Monday, 20 July 2015

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

It is hard to review an anthology of stories. The obvious temptation is to write a couple of lines about each story, but then you don't get into any depth about any of them, and when I read reviews like that, I tend to glaze over after a couple - it's not that I'm not interested, it's that it's a lot to take in about something I know little about, in a format that is not conducive to retaining knowledge.

So, let's maybe start by talking about the organizing theme? And then a couple of stories I particularly liked, and a few things I noticed. Retellings of fairy tales is an obvious win - so much so that this is the third anthology of stories with that theme by these editors. It's easier to put your finger on than Ellen Datlow's Supernatural Noir collection I read last year, in which there were many spooky stories, but few that actually seemed noir.

But tell people to rewrite a fairy tale, and I am betting eyes light up. Fairy Tale is stretched here to include the Wizard of Oz, but other than that, the collection also includes stories drawing from Russian and Japanese legends (although anything about Koschei the Deathless is going to be compared in my mind by Catherynne Valente's exquisite Deathless, which makes it difficult for a new writer to make an impact.)

Of the stories I liked the most, perhaps it isn't surprising that they came from authors I already knew I liked. Neil Gaiman's story in verse captured the rhythms of oral storytelling beautifully, where, yet again (this is a theme in this book), women turn the tables on less than fairy tale suitors.

Nancy Kress' take on Sleeping Beauty (and there were a lot of takes on Sleeping Beauty) stood out, with a princess who woke up only a few decades in to her hundred years, and spends the rest of the time tending the castle and watching the fates of the princes who impale themselves on the brambles, trying to save her. Not for her a traditional happily-ever-after, and I liked where she ended up.

Tanith Lee takes on Beauty and the Beast, and because it's Tanith Lee, it's beautifully written and frankly sexual, and under all of that, fairly disturbing. Her Beauty finds her power, and wields it in ways that are necessary, given her Beast.

I've never read any Joyce Carol Oates, so I was interested that she was the headliner, as it were, but her Sleeping Beauty story seemed less a fairy tale retelling, and more a ghost story about someone in a coma. The fairy tale wasn't embraced enough, although it was a fairly good, if not revelatory, story.

I would warn, though, that in this book, many of these stories include sexual and domestic violence, perhaps drawing on the undercurrents of fairy tales. It became a bit much, at times, to read story after story with beaten and raped women. (None of the ones I've mentioned were these.) It's commentary on the genre, yes. But all grouped together, it becomes...I don't know...less like people are saying something new about fairy tales. More like everyone's saying the same obvious thing and stopping.

As a whole, this is an excellent anthology, although yeah, a little heavy on the violence against women.

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