book review: A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard





A CATHEDRAL OF MYTH AND BONE by Kat Howard
★★☆☆☆
Saga Press, 2019




I was so sure I was going to love this short story collection—modernized mythology is a conceit that excites me—but ultimately found it pretty one-note and heavy-handed. This is a YA collection in adult clothing, and I think it’s a shame that it wasn’t edited with a young adult audience in mind (characters are all adults but feel like teenagers, and a few passing references to sex are clearly made to age it up; it doesn’t work). Anyway, it leaves me in this awkward place where I don’t like to criticize YA books for being YA (they just weren’t written for me, and that is a-okay!), but this book was explicitly marketed as adult and I did go into it expecting that it had been written for me so here we are.

I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to get on with this from the author’s forward, which ends with the words: ‘Turn the page. I have miracles to offer you.’ If that isn’t the most self-aggrandizing way to begin a book, I don’t know what is. I was just at odds with Kat Howard’s style prose style the whole time, with lines like that as well as ‘There had been a woman, Madeleine, he thought her name was, who smelled of paper and stories.’

This whole collection can pretty much be summed up in this line, from the story The Green Knight’s Wife (hey, I like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, maybe that story will finally be the one for me… never mind):

He feels more comfortable in a place that is like him: forest, secret, overgrown.
 
No one ever asked me what my comforts were[…]

This collection is just a mindless chorus of similar female voices lamenting being overshadowed by men; a theme I can absolutely love when done well, but here it isn’t executed with particular craft or purpose. I could pretty much hear Howard’s internal monologue as she was writing: “What if The Green Knight… but feminist? What if Orpheus and Eurydice… but feminist? What if Macbeth (kind of)… but feminist?” Like… ok, great, good start—and then what? Feminism is just an idea, an ideology, not a fully-constructed narrative. Each story just felt like a rough sketch of something and each ended in an anticlimax.

Thankfully the story that I enjoyed the most was the longest one—the novella-length Once, Future, a meta retelling of Le Morte D’Arthur. I thought this one was fun, at least: I think Howard’s strength is plot, which is why it was frustrating to see so little of it across these stories. I don’t think she excels at theme, atmosphere, or descriptive writing, and that’s pretty much all these stories purportedly have going for them.

This just wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. It clearly works well for the right reader, so if it interests you at all I’d absolutely encourage you to read a sample and see what you make of the writing style, but I just didn’t get on with it at all and I hope Marija forgives me.