quasi random (kaolinfire) wrote,
quasi random

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears - a "brief" review

ellen_datlow periodically offers out books she's edited to folks willing to blog about them. After missing quite a few, I chanced on an offering that had not entirely been accounted for. My prize was Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears - "A modern book of adult fairytales", the third in a volume of six of fairytale re-tellings that are currently being reprinted.

As I'm behind on an embarrassing number of things at the moment, I'd intended to mention a few things about it as my "payment" and later get on to reading it more fully; but life conspired to give me several dozen hours over the last few days to read through the collection (in between waiting for various windows updates, re-install attempts, etc, etc). I finished the final story after being up for over twenty-four hours, waiting for xp service pack 3 to finish "preparing" for installation.

There's a wide range of tellings in this collection (and some stories get re-told multiple times), with a few poems sprinkled in to boot, as well as an educational introduction (the history of fairytales may not be what you think, if The Brothers Grimm is the extent of your education; I recommend this introduction as well as Angela Slatter's history of Little Red Riding Hood in Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest #12 to whet your appetite for further reading); and finishes with its own section of recommended reading.

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears surprised me with the sheer volume of stories it contained -- 22 tales in all (some of those in poem form). While some of the stories felt tied too strongly to the original and others seemed to stray too far afield, where elements from the original seemed tacked on for the comparison--enough hit that "just so" I found myself wanting. I was impressed by the solidity of the collection as a whole, and there is much novelty within.

Highlights for me included... a good chunk of the book, in retrospect, so I'll first limit myself to mentioning the stories that I would recommend with no reservations (though perhaps that leaves me with not enough to actually say about each piece; I'm two hours in to writing this and editing it, and so I have to leave well enough alone...):

"The Emperor Who Had Never Seen a Dragon" by John Brunner was a treat from beginning to end; And while the end was perhaps too human and not "fantastic" enough, it worked perfectly regardless (and I have to admit that that was part of the whole point). The characterizations are rich, the writing both colorful and swift, and the plot fully satisfying. A despotic emperor is tricked into receiving his just reward.

"Billy Fearless" by Nancy A. Collins is told with spot-on fairytale prose, fairytale logic, and fairytale humor. It's a romp through and through, and it ... just ... works. :) Billy Fearless conquers a haunted house through sheer bullheadedness and Southern hospitality.

"Match Girl" by Anne Bishop, for a different mood, is pure horrific beauty, and definitely puts the adult in the adult fairytales. This story is explicit and brutal, but not, in my opinion, gratuitous. Each brutality deepens the empathy we have for "the little match girl's" predicament, her world, and deepens the beauty and payoff of her final escape.

"The Fox Wife" by Ellen Steiber ... wrapped me up in its mythos and made me wish we could have had it for GUD (of course, that was true for a number of stories but this was the first one that slapped me upside the face with that feeling). The story is of a merchant's daughter's marriage to an older samurai, from the perspective of her maidservant. A Japanese trickster spirit takes home in the wife, empowering her to a much-deserved end. Rich, beautiful, complex, and full...

"The Printer's Daughter" by Delia Sherman is a beautiful period tale of a printer and his desire for a companion; the granting thereof and the entire historical context are amazingly woven and brilliantly written; this was one of the few stories that was purely heartwarming (with perhaps a twinge of bitter-sweet), but it was in no way lesser for that.

And then there are those stories I'd only recommend if I knew a person's tastes better:

"The Crossing" by Joyce Carol Oates is a tale of life, sleep, and death, and the tricks memory plays on us. It's a rather complex take, focused on Martha (the sleeping beauty), with brief interludes from her prince charming. Martha dreams she's reunited with her Aunt, who is practically a foil of her own failing mind, though she does not realize it. This story plays on memory much in the way of Umberto Eco's "The Flame of Queen Loana", but does it in a much more satisfying manner. The only caveats I would have in recommending it to someone is that it is a slow read and, for me, a rather nihilistic and depressing ending.

"Brother Bear" by Lisa Goldstein retells Goldilocks, and is several steps removed from it; the core of the story is different, twined with native american folklore, but the elements of Goldilocks combine cleanly and without jarring. Quick, the Goldilocks of the tale, is caught in flagrante delicto by the three bears; whereupon she is made wife by one of them and takes on their tribe. As I don't seem to be able to do it any form of justice in summarizing it, I'll just say that my only quibble in recommending is that I felt her time among the bears could have been fleshed out more, as well as her being reunited with her original tribe and the consequences of that.

"The Huntsman's Story" by Milbre Burch I'd recommend to anyone who derives pleasure from meta-fiction; this delves quickly into the psyche of "The Huntsman" from Snow White from an omniscient point of view and tells an even darker tale. It's short--very short--and the end perhaps a touch moralizing, but good for reading and discussion all the same.

Many of the stories I'm not mentioning were more than well written, often even engaging, but for some reason or other left me unsatisfied (and for the most part I can't seem to put my finger on why, or I'd put that forth). As with any collection this size, I'm sure you'll find room to both agree and disagree with my impressions; and if you are a lover of fiction of any sort, there's likely more than enough here to satisfy you and perhaps even inspire you for a time.

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