I make a pretty solid effort not to over-feature self-published and indie published books which are SOLELY ebook offerings, because I'm still a fan of the pages-cover-artwork-words experience that comprised books for me for most of my life. However, I love experimental fiction, and know some authors every once in awhile put out works that are only to be read on a screen, and this is one of them. This is a GOOD one.
Fairy tale retellings have been done. Fairy tale retellings from blogs have been done. The thing is, "new" is not a word you're every going to get in conjunction with fairy tales; they're hundreds and hundreds of years old, so retellings are just-fine-okay-right by me. Retellings which widen the circle of imagination? Better still.
Fans of the dangerous and tip-tilted worlds of Margo Lanagan or readers of the Merry Sisters of Fate short curiosities - Brenna Yovanoff's stories, especially - will find these an enjoyable new pot to stir.
Summary: I am a lover of the short story form - but I can't write short stories, at least, not if you ask me. Which is why the forward for this novel made me laugh - T. Kingfisher didn't think she could write them, either. And yet, we now have an entire book of her short stories. She focused on the fairytale - because all the cool kids are doing it - and I'd like to note that this is a book for older readers. Yeah. See, the idea here is that folk and fairy tales are generally not for children, because, those tales are dark. Terrible things happen - stalking, assault, theft, murder, grue and gore - but, so do wonderful things - frogs, privacy, baking, and potatoes, and true friendships. And honestly, bad puns.
Peaks: This book contains several stories ("Toad Words," "The Wolf and the Woodsman," "Bluebeard's Wife," "Loathly," "The Seawitch Sets the Record Straight," and "Never;") a few poems in blank verse (It Has Come To My Attention, Bait, and Odd Season), a shorter piece of flash fiction called "Night" and "Boar & Apples," a novella.
It is always hard for me to assess short stories - I suck them up greedily, lurching from one "favorite" to the next "favorite-this-hour" -- I have no literary restraint. Fortunately, T. Kingfisher does -- there's restraint in these stories. There's observation, wit, and a dry, almost detached narrative voice which, "Dear Readers" you without ever actually saying that. You get the sense that you're snug in a recliner in a dim room somewhere, a mug of something tasty in your hands and a fuzzy blanket of dog, cat, or knitting over your lap, listening to someone tell all that they saw or heard, in that village, or the next over the rise. There's a sense of coziness, in that it's almost confessional - lean close, and let me tell you...
This makes some of the disturbing tales ESPECIALLY disturbing. Please don't whisper in my ear about hearts kept in boxes... please...!
The stories are so well written. I love "Bluebeard's Wife," -- because I have played with a version of the horrific fairytale myself, and am always intrigued to see varying takes on it. Kingfisher cleverly plays with the concept of privacy and secrets as a GOOD thing, and the concept of bad vs. evil. Bluebeard was an evil man, but he wasn't a bad one, in this tale. And his poor wife is mainly... introverted. Understanding. And, in the end, a bit regretful that she can't go home.
Toad Words is my all-round favorite poem; I have always hated the traditional toads-for-bad-girls-and-diamonds-for-good story - as much as I love rocks, what's wrong with frogs? It was LOVELY to imagine whispering spring peepers into streams. This is not the type of story for those not really fond of things found beneath rocks, or those who earnestly believe the message of If you girls don't speak nicely BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN. this poem challenges the idea of punishment, and turns it on its ear.
"Never" made me tear up a bit. Perhaps through having read the story when I was older and less malleable, I've never been a fan of the (disturbingly erratic) mercurial Tink and Pan - at all - and imaging being forced to live as a child forever is truly, truly vile. This story captures that painfully.
Authorial Elements: The author, T. Kingfisher, is Ursula Vernon - and her "vaguely absurd" pen name is to separate her stuff from her kids' stuff. (The author being Ursula Vernon, Actual Artist, is also why the cover art is so fantastic on this book.) Being fans of her Hugo-Award-winning, multiple Junior Library Guild selected graphic novels will give you a hint of the humor and talent in her narrative. If you've popped by her blog, you've seen some of these short stories in progress - as she plowed through longer fairytales she found through reading, and marveled at how whack job they were... which of course encouraged her further to write her own. As it would. Why self-publish? I think it's because she wanted to see if she could write short stories that would sell. And, guess what...? Now she has her answer.
I purchased my very own copy. You can find TOAD WORDS and Other Stories by T. Kingfisher at Smashwords, Amazon, or her various livejournal sites. Enjoy!