This collection of three illustrated dark fairy tales makes for beautiful reading. All three stories — “Goblin Fruit”; “Spicy Little Curses Such as These”; and “Hatchling” — revolve around a magical, life-altering (perhaps soul-altering?) kiss, but none have the uncomplicated, “happily-ever-after” ending that I worried they might have before I opened the book.
First, let me say that it was the illustrations that drew me to this book. They are incredibly eye-catching, detailed, and delicate. I think they are a mix of pen and ink drawings with watercolor washes and possibly more media as well (it’s so hard to tell these days, and I can’t find a place where he details how he created the artwork on his web site). What I love about them are the monochromatic washes and pale colors mixed with one or two super bright images, like the red lips and ice blue eyes on the cover, for example. Each story is preceded by a set of images that intrigued me — how will these images play out in the story to follow? what do they mean? — and once I finished a story, I was inspired to pore back over the images with that knowledge. The romantic, moody artwork is a perfect compliment to the stories.
The stories themselves are written in sumptuous prose (I don’t get to say that all too often), as delicious and fulfilling as your best meal ever, prose that is elaborate when it needs to be and simple when it doesn’t. The stories have a cadence to them that I only ever associate with tales spoken aloud. They also don’t all go in the direction you initially expect, so they have some surprises.
Readers who loved The Hollow Kingdom by Clare Dunkel (and if you haven’t read that and you love strong heroines in dark fairy tales, go find it now) will be sucked into this collection, and I’m sure there are other excellent read-alike story collections, too, like Troll’s Eye View, by the estimable Datlow and Windling, a collection of fairy tale re-tellings from the POV of the villains.
The first tale that is an enticing modern-day retelling of Rossetti’s Goblin Market. I swear, the descriptions of the food alone in that first story are enough to make your mouth water and to fill you with unknowable cravings like the narrator, Kizzy, who finds herself tempted by a beautiful new boy at school who we, the readers, know is a goblin.
The second story, set in colonial India, was my favorite and had, for me, the most unique reworkings of folklore. I can’t say much without spoiling it, but the tale involves the deal an old woman makes with a demon in hell to save a young girl’s life, but it also involves how the old woman came to be associating with the demon in the first place, which is my favorite part of the story. This second tale was the most romantic, as well, and had the best ending (also not what I had initially expected).
The last story was my least favorite and also the longest, about a young woman and the odd change that happens to her on her birthday (one eye turns ice blue), a legacy hidden from her by her mother. The fairy-tale creatures in this story are the Druj, who seem to be a mix of vampire and faery with animal shape-shifting thrown in. It had some of the most chilling imagery of the three stories (the Druj kidnap children and keep them as pets, but as the Drujs’ cold beauty has no pity or compassion, it’s only fun for the humans until their owners grow tired of them), but for me it was a bit overlong. Or maybe it was just because I read the book all in one sitting and by the middle of the third tale, I was done being dazzled.
All three stories are amazing pieces, accompanied by artwork that just takes my breath away. Basically, there are a ton of fairy tale, folklore, and mythology retellings out there, and Laini Taylor’s collection is one of the best.