The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales

Rating: 4 of 5

From the Introduction: “From the woods to the stars, join us on eighteen extraordinary journeys into unexpected territories, uncharted lands, and unforeseen experiences. Welcome to an adventure that’s strangely familiar and startlingly different at the same time. You’re likely to emerge changed, but isn’t that the way it is with all the best stories?”

My thoughts: An excellent anthology with lovely, intricate illustrations. (Take a peek at a few on the illustrator’s website.) Most times with collections I’m prepared to trudge through at least a handful of the stories that don’t quite WOW me. Not the case with The Starlit Wood; only one failed to hold my attention, and I’m sure that’s more to do with my personal tastes than its quality or mass appeal. I also loved reading the Author’s Note that followed each story.

There are stories that read like a traditional fairy tale and stories that lean more heavily toward fantasy/ sci-fi / western inspired by fairy tales. Having that blend of cross-genre tales really gives this anthology the extra oomph often overlooked in collections.

There was a tie for my favorite: Kat Howard‘s “Reflected” and Stephen Graham Jones‘ “Some Wait.” Naomi Novik‘s “Spinning Silver” was a close runner-up.

Highly recommend to fairy-tale enthusiasts on the hunt for original retellings.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)

Table of Contents (with original tale, hidden in case you want to be surprised):

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

Rating: 4 of 5

Synopsis: “Imogen and her sister Marin escape their cruel mother to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat, but soon learn that living in a fairy tale requires sacrifices, whether it be art or love.” (source)

My thoughts: How far would you go, how much would you sacrifice, to have everything you’ve ever wanted? That is the question central to Roses and Rot.

Not having enough talent seemed almost worse than not having any, because having a little meant having just enough to know what you lacked.

When I learned Roses and Rot was a retelling of Tam Lin, I was thankful it’d been several years since I’d read the ballad. That way there might be more surprises as I read this book’s version. [spoiler]All I really remembered about the ballad was a mortal woman had to pull her lover from a horse and hold on to him in order to save him from the Queen of Faerie. [/spoiler]

Stories of the Fair Folk are not at all then what we think of as fairy tales, those moralistic stories wherein evil is punished and virtue triumphs, that were set safely in once upon a time, and had happy endings guaranteed. True fairy tales are horror stories.

I adored that this love story centered around two sisters; the two of them, though bonded together in childhood against their narcissistic nightmare of a mother, grew apart after Imogen escaped to boarding school leaving Marin alone with their mother. Then they’re brought back together by their acceptance into Melete, an elite postgrad arts program. And in the end they must save each other in different ways.

The story’s imagery and sensory stimulation was vibrant and intoxicating — alive. I could smell autumn at the Night Market; I could feel the perilous edge of the collapsed covered bridge. Blurring the lines between the mortal world and Faerie felt exhilarating and frightening. It’s been a while since I’ve read a story in which Faerie is equal parts beautiful and terrifying, and I enjoyed the way Howard embraced the haughty nature of the Fae.

Roses and Rot is one of the most successful retellings in recent memory because it will delight readers familiar with Tam Lin whilst simultaneously resonate with readers completely unfamiliar with the story on which it’s based.

Perhaps the only happily ever after is to survive to tell the story.

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(Review cross-posted on LibraryThing and Goodreads.)