Review: Under My Hat: Tales From The Cauldron (feat. Neil Gaiman and Holly Black)

Blurb (from Amazon):

Shortlisted for the World Fantasy Awards, these eighteen spellbinding tales from top authors have been brewed together for the witching hour…

A stellar cast of acclaimed fantasy writers weave spellbinding tales that bring the world of witches to life. Boasting over 70 awards between them, including a Newbery Medal, five Hugo Awards and a Carnegie Medal, the authors delve into the realms of magic to explore all things witchy…From familiars that talk, to covens that offer dark secrets to explore, these are tales to tickle the hair on the back of your neck and send shivers down your spine.

Be truly spooked by these stunning stories by Diana Peterfreund, Frances Hardinge, Garth Nix, Holly Black, Charles de Lint, Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman, Ellen Klages, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Patricia A. McKillip, Tim Pratt, M. Rickert, Isobelle Carmody, Jane Yolen, Jim Butcher, Peter S. Beagle and Margo Lanagan.

Review:

Ok, I have to be honest here. I have to give my honest (personal) opinion. UMH is a collection that I feel in retropsect promised a lot but delivered mediocre results… first of all, Neil Gaiman’s ‘story’ was thoroughly disappointing (!!! can’t even BELIEVE I’m writing that!!!) especially after his own wondrous short tales in ‘Smoke and Mirrors.’ It was more of a poem than a story really. And the opening tale- about a lost dog familiar needing to find her witch master, felt surprisingly bland to me- I felt it should have had more ‘pow’, as an opening story. One story, about a girl who attends a pagan festival in a wood, I actually found rather offensive, because I believe it portrayed young, vulnerable girls being taken advantage of by a setting that promoted drinking and sexual behaviour. One girl was particularly upset about making out with both a girl and a boy, but it seems like her feelings were never really resolved, even by the end of the story. She just ended dancing around without any clothes on. She felt exploited to me, and I wasn’t comfortable with that- even with a fictional character.

Ok, I probably sound about 80 writing that, but I’m a feminist, and I believe it’s true. The main character, a young impressionable girl new to pagan beliefs, begins the night refusing to drink, and by the end of it she is surrounded by ‘skyclad’ (naked) young people, and drinking moonshine. (Or as she calls it, ‘very bad booze.’) This is then portrayed as a supposedly ‘happy ending’, as she lies on the ground, pleasantly drink with her new friends, apparently empowered. She didn’t seem empowered to me- I felt almost as though her principles had been ignored just to make an interesting plot. In the end I felt sorry for her, and felt annoyed at the supposed ‘adults’ who were meant to care for her. (Moonshine can make you go blind, after all!) I’m seeing this more and more in YA books. I don’t like descriptions of underage drinking when it’s there for no reason, just slammed in a story to bring a sort of shock value. Other stories I liked, such as ‘The Education of a Witch’ and ‘The Witch in the Wood’, about a man who can shape-shift, but this one story stuck in my craw so much it affected my enjoyment of the stories as a whole. A shame, really- because it could have been so much better.

Overall rating: 5 out of 10.

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