The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe. ★★★★
Trigger warning: rape
The Starlit Wood is an anthology containing eighteen entirely new retold and genre mixing fairy tales from some of SFF’s best writers. The full author line up is as follows: Charlie Jane Anders, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar, Jeffrey Ford, Max Gladstone, Theodora Goss, Daryl Gregory, Kat Howard, Stephan Graham Jones, Margo Lanagan, Marjorie M Liu, Seanan McGuire, Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Sofia Samatar, Karin Tidbeck, Catherynne M. Valente, and Genevieve Valentine.
With a line up like that, you can see why I leapt to pick up a copy. And by and large, The Starlit Wood did not disappoint. I found it to be a very strong collection with some truly memorable stories.
Perhaps my favorite of the anthology was Daryl Gregory’s tale, “Even the Crumbs Were Delicious,” a loose retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” set in the same world as Afterparty, his near future techno-thriller where drugs can be easily made via chemical printers. The roommate of a presumably dead drug dealer is throwing a funeral, complete with wall paper made out of his dead roommate’s stash, when two street kids break in and start eating his walls. Chaos and hilarity ensues.
“The Briar and the Rose” by Marjorie M. Liu is another tale I really enjoyed, and it’s made me want to seek out more of her work. The protagonist of the story is Briar, the Duelist, a woman who works as a guard for a rich and beautiful courtesan, Carmela. But Carmela hides a secret, and once a week she retreats to the top of her tower, letting no one near… The story is based off of “Sleeping Beauty” and is a largely successful attempt at restructuring the story to give the woman involved agency. Similarly, “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar combines two different fairy tales, “The Black Bull of Norroway” and “The Glass Mountain” to present a story where the women save themselves.
Another highlight was “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik, which presents a version of “Rumpelstiltskin” where the girl involved relies on her own intelligence and strength of will to win the day. In her note on the story, Novik explains that the story of “Rumpelstiltskin” always sat oddly with her, from the girl marrying the man who threatened to kill her to the character of Rumpelstiltskin himself having more than a hint of anti-Semitic caricature about him.
There were other stories I found less successful. I don’t think Karin Tidbeck’s “Underground” manages to overcome some of the problems with a woman choosing to save the man who kept her captive. “Giants in the Sky” by Max Gladstone had an interesting take on “Jack and the Beanstock,” but it took me over half the story to figure out what was going on. “The Tale of Mahliya and Mauhub and the White-Footed Gazelle” by Sofia Samatar has source material that I’d like to look further into, but this retelling never left me entranced.
Still, such is how it always goes with short story collections. There will be some stories that you adore, some that leave you cold, and many in between. By and large, I found The Starlit Wood to be a very strong collection and one that I would recommend.
I received an ARC of The Starlit Wood from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.