Review of RAGS & BONES: NEW TWISTS ON TIMELESS TALES edited by MELISSA MARR and TIM PRATT
(review based on an advance reading copy)
I’m sure many people think the last thing we need is another anthology of fairy tale twists; luckily, I believe exactly the opposite. (See my entire post on retold tales.) RAGS & BONES pulls from more obscure influences - for the most part - and presents many retellings with hardly recognizable originals. I do hesitate over such anthologies for fear that some or many of the stories won’t be “retold” enough, but this one made the cut due to an enthusiastic recommendation from a friend combined with the fact that some of my favorite authors number among the contributors. As can be expected, my opinions vary from story to story, but overall definitely a quality selection. I liked most of the stories and loved quite a few.
In the first story, Carrie Ryan’s “That the Machine May Progress Eternally,” a man finds himself softened and pampered, to a fault, by the convenience of technology. The “beware” message isn’t new, but nevertheless continues a discussion on how much we should want technology to do for us versus how much we should want to do for ourselves. I found two other stories particularly provocative: “The Cold Corner” by Tim Pratt and “When First We Were Gods” by Rick Yancy. Pratt’s story also presents a familiar premise that plays with old but consistently intriguing questions, of the alternate realities type. Yancy’s story feels a little fresher, though it took me a few pages to get into “When First We Were Gods.” The tale opens with a woman planning her wedding and it was only when I realized the dilemma of an extra ten pounds for sizing a dress isn’t exactly as simple as it sounds that I found myself suddenly very interested. Lots of fascinating, inventive worldbuilding in this one. I also found Yancy’s story the most emotionally engaging of the three. It’s very philosophical, imagining immortality and posing the question, “Can there be love without death?” I never fully bought that the characters are in love with each other, but I bought them as people, believed they think they’re in love with each other, and felt invested in their self-inflicted tragedy.
One of my favorite authors, Garth Nix, makes good use of the unreliable narrator in “Losing Her Divinity.” Neil Gaiman’s story also delivers, as expected. As I find common with Gaiman, his stories stay so close to familiar that I start to underestimate him, but before I can think “predictable” the story surprises me. Gaiman uses one of the more common tales for his influence, “Sleeping Beauty,” but remolds the plot in unexpected ways.
I found three stories tantalizingly tragic. Kelly Armstrong’s “New Chicago” deals with the elusiveness of easy wish fulfillment: Cole can make wishes, but he better phrase them carefully lest they be twisted into something far from what he meant. I loved the story, but felt hugely frustrated that it doesn’t really end. We never find out what Cole’s last wish is or how it turns out for him. Holly Black’s “Millcara” might possibly be my favorite of the bunch, if there weren’t so many other good candidates. It’s a wonderfully haunting, delightfully shiver-inducing story of a little girl who wants a friend…but her yearning itself dooms anyone she comes to love. Melissa Marr’s “Awakened” plays with selkie lore. In terms of plot, it might be unoriginal - Character A does this to Character B and so forth - but because Marr carefully crafts her characters into the individuals Eden and Leo the story it comes alive despite slight predictability.
This anthology represents another piece of evidence that retellings deserve their place in literature alongside their original counterparts!