Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales: edited by Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane

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Fairy tales take a weird twist in this anthology compiling stories from an all-star cast of fantasy writers, including stories from Neil Gaiman, Charlie Jane Anders and Alison Littlewood.

Here in this book you’ll find unique twists on the fairy tale conceit of the curse, from the more traditional to the modern – giving us brand new mythologies as well as new approaches to well-loved fables. Some might shock you, some might make you laugh, but they will all impress you with their originality.

I jumped at this anthology as it had stories from some of my favourite authors – Michael Marshall Smith, Jen Williams, Mike Carey, to name but a few. But also a ton of other authors that I’d heard of, but not read, and some new-to-me names.

There are a lot of really good shorts in Cursed. There are a couple which are exceptional, one which made me go hmm, and only one which really didn’t work for me. Overall, I really enjoyed this selection of twisty takes on the fairy tale.

My favourites from the selection on offer:

At That Age, by Catriona Ward.

Strange Stepford-esque twins appear in a school class, showing off a life of wealth and parties, and quickly ensnare a young lad into their… unusual lifestyle. A dark, unsettling story about consequence, mixing folklore into a distinctly modern setting.

Listen, by Jen Williams.

It’s not often with a short story that you get a scope quite so epic in scale. Erren plays her pipes for anyone who’ll listen, albeit reluctantly. She plays for the villagers, for royalty, but the music reveals things that the listeners would rather left unsaid. You think from the start you know where it’s going, but Williams has you caught up in her own clever tune. It’s just wonderful.

Henry and the Snakewood Box, by M. R. Carey.

Ah, I really enjoyed this one. A demonic box who enjoys toying with his owner is a fun premise, and Carey clearly enjoys seeing how far it can go. Wishes are tricksy things, and you don’t always get what you want, even if it’s exactly what you wished for.

Fairy Werewolf vs. Vampire Zombie, by Charlie Jane Anders. My absolute favourite of the collection. I’ve not read any of Anders’ other books, but will be doing so shortly! A bar where our magical cousins go to knock back a cold one gets a new singer with a rather unusual secret. The writing is fun and zippy and the characters bounce off the page, with some great action scenes. I could happily read more adventures of Rachel, the bar owner.

Those four in my opinion are worth the price of admission alone. That’s not to say the others aren’t good – I also enjoyed Troll Bridge by Neil Gaiman, for example. But it felt like I knew exactly where that one was going, and was a solid Gaiman telling of a story. It was good! Just not as delightfully original as the others.

Of the stories which didn’t quite work, we had Michael Marshall Smith’s Look Inside. I’m a huge fan of his books and short stories (and boy can he tell a short story) but this one had a note which just didn’t quite sit with me – a woman finds out that someone has been in her house, but doesn’t seem particularly concerned. She thinks about calling the police, but doesn’t, shrugging it off as just an intruder. This note felt…wrong, and undermined the otherwise excellent story.

The other one which bothered me was Skin, by James Brodgen. A man makes an unpleasant comment to his date, and ends up being cursed to see his own imperfections, with horrific results. But then lays blame on the woman for his curse (brought on by his own faults). And she agrees that the consequences of his actions are her fault. Did not like, though the writing itself was good, and nicely creepy and atmospheric, the misogyny was jarring.

Overall though, those are just two out of twenty. The other 90% of the stories are very good, and with a collection of short stories you’re never going to like everything.

So, with the caveat about those two, I heartily recommend this anthology.

You’ll need to make your own mind up though!

Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales, edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane is published by Titan Books and is out now. Many thanks to Lydia Gittins at Titan Books for the review copy.

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

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