Reviews

Sci-fi/Fantasy Anthology Review: Reclaim the Stars by Zoraida Córdova

This review is based on an eARC (Advance Reading Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Reclaim the Stars was released February 15, 2022. 

One of the Bingo squares that had me hunting the longest this year was Latinx Author, whose hard mode required fewer than 1000 ratings on Goodreads. I found a few options that had potential, but nothing really grabbed me until I saw a friend reading an ARC of a Latin-American anthology with entries written by several of the authors that had had me curious. So why not try the anthology? And so I submitted my own ARC request for Reclaim the Stars, editor Zoraida Córdova’s collection of stories from 17 diaspora authors. 

Short story collections can be difficult to rate, because nearly every collection will have its weaker elements—it simply comes with the territory—which will drive down a mean score. And of course, I don’t want to wade through a sea of dreck to find the standouts, so I do care about the quality of the average story in an anthology, but I care as much or more about the highs. A good collection has a strong majority of enjoyable stories but has a few standouts that are alone worth the price of admission. 

It’s also difficult to review, because there’s no overarching story I can describe, no strengths of plotting or character work that may fit a particular reader’s tastes. I could give micro-reviews of each individual piece, but I suspect that may be overwhelming than helpful. And so I will simply do my best to explain what to expect. Reclaim the Stars contains 17 stories—mostly leaning toward a young adult audience—from 17 different Latin American authors. It’s divided into three categories of 5-6 pieces each, roughly split into science fiction, fantasy in contemporary settings, and other fantasy. I’ll address each section in turn.

To the Stars

The first section, To the Stars, contains the following five stories: 

Reign of Diamonds by Anna-Marie McLemore

FLECHA by Daniel José Older

The First Day of Us by David Bowles

The Tin Man by Lilliam Rivera

This Is Our Manifesto by Mark Oshiro

I found this notably weaker than the other sections, and it honestly had me questioning whether I wanted to continue with the book. Not all the pieces are bad—perhaps not even the majority were bad—but I didn’t find a lot to really remember here. The cream of the crop is “FLECHA,” a story that delivers quite a bit of fun and catharsis without feeling especially substantial. On the other side of the coin, “The First Day of Us” is a polyamorous action/romance in second person that tries to do way too much in a limited space and doesn’t really land any of it. And “This is Our Manifesto” is just a vaguely story-shaped manifesto—the writing is good, but there’s just not much narrative to latch onto. 

The Magical Now

The second section, The Magical Now, contains the following six stories:

Creatures of Kings by Circe Moskowitz

Eterno by J.C. Cervantes

White Water, Blue Ocean by Linda Raquel Nieves Pérez

Leyenda by Romina Garber

Color-Coded by Maya Montayne

Magical Offerings by Nina Moreno

The Magical Now doesn’t have a weak story, but neither does it have one that I’ll look back on at the end of the year and truly remember. Every one is a worthwhile read, but there’s not one whose strength is enough that I’d recommend buying a whole collection just to read it. If there were any that stuck out to me, they’d have been “Eterno”—which reminded me in some ways of Alix Harrow’s “Mr. Death” and may appeal to fans of that story—and Romina Garber’s short story in the Wolves of No World universe, which provides backstory for a side character that appears in her novel Cazadora. The story stands on its own, but it will have plenty of added richness for fans of the series. 

Other Times, Other Realms

The final section, Other Times, Other Realms, contains the following six stories:

Rogue Enchantments by Isabel Ibañez

Sumaika Y La Sirena by Vita Ayala

River People by Yamile Saied Méndez

Moonglow by Sara Faring

Killing El Chivo by Claribel A. Ortega

Tame the Wicked Night by Zoraida Córdova

Despite “Killing El Chivo” not really hitting for me, I thought Other Times, Other Realms was the strongest section of the anthology, tipping my overall assessment toward the positive. In what I would’ve anticipated being an unusual opinion–at least before I saw several other reviews saying much the same thing–I found Isabel Ibañez’s “Rogue Enchantments” to be the standout story of the entire collection. It didn’t really break new ground in form or content, but the storytelling was so immersive, and the tale of a young woman facing down hostility from other vendors in order to fulfill her dream of opening a market stall selling magical paints was gripping from start to finish. Will I nominate it for an award at the end of the year? Probably not. Will it be in my recommended reading longlist? Probably so. There’s no substitute for good storytelling. 

The majority of the stories in this section were enjoyable, but the other one that particularly stuck out was the editor’s own “Tame the Wicked Night,” which subverted fairy tale tropes while maintaining the same mythopoetic voice. And I was also struck by the magic in the mundane of Sara Faring’s “Moonglow.” 

Overall, I can’t say that Reclaim the Stars has a lot in the way of must-read tales, but I also don’t think a reader would be disappointed by many of the 17 shorts. When analyzing my short fiction reading from last year, I found that about a quarter of the short stories I pick up struck me as standouts, and Reclaim the Stars didn’t come especially close to that mark. But it was well in keeping with my usual standard of enjoying about 85% of the shorts I read. Someone who focuses more on young adult fiction will no doubt find an even better hit rate than the dabbler than I am, and, of course, it is of especial interest to someone hunting Latin American sci-fi or fantasy. 

Recommended if you like: Young adult short fiction, Latin American storytelling. 

Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for the Short Stories square and the Latinx Author square. 

Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads. 

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