Sunday, 6 April 2014

Review | Rags and Bones - Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

Rags and Bones promises "New Twists on Timeless Tales" (and delivers), but sadly, this review offers no such twist. Spoiler for the ending: it's unsurprisingly excellent! An anthology retelling classic stories - which range from classic SF to Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Rags and Bones provides a variety of twists and turns to keep modern readers satisfied, and to its credit, does well on the diversity  front (including one of the few bi protagonists I've read recently in fantasy) as well: I particularly liked Saladin Ahmed's retelling of Spenser from the point of view of the caricatured Saracens in the original work (who aren't at all happy with their roles - and seek to escape their imprisonment in a morality tale).While I felt this idea could have had a longer tale with more of an arc attached, it's this sort of concept that makes Rags and Bones special.

Of course, it's hard to review an anthology except as an overall impression, but I will mention a few other favourite stories. Neil Gaiman's adventure of a queen to find the source of a sleeping plague is, as always, wonderful - his signature writing combined with the Snow White/Sleeping Beauty mashup, plus some rather awesome female characters (and protagonist) really made this for me. Plus, of course, the obligatory twist. Holly Black's retelling of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla from the vampire's perspective is one of the best - and most unsettling - vampire stories I've read, finding the vampire's allure not in the cliched romance, but in the dreams of children: an eternal child falling for a favourite playmate. It managed to get me right in the emotions, that one.

It's easy to overreach in a short story - aim for a grand plot and end up rushed. That's why I particularly liked that seemingly, every one of those included chose their scope well: sometimes just a quick exploration of a concept and setting to evoke the needed response was fine! Stories like Tim Pratt's The Cold Corner, in which a recently fired chef returns home for a family reunion only to encounter seeming visions of himself in very different careers encapsulate this beautifully - I won't spoil it for you, but the feel of the town (conveyed perfectly) and its familiarity and half the story, and it's a very welcome half.

Of course, as with all anthologies, there are a few stories that don't hit their targets. Sirocco, the story of a death during filming at the Castle of Otranto, misses for me - this may be due to my unfamiliarity with the source, but the two teenage protagonists with brief introductions, briefer attraction, and then argument failed to enthrall. Overall, however, Rags and Bones succeeds beyond almost all other anthologies I've read: providing an intriguing and captivating mix of tales. And mix should definitely be emphasised - they vary wildly, and that's a good thing! Of course, familiarity with the sources will likely get you more out, but I can only recommend this to any fantasy reader looking for something - or twelve somethings - short, snappy, and entirely original.


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