“The Dancer on the Stairs,” by Sarah Tolmie

“The Dancer on the Stairs,” by Sarah Tolmie.
Novelette. Published in Tolmie’s Two Travelers, and reprinted in Strange Horizons, November 2016.

This story was recommended for discussion by Cecily Kane.


Nina Allen wrote:

Tolmie has a careful, controlled, poised style that is the epitome of elegance – a kind of literary dressage, or dancing, in fact. Her poetical investigations into human rituals, creativity and modes of belief make her fiction some of the most interesting new work around at the moment.

Charles Payseur wrote:

This is a long and intricate story that unfolds like a dance, a very fascinating portal fantasy that looks very different from what I’m used to. It features a woman taken from a world that sounds very much like our own and put into a place that is basically one huge house. One enormous building with floors connected by a very special stairway. And it’s a great reversal of what normally happens in portal fantasies, where the main character is some sort of Chosen One. Here the woman is the lowest of the low, without the currency that would make her even able to leave the stairs she finds herself on. What follows is a rough education and the slow reveal of this society. […]

It’s a great and moving story that’s enchanting and magical and elegantly layered. An excellent read! 

Rocket Stack Rank is less enthralled. Among their criticisms:

The story takes forever to get going. […] None of the characters is developed well enough for us to feel any emotions about them.


What’s your take on  “The Dancer on the Stairs”?  Read the story, and join in the discussion in the comments below!