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.