The anthology Rainbow Bouquet edited by Farah Mendlesohn marks something of a reorganizational reboot for Manifold Press, which specializes in LGBTQ historical fiction. Given that focus, I was a little surprised that only half the stories in the collection have historic settings (and one is clearly future/science fictional). That’s not a comment on the writing, only that I had a bit of expectation whiplash.
The historic stories cover mythic/classical Greece, an unspecified medieval monastery, the 17th century London theater scene, Regency England, 19th century Russia, and an assortment of historical ghosts in a modern English setting. Most of the stories have a romance structure (including one asexual romance) and various genre infusions add interest to the plots. There’s a fairly good balance between representation of male and female relationshps, though only one story touches on potential transgender themes. I found the historic elements well-grounded, including the nature of the relationships and the types of obstacles they faced.
“Firebrand” by M. J. Logue was a particular favorite, depicting the rough, crude world of the 17th century London theater, where an aspiring playwright explores her attraction to women and just where she falls on the gender spectrum through the lens of gender-disguise plots and cross-gender acting. Humor adds a delightful leavening to Kathleen Jowitt’s “Stronger Than Death” when an assortment of resident ghosts (some of whom have discovered the post-mortem joys of same-sex romance) come to the rescue of a struggling hospitality venue. I liked how Erin Horakova used the stylings of 19th century Russian literature to trace the delicate and diplomatic negotiations of two men sounding out each other’s interpersonal relationships. Cheryl Morgan’s “The Poet’s Daughter” toys with an alternate origin for the stories of Odysseus, with some jabs at how women are erased from history, though the story felt a bit slow-paced and drawn out.
This is a good collection for finding new authors to follow or just to enjoy a variety of queer short fiction with a historical bent.