Twice before, Dickinson teamed up with his wife, Robin McKinley, to create short story collections centered on elemental themes; now he concludes the elemental quartet with this solo collection of earth and air stories.
The elements are not the only thing holding these six stories together; thematic territory here is concerned primarily with the meanings of humanity and love. Divinity and magic also weave throughout, from the earthy, lonely troll of “Troll Blood” to the small magics of an almost forgotten goddess in “Scops.” Aside from science-fiction gem “The Fifth Element,” these are all firmly fantasy, half set approximately now and two set in a somewhat indeterminate past. Opening tale “Troll Blood” is perhaps the weakest in the collection, with imaginary academics and exposition-heavy chunks; “Ridiki,” a version of Eurydice about a boy and his beloved dog, and “The Fifth Element” round out earth, while air is covered by the peculiar “Wizand” (witches as hosts to a parasite that lives in their broomsticks, with the burning of witches part of the wizand’s life cycle) and the haunting, ancient-world–based “Talaria” and “Scops.” None of the stories focus particularly on childhood or adolescence, making it hard to pin down the ideal audience.
These strange, sometimes beautiful tales might find their best readership among those who think they have moved beyond YA. (Fantasy and science fiction short stories. 14 & up)