I am biased toward this book. This is the first published book written by a Hollins classmate to make it to my bookshelves. Many of us left with at least partial manuscripts, a little bit wiser in our craft for our four years of study, and it’s been a bit of a race to paint our words over impressionable minds and hearts. Olivia Berrier and I took English 142 together and together with our classmates demanded that we be allowed to write fantasy, promised to show that fantasy could have literary value—a fight that, for that semester, our class won, and because of that, I got to enjoy some of Olivia’s earlier fantasy works (calling her Berrier is just weird, so I think we’ll have to stick with informal address, even in this more formal review). We’ve kept in touch since, and got together once during the brief time that we were back in the same city, but most of our relationship has since been online, and most of it has been book discussion.
This novelette began as a weekly serial for her blog, Often Clueless, Always Shoeless, but it has been rather seamlessly sewn together here. I shamefully admit to not reading more than an episode or two of the serial while it was being published, so I don’t honestly know whether this is a direct rendering or if the text was edited between the blog and the printed form.
It’s a quick read, only 73 pages long, but with page breaks to allow for a breather or a bit of sleep as needed—and in this form you don’t have to wait a week for the next installment. I took a week to linger over the words and the world, and even so I was sad when the story ended, and I realized that there would be no more. I wrote a message on Olivia’s Facebook wall immediately after I’d finished, telling her essentially that: “I just finished your book, and I’m sad it’s over, and I’m not sure I can offer a better compliment than that.”
Olivia writes lovingly about dance, and the way that she writes about it, it’s easy to believe that dance could be the catalyst for magic.
Her protagonist and point-of-view character Ellsie (Ellsie’s is a fairly close third) is compassionate, passionate, and real in the best ways—longing to be what she is not and struggling to accept herself as she is and realize that she is enough while never seeming weak for having a weakness and never seeming absurdly powerful for having the ability to work magic (an ability that is this world seems fairly universal, though the spells are forgotten now).
Lester, once arrogant and jealous, now scared and hopeless inspires new vigor in Ellsie when she reignites hope in him, and he sets her an unlawful and emotionally heavy task that will save her, one hundred thirty-seven others, and the world that has forgotten magic and forgotten how to dance.
The world is strangely modern and strangely familiar, and I scraped myself once or twice against cars and guns and cell phones and familiar styles of dance, including freestyle. I don’t know why these modern elements seemed so rough against my skin, but perhaps only because I spend so much of my time in technologically early civilizations and perhaps because these objects are sparse, scattered reminders of the modernity of a world that 300 years ago could be so reliant on magic—but then 300 years is a long time, and I frequently forget that (300 years ago, Blackbeard was given his first command of a ship, the Jacobites were fighting against the Hanovers in England, and there were still a few executions of witches to come). Perhaps it’s that these objects are so familiar, that they are staples of our world while magic is not. I could not decide whether I was in an alternate version of our world or another world entirely. I think it was this last, that this confusion of setting was what threw me once or twice briefly from the text.
There were some excellent gems of wordsmithing here, particularly apt and original comparisons and poignant verbs.
Ultimately, the story is a sweet and brief reminder of the magic available to all and the freedom and power of dance.
Berrier, Olivia. The World That Forgot How to Dance. 48HrBooks, 2015.
This review is not endorsed by Olivia Berrier or 48HrBooks. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.