Publisher - Saga Press
Published - Out Now
Price - £12.18 paperback
Once upon a time in the desert, in a tower, on a spaceship, in the other country…
For centuries, storytellers have crafted timeless tales that have always found a place in our hearts. Here, a new generation of critically acclaimed, award-winning writers have taken up their mantle and shaped traditional and extraordinary fairy tales into something startling and electrifying.
From castles to canyons, from a post-human landscape to pixelated dungeon, from the far future to fantastical realms, The Starlit Wood transforms eighteen stories you thought you knew and takes you on a journey at once unexpected and familiar across time, space, and amazing new worlds
I do enjoy being told a good story and as a keen reader I’m also fascinated by how stories change through time, geography and culture. Most of us are aware that the classic fairy tale has evolved into something less dark than when told by the camp fire however those tales also have elements that now don’t work at all for modern times. In this excellent anthology Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe bring some unique takes on the classics. As always not all stories work for some readers, but my favourites included the following: -
In the Desert Like A Bone by Seanan McGuire
The infamous trickster Coyote takes under his wing a girl with a red hat. They seek a man for reasons unclear. Here Red gets to take control of the situation and it’s a mix of empowerment and haunting – quite impressed how the western desert enhances the mythic feeling of the story.
The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest by Charlie Jane Anders
A land were animals and even sausages have consciousness after some interesting human engineering. A bird, a mouse and a sausage must have learnt to work together in a dangerous world. A simple fairy tale given a much hopeful ending but with glimpses of a darker world where if you lose your friends you may be lost completely. Strange but works really well as you invest yourselves in the fates of the trio.
Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Monhar
One of my favourites in the collection. Tabitha to help a lost love is walking in seven pairs of iron shoes while Amira sits completely still on a glass hill waiting for a suitor who can scale it. This mixes two older stories and gives us a tale of women helping one another and being more than simple rewards for inadequate men. Brilliant and totally worth your time.
Badgirl, The Deadman and The Wheel of Fortune by Catherynne M Valente
One of the darker tales in the anthology is how the young Badgirl watches a man deliver weekly to her father a ‘cup of sugar’ to help him survive the week. The deliverer known as Deadman however has eyes on a different prize. This story gives you a rising sense of dread and as the reader starts to fill in the gaps it takes on a very bleak shape but its delivered perfectly.
Penny for a Match, Mister by Garth Nix
The sad tale of the Little Match Girl is transformed into a western about a vengeful spirit who sets her enemies aflame. Another western style story but the sense of magic and mystery really enhances it. A very different take and much more empowering than the original!
The Thousand Eyes by Jeffrey Ford
A painter relates his tale to see a bar known for the Voice of Death singing. It’s the most traditional of the stories but it is still very effectively a ghost story. A night time crooner lulling he audience to their deaths – exactly what you would expect but expertly delivered.
The Briar and The Rose by Marjorie Liu
Another of my favourites as it’s a story of many twists and surprises. A woman known mainly as The Duellist guards a witch in a far-off city. The Duellist discovers all is not what it seems and then must work out how to rescue the love of her life. A tale of two women battling forces to secure their love is done magically moving from violence to romance to horror easily. A much better look at Sleeping Beauty but also reminds the reader of the horrors the original tale often omits these days.
The Other Thea by Theadora Goss
A young witch who has graduated from a school of magic finds herself at a loss in life. Her former teachers send her on a mission to the Castle of Mother Night to find her lost shadow. As well as painting a fantastic picture of a magical school, talking cats and magic as poetry this story looks at themes of depression and our need for a darker side to help us through trying time. For me the standout in the whole anthology.
Pearl by Aliette de Bodard
In a future Viet empire, a young man bonds with a small AI robot known as Pearl. She allows him to have access to previously unseen knowledge but ultimately, he focuses too much on his own ambition leading to a desperate attempt to try and rescue her friendship. One of the sadder tales in the piece but the SF setting doesn’t lose the sense of magic at all.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Another of the stronger tales in the collection tells us of Miryem the daughter of a poor moneylender who decides to save her family by taking control f the family business but in the process making her colder to deal with. Her new-found wealth and money-making skills means she is asked by the Staryk (a winter wood force) to make silver turn into gold. Fans of Uprooted will be pleased to see Novik again tells a tale that feels both familiar and very modern with the focus on Miryem and not afraid to highlight that her ambition puts her in a dangerous place.
I loved the balance of the tales and the selection of authors - some of whom I’m very fond of and others I am keen to seek more work from. Overall a very strong anthology and one I think readers who enjoy progressive diverse fiction should quickly seek out.