The Mythic Dream edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe

The Mythic Dream is an anthology of eighteen stories by various authors. Each is a retelling of a myth from around the world. Some of the stories are told in a different setting, e.g. an adventure of the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna cast as a space opera. Others present the original from another perspective, e.g. the werewolf curse reimagined as a boon. And still others continue the myth further, e.g. exploring how Sisyphus changes as he keeps pushing his boulder up a hill for eternity. The story subgenres thus range from historical fantasy to cyberpunk, and the tone from funny to tragic, with “myth retelling” being the stories’ connecting feature.

Reviewing anthologies is a little difficult: as always, some stories will work better for a reader than others. Luckily, in this anthology, I think such discrepancies are down to taste rather than to quality. For example, Ann Leckie’s retelling of Egyptian mythology in space didn’t click with me at all — mostly because I don’t like space settings and a little because Egypt + space = the old Stargate movie in my head. On the other hand, I read The Mythic Dream in Crete and thus especially enjoyed Naomi Novik’s take on Ariadne and her relationship with her little brother the Minotaur. I can easily imagine the reactions being swapped, depending on a reader’s interests. Altogether, I found every story solid, if not an instant fave.

The anthology features a veritable powerhouse team of authors. Many of them are pretty new or have gotten more buzz recently. I was familiar with a few already and was certain I’d enjoy their stories, such as Naomi Novik (Uprooted) or Rebecca Roanhorse (Trail of Lightning). But I was especially curious to finally try the many authors whose names kept popping up on my radar but who I hadn’t gotten to yet: Amal El-Mohtar (This Is How You Lose The Time War), Indrapramit Das (The Devourers), JY Yang (The Black Tides of Heaven)… For most of them, their books consequently shot way up my TBR list! The Mythic Dream provides a brief, useful, and wonderful taste of what eighteen current SFF authors are up to. Hopefully, it opens a lot of directions for readers to further explore.

With retellings, the question always arises whether it’s necessary to know the original. For each story in this anthology, I would say no, though it’s undoubtedly fun to spot the extra tidbits if you do. I cackled my way through T. Kingfisher’s Labours of Hercules retold in a swamp, trying to put together who all the reimagined characters were. However, my favourite story ended up being that of El Coco, written by Carlos Hernandez, a myth I’d never encountered before. It had an extremely sweet father-daughter bond (plus a pretty awesome ship AI!), which was enough for me. So in my opinion, there’s no “right” way to experience the stories.

(Note: if you do want to look up the myths beforehand — the original myths are all listed in the table of contents, and discussed further in a little author’s note after each story. If you get the audiobook like I did, you can download the Kindle sample to see the myth list. Or obviously skip the table of contents if you’d rather go in blind!)

Nevertheless, although I enjoyed most of the individual short stories greatly, I’m a bit more cautious about how well the book works as a whole. The blurb describes it as “bringing together stories from the world over”. This feels like a bit of an overstatement when 8 of the 18 myths are Greek — while the other 10 are only one per culture, with no myths from Africa or Oceania. A fair few of the stories are also thematically or conceptually similar, e.g. woman-centric reinterpretations, and I wonder if they would have actually packed even more of a punch if they weren’t grouped together. In the first third, the stories almost perfectly alternate between space opera retelling and Americana retelling, until I started wondering whether we’d get anything else. Of course, these issues absolutely don’t reflect on the actual stories! But perhaps this is an anthology better read in bits and pieces between other books, rather than all at once like I did.

Altogether though, if you’re interested in myth retellings or if you’re interested in checking out a bunch of awesome authors, definitely give The Mythic Dream a shot.

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