My rating: 4 of 5 stars
‘Once Upon A Curse’ is a collection of stories and fairy tales by a handful of authors. Some new, some well known, all very capable. Like many fairy tales, these stories are not for children. Some travel familiar paths and some re-invent myth. All feel fresh and original.
The first story, ‘A Necklace Of Rubies by Cindy Lynn Speer, retells the tale of Bluebeard. I have read the story before in another similarly themed anthology and enjoyed discovering it all over again. A young woman is wooed by a mysterious man – already sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? – and after they wed, she discovers not all is as it seems. The writing is spellbinding and the pace perfect. The repetition of several motifs, the foxes, the jewels and the motto ‘Be Bold’, lures the reader into the story and keeps them there. I am not familiar with the original tale, but this interpretation inspires me to read it. I can only hope I enjoy it as much!
‘Come Lady Death’ by Peter S. Beagle is next on the list. Bored with the usual parties and the usual guests, Lady Neville invites Death to her next ball. The invitation is accepted and Death arrives, dramatically, after the last stroke of midnight, in the guise of a lovely young woman. Throughout the course of the evening, she charms many, though few actually lose their fear of her. When she tries to leave, however, the party goers beg her to stay. She does, but there is a price. ‘Come Lady Death’ is a strange, fascinating and compelling story.
There are two versions of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Summer Wind’ by Nancy Kress and ‘Stronger Than Time’ by Patricia C. Wrede. Both are interesting interpretations, but ‘Stronger Than Time’ was a truly moving tale. When an impetuous prince fails to rescue the princess after one hundred years, he must find another way to break the curse. I loved this version of the story; the ending was quite simply beautiful.
Among the other stories, the tales of Rumpelstiltskin and Persephone are both retold with a twist. There are also a couple of stories I had not read before, in any guise. The stand out for me, however, is the last entry, also by Cindy Lynn Speer. ‘But Can You Let Him Go’ re-interprets the story of Cinderella. The origin of the tale is slowly revealed from the perspective of the ‘fairy godmother’. There are hints early on, but as the story dips and weaves, interleaving related tales from other cultures, the reader is left wondering if this time the conclusion will be different. It is and it isn’t; telling you more would ruin the surprise and the utter sweetness of the conclusion. ‘But Can You Let Him Go’ is a wonderful, wonderful story.
All in all, this is a great collection. I would have liked to have seen more variety in authorship, but the stories are varied and all worthy of the reader’s attention and the anthology does a nice job of showcasing the talent of some lesser known authors. In addition, the size of the volume, a slim 250 pages, inspires the reader to start at the beginning and finish at the end rather than pick and choose a few stories somewhere in between.
Written for and originally published at SFCrowsnest.