Messing With the Veil Between Worlds: C.S.E. Cooney – Dark Breakers

Claire Cooney stole my heart with her collection Bone Swans and other Stories and I have bought everything of hers I could find since then. For those of you who have read the Tordoctom novella Desdemona and the Deep, this collection of very connected novellas and stories is your way back into that magical world of gentry and goblins and art.

by C.S.E. Cooney

Published: Mythic Delirium Boks, February 15th, 2022
292 pages
My rating:

Opening line: Elliot Howell considered the glittering company about to assemble in the dining room below, and sighed.

A young human painter and an ageless gentry queen fall in love over spilled wine—at the risk of his life and her immortality. Pulled into the Veil Between Worlds, two feuding neighbors (and a living statue) get swept up in a brutal war of succession. An investigative reporter infiltrates the Seafall City Laundries to write the exposé of a lifetime, and uncovers secrets she never believed possible. Returning to an oak grove to scatter her husband’s ashes, an elderly widow meets an otherworldly friend, who offers her a momentous choice. Two gentry queens of the Valwode plot to hijack a human rocketship and steal the moon out of the sky.

DARK BREAKERS gathers three new and two previously uncollected tales from World Fantasy Award-winning writer C. S. E. Cooney that expand on the thrice-enfolded worlds first introduced in her Locus and World Fantasy award-nominated novella DESDEMONA AND THE DEEP. In her introduction to DARK BREAKERS, Crawford Award-winning author Sharon Shinn advises those who pick up this book to “settle in for a fantastical read” full of “vivid world-building, with layer upon layer of detail; prose so dense and gorgeous you can scoop up the words like handfuls of jewels; a mischievous sense of humor; and a warm and hopeful heart.”

Oh, how I have missed reading Cooney’s words! This collection may be complied of separate novellas and stories but the tell one larger tale of a place and a group of friends and how the world changes to adjust to unexpected magic.

The book begins with Dark Breakers which follows Elliot Howell, a gifted painter, as he tries to navigate the world of his rich friends. Bright and bubbly Desdemona Mannering has decided that Elliot is the New Great Painter of the age and so he finds himself suddenly famous and completely unequipped to handle it. The story tells of a party at Breaker House where Elliot encountres a decidedly otherworldly creature – who happens to be the Queen of the Valwode, the Veil Between Worlds – and they promptly fall in love. But being queen of a rather important part of the three worlds, things aren’t as easy as one would hope…

My favorite tale by far was the second one that focuses on two of Elliot’s friends, Ana Fields (penniless but warm-hearted writer) and Gideon Alderwood (sculptor and super rich cousin to Desdemona Mannering). In The Two Paupers, we get to know these two a little bit better. They already made an impressive appearance in the first story but this one is really all about them and everything about it ticked the boxes I love when reading a story. Gideon and Ana aren’t on the best of terms, at the moment, because Gideon is a big jerk. But as they live as something like flatmates – sharing a garret with only one toilet, being separated by nothing but a thin wall – they can’t quite escape on e another, no matter how often Gideon elittles Ana and her work, no matter how many times she complains about him using up all the toilet paper and never replacing it.
What sounds like your basic romcom actually turns into something a lot more magical once you read it. Gideon creates beautiful statues only to destroy them the moment they are completed. He is responsible for Ana’s manuscript having found its way into the hands of a capable and utterly delighted agentand even though Gideon would never admit why he did it, we know that he actually really likes Ana. Theirs is a weird relationship that can only find a way to work once the secrets are out, once the magic that has been part of their lives gets revelaed. Oh, and once one of them saves the other from certain doom.

The other stories int his collection were quite nice as well, but they felt more like additional material to the first two novellas, rather than something that can stand on its own. Salissay’s Laundries was charming insofar as it is written by an investigative jorunalist who infiltrates a place that is said to “disappear” women and/or their unborn children. The Valwolde is supposed to be involved, but we all know that’s just fairy stories…
In Longergreen, we jump forward in time and learn how the world (and some characters we’ve met earlier) have changed. I really can’t say much about it without spoiling, but I found it a very touching, quiet tale that would have rounded up the collection beautifully.
But Cooney ends things on a lighter note with Susurra to the Moon. Here, we meet a character from the first story again as well as someone from Desdemona and the Deep. Things haven’t only changed in our world, but the Valwode has evolved as well. And so we meet two queens of that Kingdom Below as they enjoy each other and make silly plans about how they want to go to the moon. It’s a cute little story but it didn’t touch me nearly as much as the ones about Elliot, Gideon, and Ana.

I love how interconnected Cooney’s work is (a play called Bone Swans is mentioned in this collection, which happens to be a real book in our word) and how she writes about artists. Whether it’s Elliot and his paintings, Gideon and his statues, or Ana and her writing – Cooney manages to make them all feel like real artists, she makes their work come vibrantly alive thorugh her own art, and she made them all real, multi-faceted people. I adored both the friendship between these three as well as the strange love/hate relationship that Ana and Gideon have going on. The otherworldly characters were also amazingly done. A fairy queen who is thousands of years old shouldn’t behave like a regular homan and Cooney did a fantastic job making Nyx strange but still relatable enough for me to care about her.

If you like fairy stories, pretending to walk through walls between worlds, to meet magical beings at the chime of midnight, if you like art and beautiful words, then pick this up. It’s truly lovely and makes me all the more excited for Cooney’s second 2022 book (a big fat novel!) Saint Death’s Daughter.

MY RATING: 7.5/10 – Very, very good


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