“We are stuff/ as dreams are made of,” says Shakespeare in The Tempest. Or perhaps, responds Jess Hartley, in this, her first collection of short stories, our dreams, our desires, shaped by experience, make us who we are. Meet ghosts who come back to haunt those who haunted them in their living years, mothers facing real-life demons like poverty and hunger, victims-turned-villains seeking justice, and Wishes become nightmares. Hartley saves the best for last, where she imagines the backstory to a familiar fairy tale: Rapunzel. Told mostly from the perspective of the otherworldly characters, Hartley describes how monsters are made, even if they’re born that way. She also clues us into the origin of each tale and her own history in helpful introductions to each story. Hartley leaves us with a question, posed by Jacob, Brother in the Crimson Order.
“Perhaps, then, the difference is not in the power,
but in the way with which it is wielded.
It matters little who makes the sword, in the end,
or in whose hand it rests –
what has import is how that sword is used,
to what end.
The blade, used for good, is Good; for evil, Evil.
And those who care only for the maker’s mark?”