Rainbow Bouquet edited by Farah MendlesohnRainbow Bouquet edited by Farah Mendlesohn is an anthology of short LGBTQ fiction from Manifold Press, a publisher specializing in LGTBQ historical fiction.

The stories cover a wide range of eras. Given the publisher’s specialty, I was a bit surprised that half the stories had modern settings (though in one case with historic ghosts as the main characters). The historic stories are set in mythic/classical Greece, a non-specific European medieval setting, 17th century England in the theater community, Regency England, and 19th century Russia. Most are structured as romances, with a variety of heat levels, though nothing very explicit (and at least one asexual story). There’s one sci-fi setting and one with a touch of body horror. So quite a varied bouquet.

The Characters

The most memorable characters for me were the aspiring playwright Gally (for Galathea) in M.J. Logue’s “Firebrand” who uses the conventions of theatrical gender disguise to explore her feelings for women and where she falls on the gender spectrum, and the ghost of Cecily Strangways in Kathleen Jowitt’s “Stronger than Death” whose post-mortem love for the ghost of a medieval nun is part of why they are so dedicated to preserving the site of their haunting.

The Writing Style

Some of the stories worked better for me than others in the writing. I liked how Erin Horakova evoked the mannered pacing of Russian novels in “Ubytok – umu pribytok / A Loss is a Gain for the Mind” in which two gentlemen delicately negotiate their understanding of each other’s personal relationships and find an unexpected path opening for them. Cheryl Morgan’s “The Poet’s Daughter” shows a deep knowledge of ancient Greek literature and myth as it explores an alternate origin for the story of Odysseus.

The Pros

I liked how the historic stories were strongly rooted in their eras, with the relationships and their problems emerging from the realities of the times. This type of collection is a great means of identifying new authors to follow (though some of my favorite stories are associated with names I already recognize).

The Cons

The flip side of a very mixed collection like this is that it’s unlikely all the stories will hit any one reader’s sweet spot. Simply because of my interests and expectations, I was a bit disappointed with the few solidly modern generic love stories, even when they were well written. And body horror really isn’t my thing, so the story about the medieval monks missed for me.

The Conclusion

If you want an introduction to some of the authors likely to be appearing in the future from Manifold Press, this is probably a good starting place. Based on the work appearing here, there are three or four authors I’ve added to my must-buy list if I see their name on a f/f historical in the future.

Excerpt from Rainbow Bouquet edited by Farah Mendlesohn

“Stronger Than Death” by Kathleen Jowitt

You may think it odd that I, Cecily Strangways, a young lady of the seventeenth century, should refer with equanimity to the impending marriage of a son of the family to a person of the same sex. All I can say to that is that there’s nothing like being dead for broadening the mind, as indeed Marion and I could both testify. A few centuries of haunting the dining room, eavesdropping on the scandal passed around with the port about the Ladies of Llangollen and that unhappy Mr Wilde, had opened my eyes to the extended possibilities of human partnerships.

Although my suspicion was that Marion already knew. She didn’t talk much about her life in the body, or why she was driven to take the veil. She claimed that she had forgotten most of it, but her omissions were suggestive. Marion hadn’t exactly minded being a nun, finding it preferable to the marriage that would otherwise have been her lot, but she still bore a grudge for having been forced to be one. This grudge had led to her haunting the place, and persisted through the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the subsequent demolition of the abbey buildings that she’d known.

“You see, sweetie, it’s the principle of the thing,” she explained. She’d picked up the most appalling slang over the centuries, and mixed it up with no consideration for the proprieties of time. Sometimes I caught myself doing it, too.

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