Review Detail

Young Adult Fiction 2530
Good Collection of Tales
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
3.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
With anthologies, the reading experience is always going to be a mixed bag. Rags & Bones is one I’ll remember as a favorite anthology. Typically, I struggle a bit with short stories, but the good solidly outweighed the rest in this one. The concept, too, is delightfully original. Rather than retelling fairy tales (for the most part), these authors tackle lesser-known classic tales to great effect.

“That the Machine May Progress Eternally” by Carrie Ryan, based on E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops”: As I have not read the inspiring work, I can judge Ryan’s retelling solely on its own merits. A brother and sister, exploring the mysterious world underground ruled by the machine, become separated. The brother ends up in a room controlled by the machine. At first he fights it, but he comes to believe in the machine and little else. Ryan’s story is dark, intellectual, and not really young adult so far as I can tell. The establishment of what was going on above, which is apparently a post-apocalyptic scenario according to Ryan’s comments at the end, was shaky, but otherwise this was a solid, if somewhat dry, effort.

“Losing Her Divinity” by Garth Nix, based on Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King”: Yet again, I’m not familiar with the original story. However, Garth Nix’s retelling definitely is not for me. He uses second person narration, which is pretty much the only narrative style I’m highly opposed to. The main character, the one talking to you, is a pompous windbag, who I find incredibly boring. The story itself, of a dual-natured goddess determined to become human, is compelling, but the way in which Nix told it didn’t work for me.

“The Sleeper and the Spindle” by Neil Gaiman, based on “Sleeping Beauty”: Without doubt, this is my favorite Neil Gaiman work to date. Of course, I’ve not read everything he’s written, but, of the ones I have, this one really blew me away. Now, the anthology lists his inspiration as “Sleeping Beauty,” which is true, but not the whole story. This is, in fact, a mashup of “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White,” and, lo, it is beautiful. The story has LGBT undertones and puts unique twists on the unraveling of the classic tales.

“The Cold Corner” by Tim Pratt, based on Henry James’ “The Jolly Corner”: Pratt’s tale, again based on a story I do not know, considers the roads not take, the alternate paths which one life could have taken. A young man, older than a teenager, returns home, his dreams of opening his own restaurant temporarily crushed in the wake of embarrassment in a reality television cooking show and getting fired from his job as a chef. At home, he encounters visions of himself had he done something else. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the food, the concept and the bisexual main character.

“Millcara” by Holly Black, based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”: Apparently a retelling of “Carmilla” with a perspective swap. It’s sort of like a paranormal Heartbreakers. Runs more to gothic than outright horror.

“When First We Were Gods” by Rick Yancey, based on “The Birth-Mark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne:Yancey’s tale takes place in a future where a cure for death has been found, by the means of growing replacement bodies. Only the wealthy can afford this, and they marry and divorce throughout eternity. When a wealthy eternal falls in love with his wife’s assistant, who has but one life to live, certain realities of an eternal life must be confronted. The plot has some strong elements, but the characters are almost all entirely facile, to a point, yes, but still frustratingly so. Also, the story goes on and on, the longest in the collection, and by no means the best. This never bodes well. The real kiss of death for me with this story is that I’ve read something similar but much better done: The Postmortal by Drew Magary. It may not be fair that this colors my reading of Yancey’s short story, but so it goes.

“Sirocco by Margaret Stohl, based on Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto: Stohl’s contribution to the anthology lives up to my expectations in that it isn’t very good. A mysterious murder occurs on the set of the filming of a movie of The Castle of Otranto. Shocking! A boy and girl investigate and flirt with a complete lack of chemistry. A number of pop culture references are made that won’t be relevent a decade from now.

“Awakened” by Melissa Marr, based on Kate Chopin’sThe Awakening: Marr turns The Awakening, for which I am now spoiled but also intrigued, into a selchie (or selkie) story. Wow, I’ve enjoyed Marr’s work before, but this was a lot darker and more resonant than the others. Her comments after the story, which go into women’s rights and politics, really solidified this one as a favorite in the anthology.

“New Chicago” by Kelley Armstrong, based on W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”: I remember reading “The Monkey’s Paw” in sixth grade and how creepy it was. That story has rather haunted me, much like the movie version did Kelley Armstrong. The theme of being careful what you wish for isn’t a new one by any means, bit Armstrong infuses it with some nice characterization and a post-apocalyptic setting.

“The Soul Collector” by Kami Garcia, based on The Brothers Grimm’s “Rumpelstiltskin”: Surprisingly, I enjoyed this one. Garcia’s take on Rumpelstiltskin is dark and gritty, set in an underworld of drugs and mobsters. Two things annoyed me, though: 1) View Spoiler » 2) The ending, which deviates from the story, where the rest was pretty consistent to the original.

“Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy” by Saladin Ahmed, based on Sir Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen: Another one that really just doesn’t work for me. Ahmed’s story is about a bunch of brothers whose names have been taken by a godlike figure and the quest to get them back.

“Uncaged” by Gene Wolfe, based on William Seabrook’s “The Caged White Werewolf of the Saraban”: A man goes to Africa, gets married, and then discovers his wife might actually be a leopard-woman. This, friends, is the reason for long engagements. Interesting enough idea, but I wasn’t really feeling it.

Though I’m sure Rags & Bones has even more of an impact on those who are familiar with the original tales, this anthology is full of delightful reimaginings in a wide range of settings. Many of the stories don’t particularly read like YA, but they’re enjoyable just the same.
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November 05, 2013
I'm not really sure why, but I find Rumpelstiltskin fascinating, so I look forward to reading the re-imagining of that one.
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