Cover of Cards of Grief by Jane Yolen

Cards of Grief

My first adult novel, this is the story of the Anthropologists Guild who travel across galaxies in ships and study other planets’ peoples. It was based on two of my short stories, “In the Hall of Grief” (“Elsewhere, Vol. 3, edited by Terri Windling and Mark Arnold, Ace Books) and “Cards of Grief” (from Tales of Wonder) about a world in which grieving is the highest form of art. I had never written a sustained narrative of that length before and when I asked my friend, sf writer Joan Vinge, for words of wisdom, she said “Follow one character until he/she has nothing left to say, then have that character meet someone else.” I’m not sure I followed her instructions to the letter! The book had both a German and a British edition (the British cover was especially lovely). It won the 1985 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for best fantasy novel. Of course the book is science fiction; it even has a rocketship crew. But it smells like a fantasy novel!


  • Won the Mythopoeic Award

What reviewers have said:

  • “Yolen turns her hand to the tried-and-true sf sub genre of “First Contact” and proves that it is still possible to extrapolate a truly alien culture while remaining relevant to the human condition. . . .<She> has rafted a perfect mixture of rich detail with lean, spare prose and come up with a tour de force of anthropological speculation. Her language sings from the page with a deft resonance that only an oral storyteller could bring to the written word.”—Charles deLint
  • “It’s a dreamlike book that in its few pages offers a tantalizing glimpse of a bizarre grief-haunted culture. . .a delicate thing of muted colors and refined emotions. . . Yolen’s prose has grace and magic; when the time comes for hieratic passages, such as the quotes from the planet’s mysthology, she does not become at all stilted, but charges the lines with sensuous magic.  . .The power to distill, to concentrate the breakdown of a whole planet into a few images, is one of the greatest of Jane Yolen’s considerable gifts. We must rejoice that she has decided to enter the field of books for adults; and even more, that she has not abandoned the childlike sensibility that is her strength.”–Washington Post Book World
  • “<Yolen> is an exacting and sometimes quirky writer whose works are not to every reader’s taste. But she certainly has mastered the richness of traditional fantasy, the treasure of legend and myth. . .Cards of Grief is a piece of music that deliberately moves at a pace, dependably opening at intervals like nesting Chinese boxes to reveal and illuminate the mysteries within. In literary terms, the bookis a jeweled and wondrous device.–Mile High Futures
  • “[The plot] gains its power by Yolen’s profound ability as a storyteller.”—MythPrint