Edited by Stephen Jones
Illustrated by Alan Lee
Contributors: Ramsey Campbell, Peter Crowther, Christopher Fowler, Neil Gaiman, Joanne Harris, Markus Heitz, Brian Hodge, Tanith Lee, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Brian Lumley, Garth Nix, Reggie Oliver, Robert Shearman, Angela Slatter, Michael Marshall Smith, and The Brothers Grimm
Reviewed by Adam Armstrong
Fairy tales are all the rage these days in popular media. They are being reintroduced under the branding of "gritty retelling/reboots." The odd thing is, that these tales originally didn't need to be any more "gritty." They were dark already, some to a horrifying extent. Disney came along and turned some of them into kid friendly tales that were much lighter. Once the market was opened up, others jumped on the bandwagon to make the happier versions. But the darkness was always there, waiting to come out again. Stephen Jones has collected stories by some of the best modern fantasy writers who give their own dark twist on these familiar tales. Though the authors don't have to stray far from the source material.
Fearie Tales goes over the familiar tales as well as some of the more obscure ones. There are a couple of takes on Rumpelstiltskin: one where a grandmother can hear the creature coming for the child through a baby monitor and another that is a little more inventive dealing with captains of industry and their servant. There is a new take on Hansel and Gretel involving cannibalism and home cooking. Rapunzel may not have had golden hair but golden flowered vines that pulled you up to something horrible. The youth who went forth to learn what fear was is a young woman who kills some by accident and then later saves others by never knowing what it means to be afraid. There is a retelling of the Changeling that this time has a Lovecraftian twist to it. Each story is broken up with an abbreviated version of a Brothers Grimm tale in between.
Overall it is a good collection. There are a few tales that make you think twice about stumbling around in the dark after reading them. The best of the bunch was probably John Ajvide Lindqvist's novella length story, "Come Unto Me." Though you go into it knowing it is a Rumpelstiltskin story Lindqvist draws up a rich tale of love and betrayal. The most ambitious story was "The Artemis Line," by Peter Crowther. Talk about putting a new spin on an old concept. The most original was Garth Nix's "Crossing The Line." Nix gives us a western, monster story mash-up. And one of my favorite speculative authors, Michael Marshall Smith, gave us a tale that was both thought provoking and humorous as he generally does with "Look inside." Ramsey Campbell and Tanith Lee both bring in good old fashion round-the-campfire type stories that will give the reader a chill.
Though there are quite a few good stories here a few that seemed to miss the mark. Markus Heitz is a highly celebrated author but his story "Fräulein Fearnot" seemed like a skeleton of a story, though it ran to around forty pages. It was almost too fast-paced with writing that was just stating this happened followed by that. At first I thought it was the translation, but it was his usual translator (Sheelagh Alabaster). I don't know if he wanted it to be bare bones and fast-paced to give readers a sense of urgency, but it didn't work well for me. Neil Gaiman's story, "Down to the Sunless Sea," was another one that was lacking. I know he has a rabid fan following that may attempt to stone me in the streets, however this little story (it is only about two pages long) just felt like it was more about the delivery than the story.
The collection is sprinkled with Alan Lee illustrations. Each illustration is equal measure grotesque and beautiful. A few times the artwork is more memorable than the stories they illustrate. The cover art is also beautifully haunting.
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