I meant to post this ages back, but ended up getting distracted and taking random notes of another anthology that I liked much better. Oops?
Anyway, short stories tend to be a mixed bag, especially when you’re reading authors you’ve never read before or reading authors you have read before. On the one hand, you grab a copy of an anthology because there’s that one story by your favorite author that you ABSOLUTELY must read because oh gosh. And sure maybe the rest of the stories–thematic and thensome–will be just as good. Then you realize well, maybe not (or, there is also that offchance you’re not wowed by your favorite author’s short story after all). Or, maybe you discover a short story you really loved, from an author you never heard of, and proceed to check out books-wise.
Clockwork Fairy Tales: A Collection of Steampunk Fables certainly defines this mixed bag. I picked it up mostly because A) I respect anthologies almost as I do novels. Sometimes I do get in the mood to read short stories instead of long ones, and usually because my mind starts to wander in novel-length books (even if they are good ones). Take the week I read this book, for example, I was in between reading G.R.R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows and Brandon Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension (which I haven’t finished yet). Those books are a doozy, and in AFfC’s case, hella annoying to get through. So of course I needed something that broke the occasional humdrum of high/epic fantasy. Plus, I do tend to have a short attention span.
Oh, and B) I mean, come on. Short stories that are thematic to steampunk and fairy tales. Helloooo, sexy. Of course I was going to pick it up! Plus, Pip Ballantine had written something for it, and I loved her Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences collaboration with Tee Morris (at least, book one so far. I have to pick up the next, etc.).
So, that being said, the book is clearly reimagined fairy tales with the steampunk elements thrown in. And sometimes that surprised me at how well these two things melded together. Some of the stories did stick out, others made me want to read the fairy tales they were based off of, because it was difficult having to follow otherwise.
The standouts (at least, for me):
“La Valse” by K.W. Jeter was a gruesome way to open a book on fairy tales and steampunk, but I find this highly appropriate, considering how dark the old fairy tales could be. It took me a bit longer to get into this, however, because I wasn’t sure what the heck was going on the first time around (all that steampunky terminology, I tell ya!). That said, I kind of did find the punishments at the end were more warranted than not.
“Fair Vasyl” by Steven Harper was, hands down, my favorite in the collection. It was certainly a gender-bending version of “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” and Harper just didn’t take the tale and go with it, he embellished it to flesh the characters out. Also, I love the mechanical cat. And Baba Yaga’s mechanical home. Oh, and Baba Yaga herself was practically fantabulously witchy. Yes.
“You Will Attend Until Beauty Awakens” by Jay Lake wasn’t so much a retelling of the events of “Sleeping Beauty,” but more of a background intro to the characters involved and the lead-up to what could be if the Sleeping Beauty fell in love with an automaton instead. I liked the little points of view, from the faeries to the prince, to the king and queen. I’m not sure if this counts as a “short” story, because I felt like it could have been made into a novel in order to tell the entire thing of it. Still, I liked it enough.
“The Clockwork Suit” by G.K. Hayes was based off of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go about, considering the fairy tale itself was simply straightforward. I liked the turn-around here, showing not the tinker conman and king’s conversations, but what was happening in the background that led up to the emperor wearing his birthday suit. As grim as the story had been, the end made me chuckle somewhat.
“The Mechanical Wings” by Pip Ballantine wraps the anthology up with what I thought was a fantastic derivation of “The Wild Swans”. I’d been struggling through a derivation of this in Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest (which I swear I will end up finishing…eventually), so a shortened, steampunk retelling was something welcome in my book. I loved that this was taking place in floating cities. And that there was still that hint of magic and folklore in there (not that the other stories didn’t…Ballantine’s just had it engraved so well in her story in any case). So, yeah, this is probably my second favorite of the collection.
All in all, I think the book itself was worth a read, if not for the sake of steampunk and fairy tales, then for the fabulous authors above.