Black Swan, White Raven is a short story anthology of modern, dark fairy tales. What I love about anthologies is that each story is very different than the others. If I don’t happen to like one of them, it’s quickly done and I can move on, and if the editors do a good job, there won’t be one after the other that I don’t like. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling did well in that regard. Also, they did a great job of choosing a first story, “The Flounder’s Kiss” by Michael Cadnum, that sucked me in and made me hungry for the next, and they ended with a story equally as good, “Godmother Death” by Jane Yolen, that left me satisfied and feeling generally positive towards the book as a whole.
I wish I could say the number of stories I liked outweighed the bad, but they were equal. It could have been worse, but the bad ones I absolutely despised, such as “Snow in Dirt” by Michael Blumlein, or was literally bored to sleep by, as with “True Thomas” by Bruce Glassco. Then there was “The True Story” by Pat Murphy, which came off as a preachy, condescending Feminist rant more than it did an actual story. I consider myself a Feminist, and I feel that there is an excellent way of re-telling a classic fairy tale that doesn’t alienate the audience and give credence to the prevailing misconceptions about Feminism. An example of that would be the movie Maleficent. Oh, I wish that were a book! “The Black Fairy’s Curse”, by Karen Joy Fowler, was disjointed and confusing, and Joyce Carol Oates’s “The Insomniac Night” made me extremely anxious with it’s stream of consciousness and bouncing back and forth between the present and the past. I had the feeling something horrible was going to happen at any moment, but then it ended so abruptly, I had to put the book aside for awhile before I could continue on to the next story.
Another story that made me pause for a bit, but that I loved, was “No Bigger than my Thumb” by Esther M. Friesner. I have to say that this one could fit very well into the Horror genre. It was excellent, and very unsettling. “The Trial of Hansel and Gretel” by Garry Kilworth, was an ingenious twist on the classic, as was “Steadfast” by Nancy Kress. I also greatly enjoyed “Rapunzel” by Anne Bishop, which is told from the perspectives of Rapunzel’s mother, the witch who keeps Rapunzel in the tower, and Rapunzel herself. Not only was each perspective insightful, but it held to the classic inclusion of threes in a very modern way. This is the only one that I think could safely be shared with a teenage daughter. The rest are definitely for adults, not just for the sexual content in several of them, but because of the many disturbing scenes.
Overall, I recommend Black Swan, White Raven to anyone who loves dark fantasy, horror, and alternative versions of fairy tales, especially if you’re looking for new authors to read.