A Thousand Beginnings and Endings (ARC/Anthology Review)

May 28, 2018

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings by Ellen Oh

TITLE: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings
EDITORS: Ellen Oh & Elsie Chapman
RELEASES: June 26th, 2018; Greenwillow Books
GENRE: Fantasy/Sci-fi/Contemporary; Anthology
SYNOPSIS: Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.
Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renée Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.
A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place.


We would have been overjoyed to have found this anthology, filled with characters with skin and hair and names more like ours, in our beloved libraries. It’s the book that was missing in our lives for far too long.

I have been so excited about this collection ever since I first heard about it. Ellen Oh is a wonderful woman (you may know her as one of the co-founders of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement!), and I knew that her co-editing efforts would lend to a perfectly wonderful anthology. I love retellings, but more than anything, I was obsessed with the idea of this collection being written singlehandedly by Asian authors, writing Asian stories. Honestly, this is the kind of diverse representation we need more of in the bookish world!


It’s hard to narrow down my favorites to just a few, but if I had to pick a top 3, it would go to:
Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong
The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon
Eyes Like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa

→ Forbidden Fruit — Roshani Chokshi ★★★★★ ←
They were beautiful in their fragility, disappearing as fast as a bloom of ice beneath sunlight.

What a stunning introduction to the collection! I’ve never read any of Roshani’s work before, but this made me immediately wish to do so. It’s the retelling of an old myth about Maria Makiling, a goddess associated with Mount Makiling in the Philippines, and her mortal lover. The writing felt so reminiscent of a classic, old myth or legend, in all the best ways, and I only wish it could have been longer!

Origin: Filipino

→ Olivia’s Table — Alyssa Wong ★★★★★ ←
“If you honor everything I’ve taught you, then I promise that I will never leave you.”

Alyssa Wong is probably my singular favorite short story author, and she always writes these gorgeous, haunting tales (typically with some horror-esque or death-related vibes, and often a queer protagonist, which this story features both of). This did not disappoint at all. It’s about a Chinese-American teen who takes over preparing the Yu Lan (Hungry Ghost Festival) meal at a hotel in Arizona, after her mother—who had spent many years holding the task—has passed away. It not only displays the importance of remembering and honoring your ancestors and culture, but it also offers a brutally honest look into how it feels to mourn a lost loved one. I cried through probably half of this story, and now I just want to go hug my mom, but kudos to Alyssa for breaking my heart in the sweetest possible way, as usual.

Origin: Chinese

→ Steel Skin — Lori M. Lee ★★★☆☆ ←
Yer’s father was an android.

This sci-fi piece is a retelling of a children’s story, and in this rendition, Yer is a young girl who believes her father has been replaced by a coldhearted, emotionless android. I didn’t have any complaints about the story, but I wasn’t particularly sucked in, either—it was an interesting concept, but I thought the ending was kind of predictable, and it isn’t a story that I think will stick with me in any way.

Origin: Hmong

→ Still Star-Crossed — Sona Charaipotra ★★★☆☆ ←
“You don’t know how to choose until you’re right there, on the precipice, giving you’re your everything for something that may be real or may be a shadow, a ghost you’re chasing.”

Unfortunately, this piece didn’t work well for me, either. It’s a very loose retelling, and depicts a young woman who’s trying to learn how to press her parents’ boundaries through partying and letting loose, when she meets a young man who swears he knows her, though she can’t fathom why. There isn’t much I can say without spoiling the ending, but this was an odd story with an ending that I honestly found slightly disturbing (and not in a good way). I didn’t hate it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it much, either.

Origin: Punjabi

→ The Counting of Vermillion Beads — Aliette De Bodard ★★★☆☆ ←
But nothing gets through the wall. Not leaves, not birds, not girls—not the sister of her heart, the one who’s always had enough fire for both of them, dragging her into scrapes and trouble as if there were no other way to live.

Two young women have been taken to live in the Emperor’s Palace, working as accountants, but the Palace is surrounded by a massive wall that nobody can overcome, and they desperately want to go home to their families. I loved the bond between these two sisters, but the story itself didn’t hold a lot of interest for me. I thought it was a little bit jumpy and would have benefited from being about twice as long and having room for more explanation of what was happening to the girls.

Origin: Vietnamese

→ The Land of the Morning Calm — E. C. Myers ★★★★★ ←
I don’t believe in ghosts in the real world, but that’s the joy of the Three Kingdoms.

This story was so sweet, and sad, and precious. Sun’s mother passed away when she was 11 years old, and her biggest tie to her mother’s life is The Land of the Morning Calm, an MMORPG, which is scheduled to be shut down in just over a week. Sun revisits the game and finds a familiar spirit trapped therein. Not only is it a sweet reunion story, and a gorgeously modernized folklore retelling, but it also presented an interesting view into both sides of a popular debate: video games can be bonding experiences and create wonderful memories for families who play together, but all hobbies have to be kept in moderation, as we see through Sun’s lamenting over the times she didn’t get to spend with her parents because of their gaming habits.

Origin: Korean

→ The Smile — Aisha Saeed ★★★★★ ←
Belonging is not love. It never was.

This reads so beautifully like old folklore, with a brilliant young dancer who has found herself trapped in an unhappy relationship with a jealous prince. The depiction of the courtesan was so brave and empowering, and there was an incredibly authentic feeling in the darkness of the tale as she was forced to choose between her freedom or her life.

Origin: South Asian

→ Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers — Preeti Chhibber ★★★☆☆ ←
Let the gods have their battles of good and evil. We were here to dance.

This installment was fun in that it paralleled the original story and the retelling, one piece at a time; on the one hand, we had the infamous Hindu legend of the battle between Durga and Mahishasura, while on the other, we had a story of three young girls celebrating Navaratri and seeking revenge on a rude boy from their community. I enjoyed how heavily inspired the story clearly was by the legend, and I liked how heavy-handed the Hindu references were (I had to look some of them up, admittedly, but it was a great opportunity to learn more about the religion and celebration). Unfortunately, my complaint is just that the writing felt so young—I think this story would’ve been better suited as middle grade than YA. It almost felt like a modern parable, which isn’t what I expected.

Origin: Gujarati

→ Nothing into All — Renée Ahdieh ★★★★☆ ←
But in truth the brother and sister were searching for something else entirely. Something they’d sworn to keep secret. Something they’d caught sight of only once, eight years ago: Goblins.

It’s no secret that I love stories relating to all manner of feyfolk, including coldhearted, greedy little goblins, so I knew I would like this one. I strongly believe whimsical fantasy is where Renee’s writing niche is, and I felt so sucked into this retelling of these siblings seeking goblins—one for simple magic in her life, the other for gold.

Origin: Korean

→ Spear Carrier — Rahul Kanakia ★☆☆☆☆ ←
But a hero wouldn’t be so lonely and so afraid. A hero wouldn’t shout for help, and then, hearing only silence, go back to his trench and cry.

I genuinely hoped that I would not be 1-starring a single story in this collection, but this was awful. It’s about a kid who dreams his whole life of becoming a hero, so when a god randomly appears and asks him to join in some celestial warfare, he agrees without knowing what he’s signing up for. The stream-of-consciousness writing is not well done, the narrator comes across as very juvenile, and there are some downright insensitive quips about people who die for others or for the furthering of knowledge and science.

Origin: South Asian

→ Code of Honor — Melissa de la Cruz ★☆☆☆☆ ←
I almost murdered a girl yesterday. Literally.

I recently read a short story by this author that I adored, so I hoped I would love this, too, but this was definitely not my cup of tea. It’s hard to root for a narrator who feels this much like a mid-2000s Mary Sue protagonist, much less when she’s busy slaughtering poor baby animals to calm herself down from her “rages”. This story also just felt so weird and out of place to me, and after I learned that this story apparently ties into the author’s Blue Bloods series, it felt too self-serving for me to give it much merit.

Origin: Filipino

→ Bullet, Butterfly — Elsie Chapman ★★★★★ ←
The commanders keep telling us we’re so close to finishing the way, that it’s almost the end—but whose end?

This story was breathtakingly beautiful, and so sad. A retelling of “The Butterfly Lovers”, a two-thousand-year-old Chinese legend of star-crossed lovers, it depicts a China in which war has ravaged everyone, forcing young women to work in factories creating weapons for young men to utilize. When Liang is awaiting his station, he dresses as a girl to visit the factory, and falls in love with a young woman therein. The writing in this piece is so powerful, and I loved every word of it.

Origin: Chinese

→ Daughter of the Sun — Shveta Thakrar ★★★★★ ←
Savitri Mehta’s parents had named her for light.

I enjoyed this story so much, as it portrays a young woman—born with the light of the sun in her chest—who seeks a companion, finding it in a boy full of moonglow—a boy who’s been doomed to die in one year. This is such a gorgeous story, but more than anything, I loved the fact that, despite having been inspired by a mix of two stories instead of one, I could absolutely feel the resemblance to the Mahabharata. My favorite stories in this collection have mostly been the ones that felt like folklore to me, and this one is a shining example of that.

Origin: South Asian

→ The Crimson Cloak — Cindy Pon ★★★★★ ←
All the storytellers get it wrong.

I have never read Cindy Pon’s work before, but after this story, I absolutely must, because this was astoundingly beautiful. In the original story of “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”, despite the Weaver Girl being a goddess, she is given no real autonomy or dialogue; in Cindy Pon’s retelling, however, she is the one who makes the first move, who plays her charms, who gets her way. It is so empowering and sweet, and the bits regarding how fast her mortal loved ones’ lives flash before her eyes was tremendously poignant. Throughout the story, I kept thinking about how much I would adore a full novel or even novella extension of this little masterpiece.

Origin: Chinese

→ Eyes Like Candlelight — Julie Kagawa ★★★★★ ←
Takeo never saw the fox again. But sometimes, on warm evenings when he was outside, he could almost imagine he was being watched.

Julie Kagawa is another author in this collection whose work had been on my TBR for a while, so I was particularly excited about this story, and it definitely did not disappoint. I’ve always loved Japanese lore and stories about kitsune in particular, and I thought this piece had such a sweet, sad little twist to it. I especially loved the ending; even though it was sad, it went above and beyond to display the depth of emotions that Japan’s most infamous trickster spirits are capable of. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to scurry off and read Julie’s entire bibliography.

Origin: Japanese

Normally, I’d round this up to a solid 4/5, but honestly, there are so many gems and this collection feels so important that I didn’t hesitate to give this 5 stars. ♥

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Greenwillow Books for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!



More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

Leave a comment
    1. im SO excited for this anthology!! im generally always wary of anthologies so it’s cool to know there r only 2 stories u didn’t like! i hope i’ll love the rest just as much as u did :>>>>

      1. Yaaaay, so glad you enjoyed it! ♥ I need to order myself a finished copy but I’m trying really hard to be on a book ban right now, so I think I’ll wait until the next time I have a B&N coupon or they have one of their awesome YA sales. 🙂

    1. Awesome review! I was wondering how many different areas in Asia would be in the story. Looks like a great variety of stories 🙂 can’t wait to try it!

    1. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t request this on NetGalley but I *did* read Where the Stars Rise which is similarly Asian SFF anthology which was great. I really want to read this one though too!

    1. Ahhh you know I already loved this and will gush about it with you anytime!!! I just wish that one Filipino story had a little more ‘umph’ to it because the Aswang is supposed to be terrifying!

    1. This looks soooo good! I love stories that use mythologies that are less ‘common’ mainstream, and I’m so glad to see more of them recently overall. And a kitsune story! *squee*

    1. Another book that’s been on my TBR for a good minute.
      You can’t help but love something that has so much variation of culture between the covers and watching you 5 star so many of the story makes me really excited to pick this one up. Pity about the 1 stars but it’s hard to win them all in an anthology.

      1. I hope you get to check it out soon! The release isn’t too far off. 🙂 And yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever liked every story in an anthology unless the anthology was all by the same author – but this isn’t too bad to only have a couple of 1-star ones!

    1. Wow this sounds amazing! I definitely need to check out this anthology! Great review!

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