Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
Salt of the Air is a re-released short story collection of Vera Nazarian--and includes 3 new stories not present in the earlier version. The author's note describes this book as a "fantasy, fairy tale, and fable collection" and that's a pretty good summary of what you can expect. Aside from stories set in the author's Lords of Rainbow and Dreams of the Compass Rose mileu, she also tackles adaptation of fairy tales (most notably Beauty and the Beast--there are 2 variations in this book).
What becomes evident over 18 stories is that Nazarian has a Romantic writing sensibility, both in language and plot. But rather than simply being a writer who rehashes the classic formulas, Nazarian subverts the narratives, usually by making the female characters the protagonists. In this sense, the first story in Salt of the Air, "Rossia Moya", appears to be the exception among the bunch. Not that it's any less skillful, but it's one of the few stories that takes place in the real world, and is one of the pieces that uses a subtler speculative element. The other stories in this collection for example immediately capture this mythic and fantastical tone so that when the magical element finally makes an appearance, it's not jarring to readers.
It's understandable if Nazarian's writing doesn't capture every type of reader. The problem when it comes to her writing sensibility is that it can come off as too traditional, too formulaic, or too predictable. And honestly, many of the author's stories falls under one of those categories. But that's not necessarily a flaw and this expectation gives Nazarian room to maneuver through the other elements of the story. For example, in "I Want to Paint the Sky," readers will easily catch on how the piece will end. Nazarian however manages to endear herself to readers through her florid descriptions and the chemistry between the characters. It might not be the stand-out story for the year, but it's good enough to be worth the reading experience.
Having said that, there are also times when Nazarian fully explores the borders of her sub-genre. "Absolute Receptiveness, The Princess, and the Pea" at first glance might seem like a simple story but this is one of Nazarian's more complex and dark pieces. There are moments when the reader is as confused as the main character and it takes time to unravel the mystery that's going on. The ambiguous--and horrific--ending is worth the effort. A simpler narrative is "The Story of Love" and here, Nazarian tackles a more modern social concern filtered through the lens of speculative fiction. There's didacticism present, which befits the Romantic style of Nazarian, and arguably not everyone will agree with the story's resolution or implicit moral (I don't), but as far as the entire narrative is concerned, it's tight and could easily be a new fairy tale or fable.
Those looking for a more familiar and traditional read will find Salt of the Air welcome territory. Nazarian has a Romantic style that occupies a niche missing from more contemporary writers. Language and setting are tools she uses to great effect and it's interesting how she manages to work with her self-imposed restrictions.