This week, I read A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony by Kristin Garth, Tianna G. Hansen, and Justin Karcher. This is a dark fantasy, comprised of poems which fit together to form an operatic narrative collection, told in three voices: the Wizard, the Doll, and the Firebird.
The Doll and the Firebird are two rival dancers. The Wizard is an individual with magical talents and an obsession for collecting those who he deems perfect in a misguided attempt to “protect” what is good in the world. The Wizard sees the Doll at a party, and becomes obsessed with her. The Firebird wants the Doll out of the way, so she can be the prima ballerina, and also gain the Wizard’s affections. The Firebird and the Magician team up, luring the Doll to a party at the Wizard’s home, where they give her a potion which shrinks her. They then trap her inside of a dollhouse. The Firebird, jealous of the Magician’s obsession with the Doll, returns to the Magician’s house, where she becomes trapped in the basement. The Firebird realizes that to ensure her own survival, then the Doll must die.
The Doll, written by Kristin Garth, is still very much alive and sentient. She’s aware of everything that’s going on around her. “The shame is of the season./ The art is in the ache./You found a childish skeleton./ I wasn’t hard to break,” she says, right after she becomes trapped. She’s a broken character from the beginning of the book, where she talks about her childhood, during which she was abused. The risk here, was that the Doll could have easily become a helpless figure, waiting to be saved. However, she grows despite the static nature of being a doll. Ultimately, it’s the Doll’s capacity for love which causes her to reach a state of enlightenment and freedom by the end.
The Firebird, written by Tianna G. Hansen, is wonderfully catty. She has a lifelong penchant for arson, which she seems to love as much as she does dance. She aches for love, even as she becomes a destructive force through her jealousy. She’s manipulative and cunning, and is fascinating to read. Despite the fact that she’s always talking about not ever having what she wants, she’s probably the character with the most agency because she’s willing to sacrifice others in her pursuit of getting what she wants. There’s no line that she isn’t willing to cross. “Crackling and sparking, popping heat & bones/ hair furling flames, hissing Medusa snakes/ eyes are stone, blue ice condemns foes/ you splinter into shards of red-hot glass/ a creature caged/ cannot be kept. You will be Free. You will,” she says, and as the reader, you believe her. You can hear it in her voice: The Firebird is a force of nature.
The Wizard, written by Justin Karcher, is essentially the stage-setter. He’s the one character who looks outward, and describes the world in which they live. “it bores me to tears when other people want to make the world a bigger place/ seems to me that they’re simply settling for a bigger grave/ death shouldn’t get any bigger, understand me?” he says, right before he decides to recreate the world on a smaller scale, through the doll house. He views the world in which he lives as toxic. He appears to drift through it, finding it to lack anything that he finds fulfilling. While he believes that he’s protecting the the Doll, the one character who is good, he’s doing it, ultimately, at her expense. There’s a difference between protection and imprisonment that he doesn’t seem to be aware of. Despite being learned in magic, he hasn’t become wise, instead, he’s jaded. I’d compare him to Saruman, but to be honest, he makes Saruman seem like a cupcake. At one point, in a moment of clarity and self-awareness, he asks, “Am I a sociopath?” Which, given his lack of empathy and his inability to see the value in societal rules (like not imprisoning others), he definitely is. However, just like the Doll, he too, has a moment of enlightenment, which proves that his character has the ability to grow.
A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony is written by a trifecta of talented poets who have created an intriguing, original work. This is a stunning fever dream, set in an urban wasteland full of boozy magic-drenched parties and sociopaths who are able to use magic to make the world a much worse place than it already is. It’s about female rivalry. It’s about male desire to possess. It’s about the perception of perfection, as well as the effects of trauma. I’ve never read anything quite like it, but it’s positively spellbinding.
A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony is forthcoming from Rhythm and Bones Press on June 19th, 2019, and is currently available for preorder.