I finished this book of romantic short stories and thought to myself “why on earth did I think this was going to be more about myths than romance?” And then I copied the full title for this review and realized that it was because Love In Color has been marketed as such. Which is a bit baffling to me since, barring one story in this collection of thirteen, every single one of these tales ends in a Happily Ever After or Happily For Now, often in a significantly different manner from the original story. The original tale of Attem, for example, ends with our heroine, her lover and her servant being made truly gruesome examples of: the version here is definitely an improvement that still hearkens back to the folktale without losing any of the source material’s richness.
Arguably, that story, like the others in this book, is made richer by emphasizing female agency and the romantic aspects of each tale. Even the retelling of Scheherazade, with the only non-HEA/HFN ending here, is significantly less grimly patriarchal than the Thousand And One Nights original. Bolu Babalola determinedly reinterprets the stories, often setting them in modern milieus, and about half of the time it works. The stories of Yaa, Naleli and Zhinu are lovely subversions of their source material, with the questionable parts shorn off and female agency and love celebrated instead. More importantly, they feel like complete short stories, instead of ideas for longer works as almost all the rest of the folktale-based stories here do. Attem and Nefertiti’s stories, in particular, felt like outlines for dynamic novels of adventure and intrigue that I am interested in reading. As shorts, however, they taste less like appetizers than amuse bouches. It’s odd, too, how certain stories feel like just enough while others feel like too much. Psyche feels like an entire romance novel crammed into a short story sausage casing, while Orin — one of the original stories here — is perfect as is.
And yes, there are three stories collected at the end that are not founded in mythology. Tiara, the story of a woman reunited with the man who left her for his career, is the first and least successful in my opinion, though yours will likely vary based on what you think of long-distance romances. Orin and Alagomeji are both really terrific, and the fact that the latter is based on the lives of Ms Babalola’s parents is incredibly touching, ending the book on a note that perfectly matches the author’s heartfelt opening declaration as to her belief in romantic love.