I said this before, but I’m not really a fan of short stories. But the concept really appealed to me and I figured why not. The cover also looked nice, not gonna lie. And while I got bored by a few, there were also some great highlights I want to talk about!
First off, I want to say Kudos to the narrators. The audiobook itself was brilliant, and giving it to multiple people to read different stories really helped with the contrast. Also, amazing voices. Well, there was one that gave a Northern English accent (?) to a “latin” character (whatever that means, I think they said Mexican and also South American at different points in the same story…) so that was offputting, but everything else sounded great and really helped pull me into the stories.
Now, bear with me as I try to remember the titles, there’s no clear title page (because audiobook) and I have the worst memory for names.
I absolutely loved As red as blood, as white as snow which is essentially Snow White meets Bluebeard. It really does what most fairy tale retellings struggle with, which is redeeming the stepmother (or at least yknow, acknowledging the sexism of that trope. Without putting in more sexism [don’t get me started on Gaiman’s Snow Glass Apples, which isn’t in this thankfully]). The two tales worked surprisingly well together and gives the princess some good old agency, which I can never complain about.
On the less dark side, or dark-but-funny side perhaps, I really enjoyed both Fairy Werewolf Vs. Vampire Zombie and Henry and the Snakewood Box. The first’s about some good old paranormal love triangle, with a twist. A few twists, in fact. The second involves a demon who’s giving away wishes to a boy named Henry on the principle that for each positive wish, he (the devil) gets to do a butterfly-creates-hurricane level of evil with the power unleashed. It does not turn out how he planned… The tone of these two were really what I loved. The fairy pub owner in the first, with her Southern drawl and I’ve seen everything attitude, and the extra conceited demon in the second, who was so proud of himself for having found a human easy enough to abuse… these were definitely made even better by the narrator.
Other highlights I think were the ones going with Old World vibes, like Listen, a twist on the pied piper, cursed by an old god(?) to bring back shadows of the dead with her music so they tell their truths. The Merrie Dancers also had that similar eerie vibe about the fae.
Then there was the fascinating ones I don’t know what to think about. Haza and Ghani was fascinating, if perhaps a bit long. I had the impression of a much older narrator, though by the end I was not sure. This little girl who follows her brother to the temple and becomes a kitchen help to stick around and help, and her jaded older self telling us about it, it was really fascinating, but I did also find that I was losing focus in the middle. A bit of a “get to the point” feeling about it!
Then there’s Look Inside and I loved the concept and again the ties to the old world but I’m reaaaally uneasy about the ending.
Skin was horrible and terrifying in a kind of satisfying way (very gory, mind you) but the whole idea that this woman (accidentally) put a curse on this horrible man who essentially got mad at her for her skin condition, and she has to soothe his feelings, and cajole him, and essentially agree that she is bad for having cursed him? I’m not comfortable with that. It feels like it lacks some awareness of the real world, let’s say. Which is ironic for fairy tales but it did not hit the mark for me.
[deleted rant about fairy tale morality and what it’s supposed to teach and how to subvert them]
New Wine was fascinating also, and I really liked it actually, but it’s also… like it’s got that feeling of “oh no this is too much like the real world” that makes me shudder inside and not know what to think about it. In a good way, I think?
Some were unmemorable, or the ending was just a bit flat for me. I did not particularly like Troll Bridge by Gaiman, I mean it was ok but there were stronger stories. Wendy Darling was an interesting twist but it did not pack the punch I think it was supposed to. Others were just… eh, like Black Fairy’s Curse, I really didn’t see the point, or Little Red (major self-harm trigger warnings here) because I guess we all love stories in asylums (not), or Faith and Fred which again… not convinced.
One thing I’d say overall is that except for the Fairy Werewolf/Vampire Zombie and for Haza and Ghani, this was very English. British if I’m being generous. It was fun in some ways, as in I know those places, and it makes for more Old World kinds of stories but I’d have loved more diversity that’s not “this guy from the Southern hemisphere in a London tenement flat does voodoo maybe” (Hated), you know?
So overall some of the stories were brilliant, and I’d give them 4-5 stars, and most of them were ok-to-good, and a few were just uuuurgh. Which is par for the course for an anthology, I suppose. But as anthologies go, I think I quite liked this one on average.