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.
Overall, the collection covers pretty much every trope of the romance genre, with even bisexual and wlw representation in Nefertiti. This completeness is both a positive and a negative. While romance buffs will find all their favorite tropes here, all the most cringey parts of the genre are on display as well. From Osun’s selective jealousy when her boyfriend cheats, to Pyramus’ player-because-I-haven’t-found-the-right-girl nonsense, there were definitely bits where I sighed heavily and wondered why low-key misogyny like this is still tolerated even by forward-thinking authors.
I did really like that the default characters were people of color tho, and that the book highlighted stories that aren’t necessarily well-known outside of their home countries/cultures. Mythology nerd that I am, I loved looking up Attem and Siya and Naleli and comparing what I found with what Ms Babalola wrote. I wonder if the book would have benefited from a short description of each original, tho I can see why the publishing team ultimately decided not to go that route.
While this is a rich display of folktales and myths reinterpreted for modern readers, with three original stories thrown in for good measure, LiC leans heavily on the romance, sometimes to the detriment of the myth. Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily — some myths are straight trash and need dumping, or at least a vigorous reshaping — but it’s definitely more for the romance reader than the folklore fan.
Love In Color by Bolu Babalola was published today April 13 2021 by William Morrow and is available from all good booksellers, including
Want it now? For the Kindle version, click here.