I loved Karin Tidbeck’s short story collection Jagannath, so I was thrilled to discover that her new novel, The Memory Theater, features characters and scenarios from a few of those pieces. Dora was raised in the Gardens, a realm where immortal Lords and Ladies attend endless feasts, balls, and games. Thistle is a human child stolen away from his family to be a servant in the Gardens. Augusta is a Lady banished from the Gardens and determined to get back. Their journeys will take them across worlds, and some of them will learn important lessons along the way.
I absolutely love the concept of the titular Memory Theater. I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and the Memory Theater feels like something that could appear in that story. Its members could easily have become ciphers, but Tidbeck gives each of them a compelling personality.
In fact, strong character work is a hallmark of The Memory Theater. The friendship between Dora and Thistle comes across beautifully. Augusta’s alien way of thinking, built up over hundreds of years in the luxurious yet stagnant world of the Gardens, felt right for the character. Even minor players are given interesting histories and vivid emotional lives.
We catch glimpses of other worlds and stories around the edges of the main narrative: a couple of huldra-like beings living in a Scandinavian cave, a refugee from a mystical library, the mysterious traveler whose actions set off the main plot. I would love to see those stories fleshed out more in future works.