’re ordering their thoughts. Then they stride over, purposeful, through the throng of actors, journalists, and politicians, ignoring anyone who tries to engage them for fear of losing their nerve.
“Eliza, tell me your secret.”
“I’m a princess.”
Such a ridiculous thing to say and I surprise myself by using Kenny’s term for us, even though I am now forty-something and Kenny was twenty-four years ago. I edge past, scanning the crowd for Georgia, so I can tell her that I’ve had enough and am going home. Maybe she’ll come with me.
My interrogator doesn’t look convinced. Nor should they be. I’m not even called Eliza. My real name is Lola and I’m no princess. I’m a monster.

***

51Dub2NNjSL[1]Illustration for Fabulous Beasts by Jeffrey Alan LoveIn 2011, while I was in a fantastic independent bookshop in Norwich (called “The Book Hive”), looking for a birthday present I came across a children’s book called “The Secret Lives of Princesses” by Philippe Lechermeier. It’s a thing of beauty, with illustrations by Rébecca Dautremer. I liked it for its quirkiness, as did the princess that I gave it to.

Rather than a story, it’s a series of character profiles of various princesses such as Princess Oblivia, Princess Amorphia and Princess Primandproper- the latter, for example, hates whimsy and idle chatter between friends. Her only passion is raising black butterflies and her best friend is a wasp.

This book got me thinking about the nature of princesses and I started to write a story about two princesses living in a tower block in a run down part of the northwest of the UK. I had all kinds of characters in mind, from a fairy godmother to a troll, but my stories never stay where I want to put them.

Of course, none of us are princesses. We’re all monsters. Or perhaps we’re both.

This story was edited by Ellen Datlow and is available on Tor.com. Read it here.

It’s also available to download for approximately 99 cents (80p) at-

Barnes & Noble Nook Book edition, Google eBook, Kobo, ebooks.com, Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

The illustration is by the very talented Jeffrey Alan Love.

 ***

Reviews

This story is very dark and very engaging. The voice just sucks you in and holds you down as the story slowly builds and builds to the justified, disturbing end. This is the kind of horror I tend to gravitate to even though horror as a whole isn’t my favorite genre. The way it mixes the real and the supernatural and the woman’s tight point of view both contribute to why I highly recommend this story. K. Tempest Bradford for io9 Newsstand

“Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma is told with an assured voice that creates a hypnotic reading experience. Be warned: do not start reading this story on your phone because you will not be able to stop and so will have to put up with teeny, tiny print. Lola grows up in a rough neighborhood with a mother who loves her, but is also terrified for and maybe even of her. Something is off about the bright, caring, and ugly child who longs for a pet snake. We are captivated by Lola, but do not pity her even when her mother hits her out of frustration. Sharma manages scenes of abuse and rape extremely well, which is unusual and bears a mention since those elements are so often horribly done in fiction. Sharma does not treat those scenes like fight scenes. In fight scenes, close third person makes the reader into a voyeur, but anyone who goes to a boxing match or, for that matter, anyone who wants a good fight with monsters, has signed up to be a voyeur. We want close third. When victimization is involved, that won’t work. Sharma’s Lola narrates her own experience from the perspective of a successful adult looking back on her childhood. That gives the right amount of reportorial distance and so the emphasis hits just where we want it—with the suspense, snakes, triumph, and monsters that are, indeed, quite fabulous. Recommended. Martha Burns for Tangent Online

This is the first story I’ve read by Priya, and it was hypnotic and unsettling, while still retaining such heart, and compassion. The metamorphosis of the protagonist, it’s slow in coming, all that more upsetting when it finally happens. We get clues along the way, and certain acts seemed fated, but sometimes family is both a strength and a weakness. There are taboo subjects in this story, which I won’t reveal in order to avoid spoiling things (there are trigger warnings at the top of the page) but those aspects didn’t upset me, blood often thicker than water in so many different ways. This is a powerful, compelling story that elicits many different emotions. Storyville: The Top Ten Short Stories of 2015, a column by Richard Thomas for Lit Reactor

“Fabulous Beasts” is about monstrosity, of course – about female monstrosity specifically, about what’s hidden in our skin and blood, what our legacies are and how we make and unmake them. It’s deceptively simple in its conceit, but like its subject, it sheds its layers and emerges anew when you try to fix it in place. I have the distinct impression that the story’s structure, as the narration slips from present to past is coiled, like a snake. Full review at  Spooky Action at a Distance, a blog by Arkady Martine and Cat Manning

Another of my favourite writers in the genre, this is the first ‘longer’ story of Priya’s that I’ve read, and it’s every bit as good as any of her short stories. Better, actually, if only because Priya excels at weaving together the past and the present in intricate, clever ways (as in ‘The Absent Shade’). It’s about female friendship and female strength as much as anything else, the bonds women form and the necessity of those bonds. A literal and metaphorical story of transformation set across two timelines, intersecting two very different periods of the main character’s life. The contrast here is fascinating and very effective. The secrecy of Lola’s childhood years, and the quiet cruelties visited upon her by those she was supposed to be able to trust serve as a brilliant emotional counterpoint to everything that comes afterwards. Laura Mauro

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