I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Rags & Bones by Melissa MarrTim Pratt
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on October 22nd 2013
Genres: Adaptations, Anthologies, Fairy Tales & Folklore, Fantasy & Magic, Short Stories, Young Adult
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The best writers of our generation retell classic tales.From Sir Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene to E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops," literature is filled with sexy, deadly, and downright twisted tales. In this collection, award-winning and bestselling authors reimagine their favorite classic stories, the ones that have inspired, awed, and enraged them, the ones that have become ingrained in modern culture, and the ones that have been too long overlooked. They take these stories and boil them down to their bones, and reassemble them for a new generation of readers. Written from a twenty-first century perspective and set within the realms of science fiction, dystopian fiction, fantasy, and realistic fiction, these short stories are as moving and thought provoking as their originators. They pay homage to groundbreaking literary achievements of the past while celebrating each author's unique perception and innovative style. Today's most acclaimed authors use their own unique styles to rebuild the twelve timeless stories:Sir Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene - Saladin AhmedW. W. Jacobs's "The Monkey's Paw" - Kelley ArmstrongJoseph Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla" - Holly Black"Sleeping Beauty" - Neil GaimanThe Brothers Grimm's "Rumpelstiltskin" - Kami GarciaKate Chopin's The Awakening - Melissa MarrRudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King" - Garth NixHenry James's "The Jolly Corner" - Tim PrattE. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" - Carrie RyanHorace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto - Margaret StohlWilliam Seabrook's "The Caged White Werewolf of the Saraban" - Gene WolfeNathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birth-Mark" - Rick YanceyAnd six illustrations by Charles Vess
YOU GUYS! I need to read more short story anthologies because they are essentially the easiest books to read and review because for me – I review each story immediately after reading and then when I am done, boom the review is written. Rags & Bones: New Twists On Timeless Tales edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt is an anthology where each author takes a short story or fairy tale of yore and strips it down to the bare essentials and then proceeds with their own retelling of the story. It is such a cool concept for a book. As you will see when you read this whole review, if you aren’t already like TL;DR, so many of these stories really made me think and re-examine some of my perspectives. These stories offer a lot to unpack, as far as anthologies go.
That The Machine May Progress Eternally by Carrie Ryan
Maybe the luddites were right. Carrie Ryan’s short story, That The Machine May Progress Eternally is about a young man named Tavil. Tavil has spent his entire life on the Surface, eking out a living with his sister Pria where they live in harmony with nature and do not use technology. They know of giant cities belowground and people who rely on machines and technology to do everything for them. Tavil finds a ventilation shaft and out of curiosity decides to go belowground to see for himself what it’s like. There, he finds himself confronted with technology for everything. In fact, this reminds me of the movie Wall-E because they people use technology so much that they can’t even walk. Tavil is resistant at first, but eventually, he finds himself falling into the dogma of the blessed Machine and begins to let the Machine rule his life. He fails to see how it’s a bad thing.
Wow you guys. What a commentary on technology. The story acknowledges the advantages of technology and how it can truly enhance our lives and take away some of the more mundane bits so that we have time for quiet contemplation. However, also extolled are the dangers of relying so much on technology that we forget to think for ourselves. We forget to do for ourselves. I mean, hey, I love calculators and computers as much as the next person, but there’s also joy for me in exercising and doing simple chores. So, Carrie Ryan’s story just really hit some buttons for me and made me think.
Losing Her Divinity by Garth Nix
Garth Nix’s short story is a bit of a retelling of The Man Who Would Be King by Ruyard Kipling. Basically it’s like a monologue of this guy who is telling his story of meeting two goddesses while on a train. The goddesses have had it up to here with being gods and so they are trying to run away and lose their divinity – hence the title. There’s fading to black. There’s an unreliable narrator. This story is incredibly smart for sure and also may have possibly went over my head. I think I may need to re-read.
The Sleeper And The Spindle by Neil Gaiman
I am not always one for crossover stories but holy eff you all! HOLY EFF. Okay, so we all know that Neil Gaiman’s writing could be considered otherwordly. He’s a master of the craft and apparently this is super obvious when he’s writing short stories and everything is parsed down to just a handful of pages. The Sleeper And The Spindle is about a queen getting ready for her upcoming wedding day. Her friends the dwarves are travelling under the mountain to get her the finest silks as a present. When they get to the other side, they end up in a tavern where they meet some travellers who talk of a mysterious sleeping that is spreading and of a curse. The dwarves head back and inform their queen, who being a baller B, suspends wedding celebrations to go and investigate and save another kingdom.
This crossover of fairytales, not only Sleeping Beauty, but also Snow White, is a delight. I am in love with it. I am in love with the agency of the queen. I am in love with how the story unravels and resolves itself. I love the ending. I just love this short story and pledge allegiance to Neil Gaiman forever and ever amen.
The Cold Corner by Tim Pratt
After experiencing embarrassment and a breakup with his boyfriend as well as ending a stint on reality tv, Terrance James returns home to North Carolina from Oakland, California to lick his wounds and recalibrate as well as to attend a family reunion. While in town, Terry swears that he’s run into his doppelganger at his favorite BBQ joint – one that is run by the deceased owner’s assistant, TJ. Things get weirder from there as Terry runs into several other doppelgangers, these other versions of what his life could have been.
Tim Pratt’s The Cold Corner is a retelling of Henry James’s The Jolly Corner and wow. Just wow. This made me want to read The Jolly Corner as I really like the concept. There’s this song by Darius Rucker called “This” and it’s about how the things that suck in life maybe lead you down a path for bigger and brighter things and well, reading this story made me think of that song. But, it goes beyond that song. Terry encounters other, parallel versions of himself, all leading out lives that branch from different turning points. I absolutely loved that like other stories thus far in the anthology, it made me ponder and think and question.
Millcara by Holly Black
Millcara is a retelling of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. It’s about this eternal thirteen year old girl named Millcara who runs a scam with her mother. The two pretend to be in a car accident in front of a father and daughter. The father takes Millcara home and she is charming and ends up spending the summer. The daughter usually ends up very sick. This time around though, Millcara has found a soulmate in Laura, the daughter. When we open the short story, Laura is not waking up, much to the horror of Millcara.
Frankly, this was beautifully written and fast paced with some great turns of phrases, but it just didn’t cause me to question or blow my mind or anything. Holly Black definitely is great with imagery though.
When First We Were Gods by Rick Yancey
I really love Rick Yancey’s books. There’s this sort of quiet intensity to his writing that can make his books feel a little drawn out but then you hit the crescendo and realize that the action was building the entire time. When First We Were Gods is about a man named Beneficiant who falls in love for the first time. Yes, this happens in so many YA stories. Only, this story is special. You see, this story is about these fabulously wealthy people who are so rich that they have overcome aging and death. There’s this technology that exists where they can transfer themselves to other inanimate bodies. Beneficiant is about to marry the favorite daughter of the most powerful man around. Her name is Courteous. He has been married so many times and already has children who are grown. Courteous, however, has never been married, but she’s young at 500 or so years old. This time, though, she decides to marry him because of something her handmaiden, her persist, says. Alas, when Beneficiant falls in love it is not with Courteous, but with her persist, Georgiana.
This story is about love and mortality and immortality. It’s about treasuring scarcity when you lead a life of abundance. It’s one of the longest stories in the book, but Yancey has to lay the world building groundwork in addition to fleshing out the characters. I quite enjoyed this story, even though it did take me a long time to read. It had me looking at death as not something to fear, but the thing that makes life valuable, if that makes sense.
Sirocco by Margaret Stohl
Set in Italy, Margaret Stohl’s Sirocco is told in several parts. It’s about this boy who is a production assistant to his dad who is this film producer, I guess. Anyways, the dad’s friend, called the Bulgarian, is a financier and he’s coming to check on the progress of the film after a movie star’s trailer blows over the edge of this cliff with the star in it. The movie star still hasn’t been found. OH and there’s a haunted castle. And a girl, the Bulgarian’s daughter, and the boy is like immediately in love with her.
While I don’t remember the character names because I read this story yesterday, I do remember the setting. It’s very distinct. There’s dust and dirt and a crumbling castle. It feels very eerie. I was, of course, a fan of the setting. This story didn’t quite do it for me, but man alive, that setting was excellent.
The Awakening by Melissa Marr
DID YOU READ THE AWAKENING IN HIGH SCHOOL? Yes all caps because I get excited about assigned reading. Yo I read this in eleventh grade and I was sad because it was all so tragic and I just wanted the main character to get with the painter guy but alas, she goes into the sea instead. At that point in my life I didn’t understand patriarchy and feminism and fighting the good fight. Not like now.
Melissa Marr’s story is a retelling of The Awakening but with Selkies, starring a girl named Eden who is a selkie. Eden is entrapped by Leo who takes her pelt. This means that she belongs to him. He is fabulously wealthy and gives her all kinds of things. However, she is not to leave the house or even go to the ocean. Because she’s a selkie, she must obey. Her options for freedom are A) he gives her the pelt back willingly or B) he strikes her three times and then she’s free to go. Alas, Leo knows the rules, so despite having a temper, he controls himself. He also thinks that Eden is the perfect girl for him because she can’t disobey him and thus can’t make him mad. Eden, however, is not so happy, so when Leo goes away to school she sneaks out at night to meet up with this guy she met on the beach.Anyways, the options close in and well, like any well read person, you know the end of the story.
Pretty much I loved this story and even Melissa Marr’s author’s note that goes with it. Definitely made my inner feminist roar in a good way.
New Chicago by Kelley Armstrong
In Kelley Armstrong’s author note, she talks about a television adaptation being the first exposure she ever had to the Monkey’s Paw story. She can’t remember the movie, but being disturbed by the ending. This immediately made me think of The Simpsons adaptation of the Monkey’s Paw during a Treehouse of Horror episode, so much like the Raven, I am predisposed to liking various iterations of the story.
In Armstrong’s New Chicago, the story of the Monkey’s Paw is told against the setting of New Chicago where infected people roam the streets, peddlers sell hope, and it’s a hard life for people. Cole and his brother Tyler live together. Tyler takes care of Cole and works very hard so that Cole can one day get into this walled city where there is no infection. Unfortunately, that costs money they don’t have yet, and so Tyler has to do some unsavory things. So does Cole. Anyways, one day Cole is out pickpocketing when he overhears a man trying to give another man a Monkey’s Paw that will grant three wishes. Cole steals the paw from the man. He makes some wishes that are not specific and well, things happen that aren’t very good. Overall, this short story is a fast read and I was glad to have some familiarity with it and that old adage ‘be careful what you wish for.’
The Soul Collector by Kami Garcia
Kami Garcia’s contribution to Rags & Bones is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin and actually is pretty engaging. So, the story starts with this girl who lives with a foster father, a foster brother named Will and Will’s little brother. She wants to run away, but there’s no way they can do it with 8 year old Conner. And so, one night, when she turns 16, she is told by her foster dad that he’s going to send her to Castillo. This is a terrible thing because Castillo will pimp her out. So, Petra, the main character kills him and then runs away. Until she goes after the wrong car to strip, a cop’s car. Fortunately, he helps her and she goes on to become a cop. Flash forward to years later and she has to infiltrate Castillo’s gang. In order to do that, she has to prove herself by killing men. Each time she must kill, a mysterious stranger shows up and offers to kill for her in exchange for different things, eventually in exchange for her soul.
This story is just so interesting, against the backdrop of a city where crime is king and women are essentially chattel. I actually really, really liked it.
Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy by Saladin Ahmed
Saladin Ahmed’s Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy is retelling of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, but from the point of view of the Saracens, aka the villains. The story is interesting – it is about a man who has forgotten his name, instead the Redcrosse guy has renamed him Joyless and that’s how he thinks of himself. His memories have his family members calling him Joyless, yet he knows that is not his true name. Anyways, he goes to do battle with Redcrosse and finds himself coming across his two brothers – Faithless who has died in battle and Lawless, who values laws above all locked in an endless battle that is turning him into an animal, on and on and on it goes. Joyless believes he is going to his death as he goes into battle, but then there’s a turning point, where he remembers himself and his brothers’ actual names.
This story is wonderfully written. What I like about it is that it makes me question narrators. It makes me question history’s narratives. For so long history sort of looked at the players of the Crusades as good versus evil – seeing as how this was a battle to reclaim the Holy Land from the infidels. Yet, we get the point of view of Joyless and see that things aren’t so black and white. It’s just an interesting look at how maybe history is written by the victors, and yeah this is the retelling of a fairy story BUT STILL, I had those thoughts as I read and I love when that happens.
Uncaged by Gene Wolf
Set in Africa, Uncaged by Gene Wolf is about a woman who has been imprisoned in a cage for pretty much her whole life. This guy saves her and brings her back to America, but along the way there are some mysterious deaths from a big cat – as in a leopard. The implications are that the woman he rescued is the culprit for the murders. I think what this story does is ask who is culpable for the murders. Is it the woman who turns into a leopard? Is it the man who caged her, Hecht? Is it the guy who saves her and then brings her back to America and has that suspicion of what she is? I like the moral dilemma this story presents. It does, however, read kind of slowly. It’s written like a classic – so what I mean is, it feels kind of dense like Heart Of Darkness. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think that mileage of this retelling of “The Caged White Werewolf of the Sarban” by William Seabrook may vary.