Silver Birch, Blood Moon by Ellen Datlow

Silver Birch, Blood Moon is a short stories collection edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, part of an anthology series that gathers fairy tale retellings.

This anthology contains twenty-one stories that twist and revamp tales as old as time. The retellings are diverse and varied in style, genre, tone, point of view. Some are given a modern twist, others dig into the dark origins of the stories. Some question the motives of the heroes, others give villains a say. Some have their “happily ever after” ending, others…not so much.

Despite the diversity of the stories, there is no mistaking the feminist tone of the collection. Women regain their voices (sometimes literally) and confront kings and mages. They fight dark sorcery and stand up to abusive husbands. They take control of their destiny and protect their loved ones. Most of the tales are a love letter to women’s strength and resilience.

I first picked up the collection because it featured Neil Gaiman, Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip, whose respective works with the eerie, the whimsical and the outright disturbing I’m a bit familiar with. But Silver Birch, Blood Moon has also given me the opportunity to discover new authors. I won’t write an individual review for each of the twenty-one stories, but I will go into more details for my five favourites (in no particular order):

  • You Wandered Off Like a Foolish Child to Break Your Heart and Mine, by Pat York:
    Inspired by the Briar Rose/ Sleeping Beauty tale, but from a completely different perspective. In this story, we follow Queen Rose Mary, who tends to her child after he’s been cursed trying to save a sleeping princess from the magical briar. The story is about those who have to pick up the pieces when the heroes are done with their valiant deeds, when the curses are lifted and the villains vanquished. A bittersweet tale of motherhood and sacrifices.
  • The Sea Hag, by Melissa Lee Shaw:
    Inspired by The Little Mermaid. What if the hag who took the mermaid’s voice in exchange for legs was not the true villain? Shaw turns Andersen’s tale upside down. Recasting the monster into a tragic heroine was an interesting gamble that paid off.
  • Skin So Green and Fine, by Wendy Wheeler:
    A Beauty and the Beast retelling in Hispaniola, with vodoun influences and mythical spirits. It’s difficult to get an exciting new take on Beauty and the Beast, but in this case, the setting and the magic involved give the story a whole new flavour. The storyline itself was barely tweaked with but felt original and fresh.
  • Clad in Gossamer, by Nancy Kress:
    A retelling of The Emperor’s New Clothes. In this story, a second, ill-favoured prince comes up with a plan to discredit his older brother, and it involves a very special fabric…I liked how ambiguous the tale was. The greedy and bitter prince is left questioning his sanity, which is a perfect karmic response.
  • The Price, by Patricia Briggs:
    Rumpelstiltskin like you’ve never seen him before. Briggs does a wonderful job humanising the mysterious weaver, cast as a love interest for the queen. The child trafficking part of the original tale is kept in this retelling, but with a heartwarming twist.

I was head over heels with this anthology. It was just the thing to help me get over my novels fatigue. I have always loved fairy tales (I suspect Disney movies to be the real reason I’m into fantasy), and while retellings can be a somewhat tired sub-genre these days, those interpretations were unique, imaginative and refreshing.

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