By Ada Hoffmann
Older, Daniel José & Fox, Rose, eds. Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History. Crossed Genres Publications (May 2014).
In the publication of an anthology like Long Hidden, questions inevitably arise. Obviously, we need more diversity in fiction – but when we ask for it directly, are the resulting stories any good?
With Long Hidden, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
While the anthology guidelines (historical fantasy, set in the real world, 1400-1920, from the perspective of protagonists who were marginalized in their time and place) may seem overly specific, the anthology itself is a wealth of narrative riches. There is actually enormous room within the anthology’s framework, and editors Daniel José Older and Rose Fox make splendid use of it- not only in terms of different settings and forms of marginalization, but also in different types and tones of stories.
None of the characters in these pages are helpless victims, but their situations and responses are refreshing, from tragedy to triumph. Quieter, smaller-scale stories are included, as well. The role of oppression in the stories also varies. It can be an overwhelming antagonistic force, or it can be so subtle that some readers will not notice its presence.
I was especially pleased to see that several of Long Hidden‘s stories make realistic and thoughtful use of historical magical traditions. Magic, when it appears, can be a threatening force, but it is just as likely to be a tool used to fight back against oppression, or simply a part of everyday life. Many of the most successful magical stories in the anthology involve African diasporic traditions. There are also disabled Scandinavian witches (as in Claire Humphrey’s “The Witch of Tarup”) and, in Sabrina Vourvoulias’s bittersweetly triumphant “The Dance of the White Demons,” pre-Hispanic Guatemalan ones.
Since there is an infinite number of types of diversity, even a good anthology will contain a few lacunae. I would have liked to see more disabled protagonists and some queer women who weren’t sex workers. (Both the lesbian stories in the anthology are about lesbian sex workers; I can only assume this is a coincidence.) A few stories in the second half also begin to come off as trite.
However, taken as a whole, Long Hidden is a very successful work. Rather than coming off as a Special More Diverse Edition of historical fantasy, it reads well enough – particularly in the very strong first half – that it makes mainstream historical fantasy feel poorer by comparison. Long Hidden shows us the richness of setting and character that is available to us if we make use of all of history, not just the clichéd parts. So, why aren’t the rest of us using it?