Prickle Moon is a collection of Juliet Marillier’s best short fiction. It contains eleven previously published stores and five new ones. Included are the Sevenwaters novella, ’Twixt Firelight and Water, the epic Nordic story, Otherling, and In Coed Celyddon, a tale of the young man who would one day become King Arthur.
The title story, especially written for the collection, concerns an old Scottish wise woman facing an impossible moral dilemma. Other new stories in the book include By Bone-Light, a contemporary retelling of the Russian fairy tale Vasilissa the Wise, and The Angel of Death, a dark story about a puppy mill rescue.
Note: I happily purchased the signed limited edition hardcover of “Prickle Moon”. For one, Marillier is one of my favourite authors, and an instant-buy. And for two, the cover was illustrated by my friend Pia Ravenari, and is just utterly gorgeous. So, yes, I have a bias for this book. But even without that bias, I always feel that Ticonderoga limited edition copies are always worth the outlay – they are beautiful objects, and “Prickle Moon” is no different.
Marillier is an author who clearly prefers to write novels instead of short stories, and this does show a little in this collection. There are a few amazing stories included (which are well worth the cover price of any version), but some of the others are a little uneven. There is, however, true beauty and wonder in all of them, even in some of the most wrenching ones to read.
The titular story, “Prickle Moon”, begins the collection and is new in print. The voice in this piece is just amazing, and you can feel the love that Marillier has for her subject matter in every line. “Otherling” is a reprint, but pairs well with “Prickle Moon”, with both heavily featuring nature and nature magic, with a good dose of historical feel.
Some pure fairy tale follows, with “Let Down Your Hair”, a gorgeous retelling of Rapunzel, and “Poppy Seeds”. There is Arthurian mythos in “In Coed Cellydon”, and a story of hope in “Juggling Silver”.
The longest story in the book is “‘Twixt Firelight and Water”, which fills in part of Marillier’s epic historical Sevenwaters series. Like the Sevenwaters books, this draws on myth and magic and history to create something amazing.
The next stories that follow are where some of the unevenness of the collection shows. It’s not that any of the stories are bad – and reading through Marillier’s afterward which explains the target of some of these stories, it’s understandable that they don’t fit quite perfectly into the magic of the other stories in the collection. Overall, they feel more like they were written for a specific publication, and didn’t spark from some deep magic, as the other tales do.
At the end of the collection, however, come some of the best stories. “Back and Beyond” perhaps filters some of Marillier’s own experiences with cancer, and is beautiful and hopeful and heart-wrenching at the same time. “Angel of Death” takes place in a puppy mill, and Marillier’s love of animals (and for her own rescue dogs) shines clear.
For me, the best story in “Prickle Moon” is the last, “By Bone-Light”, a retelling of Vasilissa the Fair, complete with Baba Yaga lurking in the basement of an apartment building. Everything in this story lives and breathes pure magic, and highlights Marillier at her mythic best. This story is original to the collection.
Overall, “Prickle Moon” is highly recommended, if you’re a fan of Marillier in general, if you love fairy tales, if you love myth and truly amazing storytelling. And if you haven’t read Marillier before, then this is a great place to start before diving into her larger books.