Review: Welcome to Bordertown (Borderlands #5), edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner
"Sweet Mistress Mab, Mab, Mab
Lies on a slab, slab slab.
Her silver eyes, eyes, eyes
I want to jab, jab, jab.
She is not dead, dead, dead,
Just dressed in red, red, red,
With thirteen rounds rounds, rounds
Inside her head, head, head."
From A Borderland Jump-Rope Rhyme by Jane Yolen.
Between the realm of elves and the world of men lies the city of Bordertown, a place where gang members ride motorcycles fueled by spells, elves rub shoulders with humans in pubs and it is unwise to give anyone your real name. The city was a sanctuary for runaways from both sides of the border until the time of the “Pinching Off”, when both the road to the Realm and the way back to the world were sealed off and nobody could get in or out. In Bordertown this lasted only thirteen days, but in the World thirteen years passed. Now the human runaways who were stranded in Bordertown find the outside world has moved on without them, and the city begins to flood with humans bringing strange devices like smart phones and laptops. Now that they are free to leave the buskers on every other street corner sing the question on so many lips “Should I stay or should I go?”
The Bordertown series is a series of urban fantasy novels and stories set in a shared universe, which was created in 1986 by author and editor Terri Windling. Different authors brought their own take to the same setting and used some of the same characters, collectively creating a rich and interesting world full of misfits and runaways looking for a place to belong. I probably should add a disclaimer here; I really, really love this series, so I am viewing this latest anthology as I do all the others, through the rosy glasses of nostalgia. Some of the books were already out of print or hard to come by by the time I first came across the series in the 90s, but I devoured every one I could find. I still have the battered old copy of Elsewhere by Will Shetterly (the first of the Bordertown novels) from my school library (No, I didn't steal it, they were throwing it out). After The Essential Bordertown: A Traveller's Guide to the Edge of Faerie (1998) it seemed there were to be no more Bordertown stories. Then in 2011, at last Holly Black resurrected the series with Welcome to Bordertown.
This latest volume is a collection of short stories and poetry. A few are written by some of the original authors, such as Jane Yolen and Emma Bull, and others are by writers who loved and were influenced by the series, such as Neil Gaiman (who contributed a beautiful, though short, poem) and Cory Doctorow. With Bordertown Terri Windling helped to create and cement urban fantasy as a genre and we have her to thank for much of the great new writing out there today.
The Pinching Off was a clever way to deal with the 13 year gap between the publication of this book and the last, bringing Bordertown partly up to speed with the modern world while allowing the authors to write about some of the same familiar characters as readers will remember them. Old and new blend together in a fascinating mixture like that of Bordertown itself. Reading about Wolfboy and Sparks again in Will Shetterley's The Sages of Elsewhere was like catching up with old friends. In Cory Doctorow's Shannon's Law a newcomer tries to bring the internet to Bordertown with interesting results. Nalo Hopkinsons' Ours is the Prettiest gives a glimpse of some of the stranger things to be found across the Border. It was a little bit H.P. Lovecraft, only minus the racism, and with more lesbians. Jane Yolen's A Borderland Jump Rope Rhyme, sung to the tune of Miss Mary Mack, is a dark delight. I have taught it to my four year old in the hope that it will spread through the playground and seep into popular consciousness.
Welcome to Bordertown is a fitting edition to a much beloved urban fantasy series. I still hold out hope that there might be Bordertown stories, but if there aren't this book provides a decent outro. I recommend it to all urban fantasy fans and lovers of good yarns about magic and finding your place in the world.
Rated: ★★ ★ ★ ☆