Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
The subtitle of this publication is "a fairy tale journal" and that pretty much sums it up as this isn't really a fiction anthology in the conventional sense. Instead, what you get is a mix of both fiction and non-fiction accompanied by some appropriate (and gorgeous) artwork. Cabinet des Fees isn't particularly lengthy at a hundred plus pages but I feel it suits the format just fine. It's honestly this weird animal but a refreshing and welcome one, especially when it comes to the content.
I'm honestly partial to the non-fiction and the discussions in this book treat the subject of fairy tales in a serious and scholarly manner, at the same time remaining compelling. I remember that what I loved about Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's fairy tale-inspired young adult anthologies was the introduction by the latter which was extensive and insightful. Helen Pilinovsky's "The Commodification of the Fairy Tale: An Introduction to the Alternative" holds her own ground as she discusses the evolution of fairy tales over the years, especially the impact of Disney. Other notable pieces include the dissection of The Gardener by Catherynne M. Valente and an evaluation of H.G. Wells's Mr Skelmersdale in Fairyland by Nick Freeman. The discourse is intelligent and comprehensive, admittedly not the most accessible of readings for the casual fan but rewarding (why isn't there a lot of these?) if you're really into the subject matter and want to approach fairy tales with a more methodical and literary approach. Fortunately, I am a geek and these things interest me.
As far as the fiction is concerned, I wouldn't say that there's a story that was truly outstanding although there were a couple that were interesting and fun and I've love to reread. "All For a Rose" by Donna Quattrone for example is a well-written modern reappropriation of "Beauty and the Beast" as it reworks the story's template of "Beauty" falling in love with the "Beast." The strength of Quattrone is her command of characterization and all the characters feel human with sympathetic motivations rather than caricatures. It was definitely a touching piece that made me smile.
"All My Mommies" by Virginia Mohlere is disturbing because we're full aware of the horror even before the narrator realizes it. There's a certain predictability to the piece but I don't think surprise was the intent. Instead, we have this atmospheric tale and again, there's a re-appropriation by the author to make this apt for modern readers.
Overall, I really liked Cabinet des Fees. The agenda isn't something we commonly encounter (how common do we actually pair up "journal" and "fairy tales" together?) and this is a publication that tackles its subject matter seriously. All the stories were competently written and for the most part they were an enjoyable read. Again, the non-fiction for me was terrific and when you combine that entire package, this is a book that's not only original but definitely a keeper.