Monday, January 14, 2008

Book Review: Black Thorn, White Rose edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.

This edition of Black Thorn, White Rose is a reprinting by Prime Books and features cover art by Steve Goad and a cover design by Stephen H. Segal. Admittedly, I am partial to the old design but this re-release at least is larger and as far as the interiors go, seems to be identical to the original. On the cover, the book is described as "a modern book of adult fairytales" and this is reinforced in the introduction. There are eighteen stories in the collection with some recommended reading at the end (the latter is accompanied by a one-sentence summary of the referenced mentioned). As for the stories themselves, they were enjoyable reads for the most part and perhaps what impressed me were their diversity. One would easily expect that most of the stories would follow the fairy tale template but that is not the case. While some of my favorite stories were indeed narrated like fairy tales, there were several "modern" stories included and even experimental ones. Here's a word of warning though: many of these stories are truly adult and many don't have happy endings. This isn't necessarily comfort reading material and tends to twist familiar stories in new and dark ways. Honestly speaking though, I'm not quite versed in European fairy tales and so while I may know the story of Snow White, the same cannot be said of the Gingerbread Man or Bearskin, which form the basis of some stories. Nonetheless, that doesn't hamper me from enjoying them. The first story to have truly impressed me was "The Brown Bear of Norway" by Isabel Cole. It contains juxtaposition of many levels and seamless combines the art of the modern story with the fairy tale form. "Granny Rumple" by Jane Yolen has a distinctive Jewish flavor and while some might argue it is very political (and what story isn't political on one level or another?), it is a well-written one. I've mentioned before that I am not fond of poetry but Ellen Steiber's "Silver and Gold" was quite accessible for me. My favorite story in this collection is "Tattercoats" by Midori Snyder and it very much encapsulates the art of a modern fairy tale. However, what wins me over is Snyder's sensual style and her ability to not just make readers sympathize but feel passionate for the characters. There are several other impressive stories in this collection and while not all of them appealed to me, this is nonetheless a strong collection of short stories, fairy tale-themed or otherwise. If you want something mature or simply something new in your reading, one would do well to check out this collection.

Rating: 4/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

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