The Chains That You Refuse

Elizabeth Bear, The Chains That You Refuse
Publisher: Night Shade Books
2006, 219 pages, paperback, $14.95

if cognizant koi fish, bards who transform into bears on moonlit nights, and a hawk speaking French in "the dulcet tones of a lady" sound like your cup of literary tea, then Elizabeth Bear's collection, The Chains That You Refuse, is worth a gander. She is a poetic writer, well-attuned to the rhythm of language, gracefully sidestepping those card-carrying members of the fantastical movement who gorge themselves on plot and ignore syntax and overall prose quality.

Throughout this collection Bear dabbles in several genres, ranging from science fiction to fantasy, from historical fiction to poetry. Two stories invoke a dialogue between dead writers; another summons dead scientists to parley. All are carefully wrought by a woman who is detail-oriented, obviously well-read (referencing writers and thinkers from Blake to Ginsburg to Shrodinger), and humorous to boot.

Loosely constructed plots, some banal, clichéd dialogue, and slight stretches for meaning cast shadows upon the overall quality, but descriptions like the one of an old beat coffeehouse, frequented by Kerouac, now turned "miniature Disneyland dedicated to capitalizing on a plasticized memory of revolution," and the poetry of images like, "The stallion was gnawed and bloody, but he was not dead...his other head, the antlered one, flopped on a broken neck, tongue lolling between fanged teeth," provide enough reason for me to recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy with a bent towards the literary.

-Sarah Colvert


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