My rating: 5 of 5 stars
***** The Shadow Tree
An amazing opening to the book… familiar fairytale elements combine in unexpected ways, creating a haunting, eerie and poignant tale.
This cinder-dark Ella, servant in a great castle, sees to the needs of both the king and the queen, and tells strange stories to their two horrible children. But that’s not all she’ll do…
This is a ‘prequel’ to ‘And Sorrow And Such’ – here we meet the main character of that novella as a young woman who’s just lost her mother. Lest you feel too, too, sorry for her, her mother was a witch, so is she, and she’s already quite capable of taking care of herself.
***** Little Radish
A retelling of Rapunzel. What if she wasn’t forcibly imprisoned in that tower, but was actually there by choice? It can be difficult to come out of your isolation and form connections with other people. It’s not a process that can necessarily happen without pain and damage. A story with a strong message of forgiveness and wisdom.
A half-troll girl has a strained relationship with her fully-human sister. Strange magic has been affecting the forest where they live, and things will come to a head when her sister’s mother re-enters the picture.
***** The Navigator
A dark and tragic tale: Slaves deprived of their wings, an illicit love affair marred by guilt and inequity. Betrayal and sacrifice. It is both horrible and beautiful.
**** The Angel Wood
When a girl is taken to the home her mother fled before she was born, she must take up the fate that her mother ran away from, and fulfill the responsibilities of the bargain her family made long ago. Here, a destiny that could be horrific is instead bittersweet.
When a woman demands the return of a child that she gave to a witch as payment for her services, she learns that although a bargain can be broken, and a witch can as vulnerable as any other woman, there is a price for her reneging on the agreement.
**** The Story of Ink
A sequel, of sorts, to ‘Ash.’ A young serving girl obeys her master when he instructs her to find and retrieve his runaway ward. His plans for the runaway involve dark and sinister magics, but the servant is more concerned with her promised reward.
***** Lost Things
Also a sequel to ‘Ash’ and ‘The Story of Ink.’ We follow a character who has joined a gang of bandits as cook’s boy. However, an accident reveals not only that she is a girl, but that her skin bears a legendary and magical map which is key to retrieving all lost things – perhaps, even the dead.
**** A Good Husband
Bargains that don’t work out quite as expected are a recurring theme in this collection. Here a woman violently disfigured by her husband asks a boon. Will the inhabitant of the local lake, a mermaid-like, magical being reputed to grant wishes, make her husband love her?
***** A Porcelain Soul
Wow. This story is strikingly original in so many details – it has to be read, not described. A young woman’s greatest ambition is to become a dollmaker. (She studies at a center where the dolls and toys created are infused with the souls of the makers, creating wonderful, almost-living toys.) Her biggest competition for the place she seeks is talented – but has no desire for the career. Unfortunately, she’s connected by blood to the head of the studio, and may not be given a choice about what path she is allowed to pursue. Trying to restrict peoples’ choices leads to desperate measures – and desperate measures, too often, lead to tragedy.
*****The Bones Remember Everything
A strange voice calling leads a woman to a tower encircled my thorns, untouched for years. Within sits a spinning wheel… and yes, a woman who has ‘slept’ for years.
You might think this sounds familiar, but the story that is told, and the story that unfolds, will not match your expectations.
Very nicely done, and the details that tie this piece in with others in the collections are an added bonus.
When a baker is called upon to demonstrate her wares for a big wedding catering order, the last thing she expects is to fall in love with the groom. But things happen as they will. Although it’s an arranged marriage, it’s unsurprising (except to the baker) that the fiancee is none too pleased with their affair. The events that transpire will involve curses and revenge. In these stories, there tends to be no ‘innocent’ party.
**** Sister, Sister
Once a queen, a woman is now reduced to life in a brothel. (A brothel where a remarkable number of characters from earlier stories seem to have ended up.) It’s actually not the worst place to live; the woman who runs the place is fair and considerate. But that’s not to say that the woman doesn’t have plans to leave, or that she doesn’t hold serious resentment against her sister, whose lies caused her husband to throw her over and make that sister his mistress.
However, there’s more to this story that she realizes… rumors are going around of children disappearing, and this betrayal may have deeper roots.
**** Lavender & Lychgates
Malicious magic has raised a boy from the dead. Reanimated, he believes that the daughter his mother bore after his stillbirth has usurped his place, and that he will somehow regain the love that should have been his if he can only eliminate her.
A sequel, of sorts, to ‘Sourdough.’
**** Under the Mountain
This final tale, again, incorporates many of the characters we met in earlier stories. The main character here is the daughter of the once-queen in ‘Sister, Sister.’ On a quest to rescue a loved one from the troll kingdom, she must face hard truths.
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