Since finding the Pond, you realise that you haven’t really had the opportunity to talk to Varian the Toadshifter yet. Last you saw them, they were busy sewing away and didn’t look like they had much time to talk. “Varian wants to get better at making costumes,” Xiaolong says when you ask her about them. “Sewing is their favourite kind of magic, especially when they see other people love what they create.”
And so you approach Varian, who doesn’t look as busy as before. In fact, they seem to be having tea!
“Hello friend, it’s good to finally meet you,” Varian says when you near. “Xiaolong talks about you non-stop, so I was looking forward to meeting you. Would you like some tea?” Before you can answer, Varian mutters a few magical words, and the teapot levitates and pours you a cup full of tea. “As you may know, my name is Varian, I use they/them pronouns, and I am a Toadshifter.”
You ask Varian what a Toadshifter is, and what they do. Varian takes a long sip, mulling over your question. “You see, Toadshifting is a delicate art, one that requires centuries-” centuries?! “-of study and mastery of various magical or physical arts so we can fluidly move from, say, a paladin of light to a necromancer. My hundreds of siblings and family have thus endeavoured to become masters of all crafts, but I was never satisfied with that.”
Varian puts down their tea, and looks at you with a bemused smile. “I was a good toad though, and I studied. But I later learned that my calling was creation; not emulating the arts of old, but creating something tangible and new. You can imagine the sort of drama this sort caused when I told them so. It was all, ‘Varian, we are Toadshifters! Toadshifters uphold the magical arts by learning and imitating! Not by creating something new!’ And so I left, not on unpleasant terms mind you, I just wanted to pursue my calling in peace. Xiaolong and the Pond gave me a new home, a place where I can create but also pass on my knowledge accrued from my education as a Toadshifter.”
“It was Gen, actually, who suggested that I pursue sewing-magic. The idea that I can pay homage to the magic that already exists by creating something new, something of my own creation, and has the potential to inspire others to be the best and most true versions of themselves? That sounded like a fine calling to me. Thus, that is my purpose as a Toadshifter.”
You nod slowly. You notice that Xiaolong had plopped herself next to you sometime during Varian’s story, and she smiles up at you. “Isn’t Varian the coolest?!” she asks. Yes! you say. Varian is very cool.
“Now,” Varian says, rising from their spot. “I’ve just finished putting together my first costume and I quite like how it turned out. Would you like to see it?” Of course, you say, you’d love to see it! (Xiaolong, meanwhile, is bursting with energy and excitement!)
Varian hops behind a big rock, and you notice their legs are a little wobbly – it looks like Varian is a little nervous to show you. But, when Varian emerges, they don’t look like a toad at all – they look like a rainbow!
“It’s a little simple, and I’m still trying to improve,” they say, adjusting their rainbow costume. The stitching is a little uneven and the fabric doesn’t seem entirely aligned, but you can tell that Varian put a lot of love into their costume. “But I just need to be patient with myself and I’ll get better with time.” Right! you tell them with, what you hope to be, an encouraging smile.
“Also, I thought what I’d do is share the inspiration of my costume. I think sharing things that inspire us is a powerful sort of magic, don’t you think?”
Welcome back to the Pond, friends, and welcome to the Pond’s first book recommendation post. I hope you all are having a lovely day so far and are reading some wonderful books!
One of the things that I loved doing in my old blog was to write book recommendation posts. So I decided to add a twist at The Quiet Pond: Varian, the Pond’s Toadshifter, will be at the forefront of the book recommendation posts! As you might remember from the Meet the Inhabitants post, Varian has a lot of knowledge of all things books and magic and is currently learning how to sew. Now, you know a little bit more about Varian’s story and why they do what they’re doing! (Varian is still very new to making costumes, so be sure to watch how they improve over time!)
Today, Varian is going to share with you four anthologies filled with diverse stories. Varian is dressed as a rainbow, because a rainbow not only means pride, but to them (and me!) it represents following your heart, embracing who you are, and celebrating who you are!
Within the four books that Varian has chosen, there are stories about characters with different backgrounds, sexualities, genders, abilities, and have a range of different lived experiences. These anthologies also have stories that incorporate different mythologies, cultural influences, and perspectives. So, if you read diversely, or would like to start reading more inclusive stories, you can’t go wrong with one of the anthologies below.
A THOUSAND BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS
This is perhaps one of my favourite anthologies ever. Asian mythology? Told by authors of diaspora? This anthology is unmissable, and one that I’ll love for as long as I shall live.
- A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is an anthology filled with stories inspired by Asian mythology and folklore, written by Asian diasporic authors.
- The stories within are retellings of well-known folktales – told from a different perspective, with a slight twist, or set in present day – and each story includes an afterword from the author, which I absolutely enjoyed reading.
- Genres include mostly science-fiction and fantasy, but some have contemporary/modern day and romance elements!
- It’s hard to choose a favourite, but if I had to choose one, then I absolutely adored The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon, a retelling of Qixi (sometimes known as Chinese Valentine’s Day) told from the perspective of the celestial maiden who falls in love with a human ox-herder.
TOIL AND TROUBLE
Witches have long been a symbol of power and strength, persecution, subjugation and oppression for that power, and resistance. Toil and Trouble brilliantly exemplifies these themes and offers 15 incredible stories that explore witches, who they are, and what they symbolise.
- An anthology about witches, written by women, with feminist and empowering undertones, and featuring a diversity of identities as well. What more could you want?
- Not all the witches burn in this story – rather, some witches fall in love, some do good, some struggle and resist, some succeed, some are flawed, and all are extraordinary.
- The genres are diverse as well – some stories are historical fiction, some fantasy, some romance, some futurism, and one is even a western!
- An effortless favourite was The Heart in Her Hands by Tess Sharpe, a story about soulmates, magic, and challenging fate. It’s f/f too and it’s gorgeous and heart-warming.
Disability is severely underrepresented in YA fiction, so I was overjoyed to learn that this anthology existed. Unbroken offers 13 excellent stories about disabled teens by disabled writers – and perhaps, I argue, one of the most important and wonderful anthologies I have read to date.
- An anthology that centers on disability, from mental illness to physical disability.
- The stories aren’t just about disability; rather, the focus is on the characters and their stories and experiences – whether it be falling in love, going on an adventure, and self-discovery.
- Also features characters with different intersecting identities; there are disabled people of colour, disabled queer people, disabled non-binary people, disabled religious people, and even disabled queer people of colour.
- I loved many stories in Unbroken, but my favourite was Per Aspera Ad Astra by Katherine Locke, especially for its extremely relatable anxiety representation.
FLYING LESSONS AND OTHER STORIES
I had the pleasure of reading this last year, and I’ve never forgotten it. Flying Lessons is an anthology of diverse middle grade short stories, and is an absolute delight that is perfect for readers of all ages, especially younger readers.
- Includes ten outstanding diverse and ownvoices short stories, including a story told in verse.
- Explores a diversity of themes that make middle grade novels so special: family problems, moving away, friendship, to finding your place in the world.
- All the stories were so empowering and had something important to say, and filled me with joy that such an anthology exists for young children today.
- There were so many brilliant stories here, but the story I never quite forgot was Flying Lessons by Soman Chainanu, a young and ambitious Indian boy who no longer feels the joy of success and how his nani teaches him about life and joy.
Oh my! With a bit of a tingle in your fingers and a musical hum in the air, another magical shoot has appeared right by your feet! Now that you have met Varian, the Pond will store and protect your precious memories with Varian and their book recommendations, which you can now access through the Features page.
This year has been a fantastic year of diverse anthologies, and next year looks like it will be just as good as well! Some to look forward to in 2019:
- Black Enough coming out in January 2019, which will feature stories by Black authors about identity.
- It’s A Whole Spiel coming out in Fall (Northern Hemisphere) 2019, which features stories with Jewish protagonists.
- Color Outside the Lines, also coming out in Fall (NH) 2019, which will feature stories about interracial relationships! (Personally super excited for this one.)
- What is your favourite anthology? Why did you love it?
- Can you recommend me any other anthologies that I didn’t list here?
- What do you think of Varian’s costume and their recommendations?