I finished all the stories, but it was a near thing. It’s been a while since I’ve read short stories, so I really enjoyed getting back to that. But the content of these stories was so diverse in terms of tone, style, setting, and fantasy and sci-fi elements that it was very hard to read more than one story in a sitting; I’d get really into a story, then have to completely switch gears to start the next one. It’s a great collection, but it made for a rather long read.
There are few things that I love to read more than fairy tale retellings. I took a whole seminar on fantasy in children’s literature during university, and the first thing we looked at was fairy tales. These types of stories have a universality to them that I think explains their popularity across cultures and throughout the ages. Some of the stories here hew closer to the originals, and some I really struggled to figure out what the original tale was. (The authors’ notes at the end of the stories were wonderful!)
There were several Westerns, several set in other countries, several in space, and of course some in that took place in that typical “magical realism” fairy tale setting. I want to pick out a few to talk about more specifically.
The two stories that I found the funniest were by “Even the Crumbs were Delicious” by Daryl Gregory (a Hansel and Gretel tale involving a druggie and his lickable wallpaper with drugs) and “The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest” by Charlie Jane Anders (an obscure Grimm Brothers tale turned into “a kind of Adventure Time fanfic”).
The most depressing stories actually came towards the front of the book: “Underground” by Karin Tidbeck and “Familiaris” by Genevieve Valentine. Both of these had a lot to say about the state of women in fairy tales, and it’s pretty bleak. They paint some interesting parallels to the state of women in modern life: no agency, trapped in their roles, expected to bear children they may not even want. I appreciated that they made this think about that but whoa, they were downers.
My favorites turned out to be ones that didn’t deviate too much from fairy tale territory, but still managed to breathe new life into the original tale. “Seasons of Glass and Iron” (Amal El-Mohtar) is actually a mash-up to two tales, brilliantly done, that ends with the heroines saving each other by pointing out the truth of each other’s stories. “The Briar and the Rose” (Marjorie Liu) likewise has two great female protagonists that help each other. And anchoring the book is “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik, a nice take on “Rumpelstiltskin”; if you only read one story from the book, I’d recommend this one…then go read her original fairy tale, Uprooted.
There were several other good ones as well (shout out to “Penny for a Match, Mister?” by Garth Nix–one of the Westerns–and “The Other Thea” by Theodora Goss). If you like fairy tale retellings, I think you will enjoy this collection also. One nice thing about collections like this is that you can sample some new authors in addition to ones you’ve already read and loved. I definitely want to check out more works by several of these authors.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our GeekNerdy Book Club selections this year; stay tuned for more in 2017.