Thursday, April 9, 2015

Review - "Grimm Mistresses"

Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher

The best-selling book lists might include the fairy tales of Brothers Grimm, but I believe they are the most famous stories out there. However, these old fairy tales hold not only fame, but also a power of transformation, they become something else while we journey from our childhood into adult life. They begin to reveal more than happy endings and merriment, their content becomes much darker. Of course, with modern entertainment spinning them into something new their power of transformation is enhanced. “Grimm Mistresses” aims for such changes, taking five fairy tales and giving them a new life, but without losing their dark core in the process.

“Little Dead Red” by Mercedes M. Yardley – Marie’s daughter, Aleta, goes to visit her grandmother at the hospital but on her way there she meets a terrifying end. Marie tries to exact revenge on the creature responsible for the terrible deed. “Little Dead Red” is a tremendous opener for this little anthology. Mercedes M. Yardley spins a dark story, the darker you can find, to bone chilling precision. All the set of emotions Marie experience are sent in an unsettling correspondence across to the reader, her suffering, desperation, loss, longing, and unrelenting determination to find vengeance are brought to palpable extent, whirled with great talent by Mercedes M. Yardley through haunting scenes. There is a lushness of language within this story, but its beauty has on the other side of its coin an oppressing atmosphere, an event that breathes so much dread. The terrible event at the core of the plot is not the only one contributing to the very dark setting of Mercedes M. Yardley’s story, because unlike the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, where this tale has its roots, here the wolf is not the only dangerous creature living in the forest and not as easily recognizable, hiding not among the trees of the forest but blending in the city landscape. “Little Dead Red” is a harrowing, deeply emotional story, one that shook my ground and chased away my sleep long into the night. It is also one of the very best I ever read.

“Nectar” by Allison M. Dickinson – Two men going on a double blind date end up being held captive by a group of women with a particular agenda. The story is twisted, bizarre take of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, but unfortunately beside this original take on the old tale I couldn’t connect at any level with the other elements of “Nectar”. Heavy of science fiction elements the story left me puzzling over some of his aspects. The men are taken to a location on Earth, but to a different time. They are brought there for breeding purposes since only women can survive there, the air being poisonous for the male population, but why the males cannot withstand the noxious air is never explained. They are constantly fed a certain nectar that makes them depended to their captors, but that also fattens and drives them insane. Although with the story told from the point of view of one of the man held captive the degradation of his mind is never truly felt. From my standing point I also was unable to find any appeal in a rebellious act taking place, but without being supported by the believable reasons, and on a couple of gruesome images, not frightening in the way some horror stories play such scenes but stirring more the uncomfortable feeling of repulsion. Following in the wake of the very powerful “Little Dead Red” didn’t help Allison M. Dickinson’s story either.

“The Leopard’s Pelt” by S.R. Cambridge – During World War II, Henry Lowery survives an attack that sank his ship only to end up stranded on a deserted island. In order to escape what seems to be a sealed fate Henry strikes a deal with a leopard, a magical creature that is the only other inhabitant of the island. S.R. Cambridge weaves together very well the elements of fairy tales with a narrative of her own, creating a heart-warming story. Two powerful characters struggling against invisible boundaries and their condition, Henry facing the limits of the bargain he struck in order to survive and Beatrice fighting with a time and a society unforgiving with her dreams, find each other, ending up winning each other’s hearts and those of the readers. “The Leopard’s Pelt” is a wonderful modern fairy tale, one that kept me hooked within it and made me keep my fingers crossed for a happy ending. And while the finale brings with it a relief for the two main characters I also liked that it leaves some of the threads hanging, from that point things could very well become brighter or darker, it is entirely up to the imagination of the reader.

“Hazing Cinderella” by C.W. LaSart – Katie moves, not for the first time, into the house her mother’s new husband, but she must face the dislike and hidden agenda of her step-sister. At the same time her mother has some things to deal with too. I am not the one to make comparisons with other works, but while I read “Hazing Cinderella” I could not get out of my system that the story reminded me a great deal of the 2012 movie “Byzantium”, directed by Neil Jordan. Not in the way of being a copycat, but because it follows some similar roads and shares certain themes with this film. Leaving that aside C.W. LaSart’s story has its merits. It twists Cinderella’s tale in a very interesting way and while there is only a couple of touching points with the famous fairy tale the villains and the “rewards” they deserve according to their behavior are as nasty as those of the old stories. In my case the similarities with “Byzantium” make “Hazing Cinderella” more memorable but I am not the one to deny that the story delves in some vicious, brutal imagery that makes it a very dark tale.

“The Night Air” by Stacy Turner – Marla, in an attempt to offer a less threatening medium for her three little children to grow up in, moves together with her husband to a small town only to discover that some old perils still claim heavy tolls. I loved Stacy Turner’s take on the familiar fairy tale, I’ll not reveal it here since its discovery later in the story is part of the twist, but also the vibe of classic horror writings that “The Night Air” radiates. Small towns with old, well kept secrets and closed communities are elements that were points of attraction toward horror fiction ever since I first discovered the genre. The story reaches its turning point very well, it gathers momentum from Marla’s eerie discovery in the woods behind her new house and realism from the state of exhaustion she hits with the recent move and the demands of her work and young children. However, I felt a bit disappointed with the end, it leaves a certain feeling that I find difficult to grasp considering the tragedy unfolded previously.

“Grimm Mistresses” digs after the dark roots of Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales grafting this source with satisfactory results. There is very little happily-ever-after to be found within the urban woods of “Grimm Mistresses”, but since this collection aims for “those dark fairy tales that made you leave the light on long before Disney went and sanitized them” it achieves its objective successfully. It might not hit the bull’s-eye, but it is not far from it either.


Mercedes said...

Thank you so much for reading and doing such a detailed review for Grimm Mistresses! LITTLE DEAD RED is the darkest story I have ever written, and I'm so happy you enjoyed it! :D

Mihai A. said...

Mercedes, thank you very much for your awesome story. I absolutely loved it! And now I really need to catch up with all your excellent work! :)