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.
The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier. ★★★
The City in the Lake is an original YA fairy tale. When the Prince of the Kingdom goes missing, the magic of the Kingdom is thrown out of balance. The disturbance reaches all the way to the rural village where Timou is learning the craft of her father, a mage. When he never returns from a journey to the City, Timou herself goes to look for him and the missing prince.
While I was originally under the impression that Timou would be the center of the story (and this still is somewhat true) the narrative is actually split between Timou and the Prince’s illegitimate older brother, Lord Neill. I actually liked his sections a lot more than Timou’s, especially in the beginning where he had immediate problems (the disappearing Prince) versus Timou, who was still having her story line set up. Even by the end, Neill remained my favorite character.
The Fox’s Tower & Other Tales by Yoon Ha Lee. ★★★★
The Fox’s Tower & Other Tales is a collection of beautifully elegant flash fiction stories. Each of these stories can be read in less than five minutes, and the majority have the feel of a fairy tale, even if they are not straight forward retellings.
While the formats are very different, the quality of the stories reminds me of Valente’s In the Night Garden for the gorgeous prose and the female characters who reside outside of their normal fairy tale positions. There were also a number of stories with queer characters, which even include some with nonbinary characters.
If you want to get a feel for the sort of stories offered in this collection, the vast majority of these forty tales are available for free on the author’s website. I would particularly recommend “The Virtues of Magpies,” about a community with some trickster magpies who prove helpful in the end, and “The Youngest Fox,” the story of an nontraditional shape shifting fox who prefers science to seduction.
A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. ★★★1/2
There’s an obvious One Thousand and One Nights influence to E.K. Johnston’s A Thousand Nights. But while A Thousand Nights may take its inspiration from the frame story, it is more of an original story than a retelling.
Lo-Melkhiin has gone through many different wives. Many die after a single night, some live for a brief span of days before finally dying as well. When he arrives at the village of the story’s unnamed heroine, she knows her sister will be the girl chosen. To save her sister, she chooses to sacrifice herself. When she reaches the palace, she begins to have visions and to realize that she might have a way to save herself and all the girls who would come after her.
Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord. ★★★1/2
Redemption in Indigo is undeniably fantastical, but it more closely resembles a fairy tale or fable than your usual fantasy novel. Based upon a Senegalese folktale, Redemption in Indigo is the wryly humorous account of Paama, a mortal woman who attracts the attention of the djombi, who gift her with the Chaos Stick. However, the original owner of the Chaos Stick is unhappy with this change in ownership.
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. ★★★★1/2
Roses and Rot is a hauntingly lovely contemporary fantasy about the bond between two sisters. Imogene and Merin have an abusive mother that they both seek to escape. They hadn’t spoken in years when Merin reaches out. Soon after, both sisters find themselves at an artist’s residency at the prestigious Melete. Imogene’s a writer while Merin’s a dancer, but they are both devoted to their art. However, more is going on at Melete than they ever could have imagined, and it threatens to break the bond between them once and for all.
Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente. ★★★
Trigger warning for sexual assault, suicide, and abuse.
Six-Gun Snow White is a dark, adult fairy tale novella from the masterful Catherynne M. Valente. While I enjoyed Valente’s prose, I ultimately found the book too strange for my taste.
Snow White is the daughter of a Nevada silver baron and a Crow woman he forced into marriage with him who dies in childbirth. When her father remarries, the stepmother, a socialite from the East Coast, renames the girl Snow White in reference to the pale skin she doesn’t have.