Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold by Paula Guran

Beyond the Woods Anthology Paula Guran

Overall Rating of the Anthology: 3 Stars ★★★☆☆

Best of the Bunch

  • Halfway People by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Beyond the Naked Eye by Rachel Swirsky
  • Good Hunting by Ken Liu

An overall very good collection of fairy tale, with each author adding his or her own unique twist to some well-known and some not very known tales. Read on for a more detailed review of each story.


Red as BloodTanith Lee

3 Stars

This retelling of Snow White focusses on the stepmother and what drove her to send the hunter after her child.

This story had a great fairy tale like feeling to it, with a nice dark atmosphere. I liked the different take on Snow White, making the child something much darker. Though I didn’t care much for the ending and its take on Prince Charming.


In The House of GingerbreadGene Wolfe

3 Stars

A retelling of Hansel and Gretel set in modern times, with an investigator interrogating a berieved widow who recently also lost her young child.

This manages to be almost darker than the original fairy tale. I liked how twisted and dark Hansel & Gretel are and the way the “witch” is presented.


The Bone MotherAngela Slatter

3 Stars

Young Vasilisa has lost her mother and her unkind stepmother sends her off to find her grandmother, Baba Yaga.

I liked this story. Baba Yaga is intimidating but she’s also very human, a very lonely old woman who doesn’t know how to deal with her emotions towards this unexpected grandchild.


Follow Me LightElizabeth Bear

3 Stars

This is the lovestory of a woman and a strange man walking on braces who seems drawn by the sea but reluctant to go near it.

This story reminded me a bit of The Shape of Water. It’s pretty clear from the beginning that the character is someone out of his element. But it had some very creepy aspects towards the end that made this story special.


The Coin of Heart’s DesireYoon Ha Lee

3 Stars

A young empress ascends to the throne after her mother’s death. Too young, she believes, and too unprepared. So she goes to visit the Dragon. But asking dragon’s for something is very dangerous.

I loved the atmosphere of this fairy tale. I loved the very classic aspect of the treasures, their guardian and the dangerous vibe that surrounds him. I would have loved to read more about this country.


The Glass Bottle TrickNalo Hopkinson

3 Stars

A retelling of Bluebeard set in the South. A handsome and rich black man chooses a light-skinned woman for his bride. But he hides some dark secrets.

Bluebeard is one of those stories that doesn’t get enough attention and this one is a great retelling. The setting is evocative, the tale nicely creepy.


The Maiden TreeCatherynne M. Valente

2 Stars

A retelling of Sleeping Beauty, it tells on how a tree grows slowly around the sleeping woman.

I liked the style of the story, it’s very poetic, though it’s also a bit forgettable, as it’s so very short.


The Coat of StarsHolly Black

3 Stars

Rafael has left home and rarely goes back. He likes his life in the city, where he sews beautiful costumes and feels a bit suffocated at home. And yet, he’s also lonely. When he gets the chance to save an old friend and his first love from the fae, he jumps on it.

It’s a beautiful story about a tailor using his skills to get the fairy queen to relinquish her hold on his friend. It’s also a story about family and acceptance and I liked the warmth of it.


The Road of NeedlesCaitlín R. Kiernan

3 Stars

A science fiction version of Little Red Riding Hood, it tells of how mechanic Nix Servern has to cross biospheres gone rogue to repair a damaged ship AI.

The setting is quite different and interesting, though I would have wished a bit more detail on the scientific aspects of the story.


Travels with the Snow QueenKelly Link

3 Stars

A young woman follows the tracks her old boyfriend left behind when he left with the Snow Queen though she’s not so sure why since she doesn’t really like him much.

One of the aspects I liked about the original fairy tale is how determined Greta is to rescue Kai. Here, she doesn’t seem to be so sure, as her relationship with him has been rocky before he left her. She doesn’t really know why she follows his tracks and what she plans to do with him once she finds him.


Halfway PeopleKaren Joy Fowler

4 Stars

Set in a Victorian-era kingdom, it tells the story of a poor girl who loves the sea and the strange man with a wing instead of an arm she finds one day.

It’s a beautiful story and a sad one as well, full of mystery and intrigue, It has everything: a sad queen that her husband would have sacrificed, brothers cursed into swans whose curse was broken and a girl who loves the sea and the youngest brother she finds there, not quite turned completely human.


Catastrophic Disruption of the HeadMargo Lanagan

3 Stars

A very dark, twisted retelling of the Tinder Box, where a soldier finds a magic lighter and uses it to gain power.

It’s a very dark retelling, as our main protagonist is a soldier clearly traumatized by the war he’s been through. And he’s not a nice character, not at all. Cruel and yet lost, he does some terrible things with the power he finds.


Lavanya and DeepikaShveta Thakrar

3 Stars

Twins are born by magic to a rani. One is traditionally beautiful, wild, a great huntress. Her sister, however, is different: skin red as a rose, with green hair and thorns growing on her skin. When their kingdom is threatened by an empire, the two sisters embark on a journey to protect it.

This tale feels very classically like a fairy tale. I loved the setting, I loved how the two sisters were so close to each other, how brave they were and how determined to save their mother.


Princess Lucinda and the Hound of the MoonTheodora Goss

3 Stars

A queen who cannot have children of her own finds a basket with a little girl inside it by the side of the woods. But when the little girl has grown into a young princess, a ferocious dog comes to the palace, demanding she go with him.

A sweet story about a girl stuck between to worlds and the expectations placed on her. It’s also a story of belonging and family.


Fairy TaleGardner Dozois

3 Stars

A realistic retelling of Cinderella, without the magic. Eleanor is determined to escape the small town she lives in with her stepmother and stepsisters. They’re not evil, but they’re not very kind either. She sees only one way out: become mistress to the prince. And so she sneaks to the ball.

Interesting twist on the classic Cinderella story. There’s no magic here but instead we get a young woman determined to find her own path.


The Queen Who Could Not WalkPeter S. Beagle

3 Stars

In a kingdom where each king and queen one day has to leave the palace to live the rest of their lives as beggars, a queen who cannot use her legs has difficulty adjusting to her life as a beggar. Until a beggarwoman comes to her aid.

A story of curses, magic, kindness and forgiveness, it was quite a sweet read.


LebkuchenPriya Sharma

2.5 Stars

Lebkuchen’s mother is a witch. She learned her mother’s skills. She spends most of her time alone in the woods where there’s forever winter, inventing stories about her origin, shunned and hated by the villagers who blame her for the eternal winter.

It’s a sad fairy tale and the ending makes it quite worthwhile though before reading the ending, I had trouble understanding the story at all, it was very confusing.


Diamonds and Pearls: A Fairy TaleNeil Gaiman

1.5 Stars

A very short text written to accompany a photograph at an exhibition. However, without the photo, it just doesn’t really work.


The Queen and the CambionRichard Bowes

3 Stars

Young Victoria is given an old parchment by her uncle. It contains a spell that will summon Merlin when she needs him. And she’ll need him in the course of her reign.

I liked the twisted timeline of Merlin and Victoria, where her summons drag him out at different points in his life, so his first meeting of her is not the first time she met him and vice versa.


Memoirs of a Bottle DjinnJane Yolen

3 Stars

A greek sailor stranded as a slave in a foreign country finds a bottle containing a djinn, who offers him one wish.

A sweet little tale of the unlikely meeting of two very different people: an old sailor and an ancient djinn.


The Mussel EaterOctavia Cade

3 Stars

Karitoki comes to the beach every day, trying to entice a Pania who comes to the shore to be with him.

I don’t know the original tale, though I quite liked this one. It was interesting to read how Karitoki tried (in vain) to change the nature of the Pania to suit what he wants her to be.


Bears: A Fairy Tale of 1958 – Steve Duffy

2 Stars

It’s the fifties and the first family of Bears comes to live in the suburbs. But life is not easy for them, as they try desperately to fit in and yet are stunned by their neighbours.

This story didn’t really bowl me over. It’s an okay tale. A weird concept, taking actual bears, giving them brains and then write about how they try to fit in in the suburbs. But that’s about it.


The Moon is Drowning While I SleepCharles de Lint

3 Stars

Sophie has been dreaming about the same place every night. It’s a strange place where the moon is missing, trapped in a lake in a marsh and slowly dying.

A very classic adventure in many ways, in her dreams, Sophie travels over and over again to this strange land and tries to save the moon.


RatsVeronica Schanoes

2.5 Stars

A take on the life of Nancy Spungen. Called Lily in this tale, she’s a troubled teenager who cannot find any rest, as she’s haunted by rats gnawing at her only she can see.

A sad story of a girl going down a spiral of drugs trying to find peace from the demons that haunt her mind.


Beyond the Naked EyeRachel Swirsky

4 Stars

The wizard is reigning supreme in Oz, but there’s a rebellion brewing. Their method of choice to undermine his power? A reality show called Wish where the last contestant standing gets their wish granted.

I liked this story. The classic characters don’t play all that much of a role, they’re contestants in the show. Instead, it focusses on a jeweler in Emerald City and the part he has to play in overthrowing the wizard.


Good HuntingKen Liu

4 Stars

Magic is disappearing from the land as iron roads cross the country and steam powered machines are on the rise. A hulijing looses her ability to change into a fox and a demon hunter is out of work. They both try to live in this strange new world.

Yes to steampunk fairy tales! A demon hunter turned gifted mechanic. A young girl lost without her magic, missing desperately her true fox form. And a world utterly changed by the advancements of steam technology.


By the Moon’s Good GraceKirstyn McDermott

3 Stars

Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother is dead, killed by her stepfather, the huntsman. For she had a secret: she could turn into a wolf. And now Little Red is in danger as well.

Little Red as a werewolf is a story I have read before. This one’s well written and interesting, with the stepfather a dangerous presence throughout and Little Red torn between the world of wolves and humans.


The Juniper TreePeter Straub

2 Stars

It’s summer and a seven-year-old boy escapes to the cinema every day instead of going to Summer Play School. And one day, he meets a dangerous predator there, a man called Jimmy who wants him to do all sorts of things in the dark of the theater.

Disturbing. Except for the title, I also don’t see the fairy tale connection at all.


GreensleevesJeff VanderMeer

2 Star

Librarian Mary works in a strange place, where homeless dance on the second floor, an eagle watches her move and one day, a circus magician arrives looking for his giant frog who can whistle Greensleeves.

Weird, but not in a good way. This story just didn’t speak to me at all.


BeautyTanith Lee

3 Stars

Aliens have visited earth and brough great gifts of technology. There’s only one catch: Every once in a while they send strange-coloured roses and then the family has to send a son or a daughter to live with the aliens.

Interesting take on Beauty and the Beast.


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