Think about magic and women in the same breath and the imagery is a mixture of mystery, emotion, and courage. Edited by Dark Things author Sukanya Venkataraghavan, Magical Women is an anthology brings together 14 women who each have a story to tell; of women full of mystique and magic, featuring an exotic and versatile range of the feminine: Humans, Yakshis, Rakshasis, Goddesses and even Chudails make their magic felt in the stories.
Magical Women explores cultural nuances with recurring themes of love, rage, and rebellion. From the proverbial femme fatale to the emerging confident woman, the book features a range of spooky and spunky women, often connecting to real issues in the world. The stories draw heavily from Hindu mythology and horror archetypes; though the Goddesses featured are far removed from how we are wont to picture them.
I loved the fact that the stories are all cleverly set in contemporary settings- settings that today’s woman can easily identify with. Glittering discos and coffee cafes, parks, and homes are regular features in the stories- there’s magic in the characters, but the settings are so real that the reader would easily connect with the characters- magic, horror and all of it. Magical Women never leaves us with a dull moment, for whether we particularly like the characters or not, there is no ignoring them.
The book begins with the tale of lost love, between two women, both artists at heart, who find a way to keep their love alive in the end. There’s the angry ‘Mahi’, the personification of planet Earth who is so done with the human race that she had finally decided to ‘sneeze.’ A tale of twins and tattoos is charming, that juxtaposes two different personalities living on the edge of evil. There’s the Chudail that wants to break free from legacy, live a different life- only to realize in the end it’s not worth the personal sacrifices required. The discussion among the four Hindu Goddesses hovers on the issue of diminishing water resources on Earth. A Yakshi decides to step out of a centuries-old sculpture; lapping up today’s fast life in a night with a woman she desires. The stories largely reflect an aspirational quality that portrays characters seeking to move away from convention and creating new possibilities, even new universes.
For a collection that aims to dispel the stereotype of the woman, the stories surprisingly adhere to the typical male stereotype. In the story where the Goddesses are bickering about their lives, and by extension, their spouses, Parvati responds with an exasperated single word, “Typical,” to Shiva’s perceived indifference to her issues, while she herself chooses to bestow ‘disdain’ to her companion Lakshmi for gaining weight. In another story, the leering male is fended off with trickery by two women in the same body.
Among Sukanya Venkataraghavan’s magical writers are names like Kiran Manral, Asma Kazi, Trisha Das, Tashan Mehta, Shweta Taneja, Krishna Udayasankar, Samhita Arni, Nikita Deshpande, Ruchika Roy, Sejal Mehta, S.V.Sujatha, Shveta Thakrar, Shreya Ila Anasuya – a tribe of very successful women writers in India. The stories present perspectives that need telling, making it a notable addition to Indian SF literature.
This anthology of 210 pages belongs to the travel bag or the bed mantle for quick, refreshing reads between flights and naps.
Magical Women is published by Hachette and is available here.