Tag Archives: short stories

REVIEW: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

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Title: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells

Author: Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books, Pub. date Mar. 19, 2013

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have once again put together an amazing anthology with stories from a fabulous group of talented authors. The fairy tale re-telling anthologies by them have always been some of my favorite. Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells focuses on Gaslamp fantasy (a personal favorite of mine) and includes tales from some of my favorite authors, including Jane Yolen and Tanith Lee. The entire collection reminds me a lot of Susanna Clarke’s Ladies of Grace Adieu and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell so if you enjoyed either of those this collection should be right up your alley.

My favorite thing about short story anthologies is how easy it is for me to devour an entire story at a time but still always have something to look forward to on my next reading. They are the ideal book for busy people. The other wonderful thing about anthologies is the chance to discover new authors, such as Theodora Goss and Elizabeth Bear. With anthologies there are always some stories that you like more than others and, sometimes, stories that you just really aren’t fond of. Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells was the first anthology in a long time where, while I did have my favorites, I enjoyed every single story included. I’m going to touch on just a few of my favorites.

“The Memory Book” by Maureen McHugh is the story of Laura Anne, a governess for the Finches. Laura Anne does well with the children but these is something just a little off about her and the Memory Book that she creates and cherishes may be much more than it seems.

“For the Briar Rose” by Elizabeth Wein is a tale that beautifully mixes art and literature. The story focuses on Margaret Burne-Jones, the daughter of Edward Burne-Jones who painted the Briar Rose series. Wein cleverly blurs the lines between reality and magic that is so often seen around beautiful works of art and how that creation can tie into motherhood. 

“The Governess” by Elizabeth Bear examines the darker side of that career when one is part of a household in which the master believes himself entitled to the staff. Bear looks at what happens when a mother becomes desperate for the safety of her children and the choices that cross a moral or ethical line but must still be made. 

“The Vital Importance of the Superficial” by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer is a delightful and adorable epistoloary between Ms. Charlotte Fleming, the daughter of a master of the Experimental Arts, and Lord Ravenal, a talented inventor of a magic sort. They correspond quite humorously as Lord Ravenal attempts to thwart the evil plans of his arch-nemsis, Wulfstan, and rescue his sister, Priscilla. Charlotte’s quick-witted nature comes through clearly in her letters and she proves that she is more than a match for the many intelligent men populating her world.

So, as I mentioned, a really wonderful little collection of stories that I’m sure I’ll revisit time and time again. Well worth picking up for your own collection. 

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REVIEW: Rags & Bones edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

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Title: Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

Editors: Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

Publisher/Publication Date: Little, Brown and Company; pub. date Oct. 22, 2013

I absolutely love short story anthologies. I lead a fairly hectic and busy life and I have a tendency to get sucked into books. This means I often stay up all night to read just one more page. And then one more. Then just one more. Until it’s 3 AM and I have to be up in 3 hours. It’s not pretty. So short story anthologies are my preferred before bed reading because I can finish a story and almost always pry myself away at a decent hour since I’ve reached the end of something. So between that, the absolutely gorgeous cover, and the amazing author line up, I was sold on Rags & Bones before I even cracked the first page. I was not disappointed.

Marr and Pratt have put together a collection of re-tellings of some great classic tales. When one hears classic tales, fairy tales are probably what first spring to mind. And there are a plethora of fairy tale re-tellings out in the world. These timeless tales are a little bit less of the traditional classic, but still classic in their own right. With re-tellings of tales like Chopin’s The Awakening and Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the anthology has a slightly more off-beat feel to it than the more traditional re-telling anthologies.

As with all anthologies, I tend to have mixed reviews about the stories. Some I love, some are just okay, others don’t really appeal. It happens with every anthology I’ve ever read. All the stories in the book were extremely well-written and there’s a little something for everyone, ranging from the magic and mystical to the chilling to the more sci-fiish. Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle, Marr’s Awakened, and Armstrong’s New Chicago were probably my three favorite tales. Marr’s especially since I love both Chopin’s novel as well as the Selkie myth. Gaiman’s tale has a nice kick-ass heroine who happens to be my favorite princess. Armstrong’s re-telling of The Monkey’s Paw also had a nice nod to The Lady and the Tiger that I particularly enjoyed.

Overall, the book is a great set of tales that is sure to provide something for many different readers. The author line-up is incredibly impressive and the tales are short enough to enjoy a quick read before bed or when you have some down time. The illustrations by Charles Vess add a nice air of magic to the book and remind me of the old school fairy tale books I always read as a kid. So, go read this book. Seriously. Do it.

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