Afternoon all, and welcome to the first in my series of reviews of Fairy Tale retellings. You may (or may not) recall that I was previously a reject-out-of-hand type of gargoyle regarding any kind of fairy tale reimagining, given that I was not that great a fan of fairy tales to begin with. At the end of last year however, I read two fairy tale reimaginings – Scar and the Wolf by Plainfield Press and Talespins by Michael Mullins – and enjoyed them so much that I was forced to review my (admittedly fairly judgemental) policy. So this year one of my goals is to delve more deeply into this genre and see what comes of it.
To kick us off, I present to you Grim, edited by Christine Johnson. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review – thanks! Grim is an anthology of stories based on classic fairy tales, but with a dark or sinister twist, reimagined by a collection of prominent and current authors in Young Adult fiction. There are a whopping seventeen stories to whet your appetite over the whole 480ish pages, so surely there must be something here for everyone. The stories range from the light and humorous (oddly, for a book of supposedly dark and sinister retellings) to the …well…dark and sinister. And be warned, some of these are very dark and quite remarkably sinister. But more of that later.
*you enjoy fairy tales the way they were traditionally meant to be enjoyed – that is, with a healthy dose of blood, gore and summary justice to make your stomach turn
* you’re a fan of YA fiction boys – book boyfriends, bookish beaus, reader’s eyecandy, whatever you want to call them – and the whole paranormal romance genre in general…preferably with a side order of blood, gore and summary justice to make your stomach turn
* you enjoy the idea of fairy tales but, like me, you can never quite remember how the original ones turned out in the end anyway
So I’ll start with the positives. The thing I like about anthologies is that the diversity of authors writing about the same topic generally means that there will be at least a few (although, with a bit of luck, many) stories in the bunch that really hit the nail on the head for you. This was the case for me with Grim. Out of the seventeen stories, there were a handful that I really enjoyed, with The Brothers Pigget, Thinner Than Water, Better, and Figment being the main ones that I still remember clearly after finishing the book at least a week ago. There were others that I enjoyed reading, but didn’t make a marked impression, such as The Key, Raven Princess and Light It Up, and the rest I could either take or leave, or I really hated. But that’s the good thing about anthologies – I didn’t expect to love every story, and I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed the majority that appeared here.
A lot of the tales really do take a whole new spin on the stories they are retelling, which is always good. There was a wide range of settings – space ships and a rock and roll tour being two of the most obscure – and this really added to the experience for me as, with the sheer number of stories here, the book could be in danger of going stale with too much repetition.
On the other hand, there were a few things that struck me as odd about this collection. For one thing, I found it really tricky in some cases to figure out which fairy tale was being re-told. Now, admittedly, I am not an expert on fairy tales so it could have just been my deficiency in this particular field of knowledge causing the problem, but in case others also had this problem, I imagine it would be fairly irritating to those who really know their fairy tales. It didn’t bother me too much – I just enjoyed the stories at face value rather than trying to decipher their origin – but if I had bought this book as a lover of fairy tales, I think some of these stories would have fallen short for me.
Similarly, the book is touted as a collection of retellings “with a dark and sinister twist”. A handful of these stories, as I mentioned earlier, don’t seem to have a twist at all, and others are not dark in the least. For instance, my favourite of the bunch, Figment, was really quite funny and had a really likeable narrator. (Don’t ask me to tell you which tale it was based on, I’ve got no idea). Another one, Light it Up, simply modernised the Hansel and Gretel story, rather than giving it any new twist. Again, this didn’t bother me particularly – in fact the two I’ve just mentioned were two that I really enjoyed – but it seems a bit strange that the collection would include these stories when the premise of the book is the “dark and sinister” bit.
But now to the major beef I had with this book. I acknowledge that others will not share this one, especially given the point that this was billed as a “dark and sinister” book – but I had real issues with the themes of sexual violence in some of the stories. In a couple of the stories (by no means all, so don’t get the wrong impression), there were instances of incest, implied rape and general brutality, all perpetrated against female characters. Now, I don’t have a problem with that necessarily, provided two conditions are met – one, that there is some kind of warning in the blurb (and I don’t mean like a parental guidance warning, I just mean something that hints that this is really for the upper end of the YA market, if not New Adult) and two, that the instances of sexual violence are in some way integral to the plot. In one of the stories, at least condition two was met. In Thinner than Water, we get the whole shebang – incest, graphic violence and animal cruelty – but those elements are essential to the plot and outcome of the story. I can’t say I enjoyed reading this one, but I certainly appreciated the way the elements were worked into the story in order to create the story arc and resolution. In fact, in terms of crafting the story, I think this one was the best of the bunch.
The other two instances, in Better (implied rape) and Skin Trade (brutal violence toward a female character) were, in my view, completely gratuitous. More so for the latter story than the former, but still gratuitous. This particularly annoyed me for Skin Trade, because again, I couldn’t figure out which fairy tale this was based on, and also because the predatory behaviour of the males in the story and the ultimate violent violation of the female character just seemed far out of place for a book marketed at young adults. Call me old-fashioned but I don’t see why a story in which
***spoiler alert here***
a young woman is hunted by three men, only to be restrained naked in their basement before having her skin torn off
***end spoiler alert***
really needs to be included in an anthology that will be read by people in their early teens. In fact, thinking of that story still gives me the creeps, but not in a satisfying, “man that was a great, scary twist!” kind of way. More in a “man, that was completely gross and uncalled for” sort of way.
So really, I had a mixed experience with this one, but apart from that one story that crossed a line for me, overall, the experience was good. I’d say, if you are a fan of fairy tale retellings, definitely give this one a go.
Grim is due for release on February 25th 2014.
Until next time,