Review: Black Thorn, White Rose

This is an anthology of “adult fairy tales” that I picked up at Goodwill (where I grab a lot of random books). It was a series of anthologies that was released (and then re-released?), and I found two of the books on my trip. My copy also seems to be an original printing (from 1994!!), with a slight layout error (seen here).

Overall, I went in kind of excited to try some new authors (I’ve denoted the ones I’ve read before with asterisks), and to hear some new takes on fairy tales. In the end, I was…unimpressed. A few stories were pretty strong and engaging, a good number of them were a chore to get through, and most were forgettable (to the point where I need to have the book beside me to write my review of the individual stories (below).

“Words Like Pale Stones” — Nancy Kress
This story was enjoyable and had a curious premise based on Rumpelstiltskin, although the pacing made it harder to get through – which was a problem fairly consistent in the stories.

“Stronger Than Time” — Patricia C. Wrede*
This was probably my favorite story and one that felt the most true to fairy-tale origins. The pacing was slow but even, and I was engaged throughout as we slowly learn the truth of what’s happening, without feeling like the author is purposefully misleading us.

“Somnus’s Fair Maid” — Ann Downer
A unique take on Sleeping Beauty, this story felt a little roundabout, but I enjoyed the ride and the ultimate conclusion.

“The Frog King, or Iron Henry” — Daniel Quinn
This story suffered immensely from repetition and the narrator not recalling the events that are slowly revealed by another character asking questions. It dragged, like pulling teeth, which, to some extent, I suppose was the point, but it made for an unenjoyable story.

“Near-Beauty” — M. E. Beckett
This sci-fi take on the princess and the frog was cute and a quick read with an uplifting ending.

“Ogre” — Michael Kandel
This story was an emotional drag that left me wondering how it was actually related to the fairy-tale theme, aside from having an ogre in it.

“Can’t Catch Me” — Michael Cadnum
A quick read about the Gingerbread Man that puts little twists on the story. An overall enjoyable read that was helped by the quick pace.

“Journeybread Recipe” — Lawrence Schimel
A creative take, but it didn’t do it for me.

“The Brown Bear of Norway” — Isabel Cole
This was the tale I was least familiar with, which made it especially fresh. The writing was strong and took me along on the story, and while I didn’t necessarily like where it went, I could see why it went there, and respect that.

“The Goose Girl” — Tim Wynne-Jones*
This story felt very much like a fairy tale, although I didn’t necessarily enjoy the path it took – the best part was the horse.

“Tattercoats” — Midori Snyder
An actually adult/erotic telling with sexual nature and womanhood, this story is one of the few that belongs in an anthology dubbed “adult fairy tales” – so many of the others are just fairy tales. I was never completely sure where this story was going, but overall enjoyed the telling.

“Granny Rumple” — Jane Yolen
Probably the hardest hitting of the stories for me; it’s raw in how set in reality it is despite the supposed fairy-tale setting. I would definitely recommend reading this one, but not if you’re looking for a light read.

“The Sawing Boys” — Howard Waldrop
What? Why?

“Godson” — Roger Zelazny
Enjoyable and a little dark, this has the kind of side-eyed smirk I enjoy, although it’s not humorous at all, really. Taking a look at life and death and eternity, it feels very different from the other stories, but an enjoyable excursion, nonetheless.

“Ashputtle” — Peter Straub
A man writing about womanhood is very much how this story came across.

“Silver and Gold” — Ellen Steiber
A poetic take on Little Red Riding Hood that works especially well and leaves the reader thinking.

“Sweet Bruising Skin” — Storm Constantine
An interesting story, but the it went on for too long and was difficult to get through, although I can understand why it progressed at the pace it did.

“The Black Swan” — Susan Wade
An interesting take on the tale, but emotionally a bit rough – I didn’t end on it, and I’m glad, as it would have left me heartbroken.

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