Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: Like a Veil: Erotic Tales of the Arabian Nights

Like a Veil: Erotic Tales of the Arabian Nights
Like a Veil: Erotic Tales of the Arabian Nights by Cecilia Tan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember reading The Arabian Nights when I was younger, and being captivated, both because I love old stories of magic and wonder, and because I was fascinated by every bawdy phrase I encountered. Like a Veil is a rare achievement — it truly captures the spirit of the source material, without being constrained by it.

This anthology is slim — it contains only four stories. Those four, however, manage to cover a lot of ground. It includes m/m, m/f, and f/f pairings. A couple of the stories follow the classic formula, and are set in a world that would merge smoothly with that of the Arabian Nights. One is a far future SF piece, and another is set in the modern world.

I found the book very sensual, but not the sort of thing I would use for one-handed reading. Sex is present in the stories, integral to them, and lushly described, but poetry generally wins out over the sort of dirtiness that gets me off. For readers who prefer their sex sensual and beautiful, the book may have quite a different effect.

I'm giving the book five stars because of the reasons I mentioned up top. I like to evaluate books on whether they achieve their goals, and I believe Like a Veil delivers on everything it promises — very much so.

Whenever I began to find a story predictable, it twisted, in a fresh way (much like the source material, which is filled with stories nested within stories). Whenever I thought I knew where I would be transported, the next story carried me further away.

For much of the book, there's a theme of fleeting encounters, but the editor wisely ended with a romantic piece that promised much more, in a poignant, moving, and powerful way.

That last piece is really the standout story for me. It's "The Eater of Stories" by Sophia Deri-Bowen, and it warmed me and hurt me at the same time. I can't think of a more fitting ending to this collection, and I'd recommend this particular story to anyone. It's on the strength of "The Eater of Stories" that my rating for Like a Veil bumped up from 4 to 5.

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