Rags and Bones by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt (Editors)

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Rags and Bones by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt (Editors)

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Category: Anthologies
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: While it's slightly hit and miss, the good stories in this short story collection are so good that it's required reading.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Headline
ISBN: 978-1472210524

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Some of today's top authors have come together to retell classic tales - from fairy stories to Victorian-era fiction. As usual with this kind of anthology, it's a fairly hit-or-miss affair, but the hits here are so strong that they're well worth picking up the book for.

As you'd expect, Neil Gaiman gives us something truly special here, as his Sleeping Beauty-inspired fantasy The Sleeper and The Spindle took my breath away. It's a beautifully written fantasy with an ending I didn't see coming. The other fairy tale update here is Kami Garcia's The Soul Collector, which brings Rumpelstiltskin into the world of urban fantasy. At just over 20 pages, it's action-packed, tense, and really made me care about the characters despite its short length.

I was less impressed by Garcia's co-author Margaret Stohl's contribution. Her Sirocco, which takes place on the film set of an adaptation of The Castle of Otranto, did little to capture my attention. Similarly, Carrie Ryan's That The Machine May Progress Eternally, inspired by EM Forster's The Machine Stops was one that I couldn't get to grips with - Ryan's writing style doesn't appeal to me at all, although I know her Forest of Hands and Teeth books have a lot of fans. Prior to this collection, my only exposure to the works of Melissa Marr was Carnival of Souls, which I couldn't recommend that highly because of a poor ending. Happily, her take on Kate Chopin's Awakenings, inspired by the Orkneys' selkie legends, has a much more satisfying conclusion and is one that all folklore fans should check out.

But there's relatively few misfires here overall, and the best stories, along with some beautiful illustrations by Charles Vess, make up for it. Holly Black's breathless confessional Millcara, updating Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla to modern times, is for my money a more gripping vampire tale than her recent novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, while a trio of authors I've somehow never read before all surprised me with wonderful writing. I have only the vaguest memories of Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King, but Garth Nix's Losing Her Divinity is a wonderfully tricky homage to it. I love the literature of the American South, and co-editor Tim Pratt's transplant of Henry James's The Jolly Corner, the story of an unlived life, to that location works brilliantly. A warm narrator and a seductive writing style made this one of my favourites in the collection. Then there's Kelley Armstrong's New Chicago. I think WW Jacobs' The Monkey's Paw is so well-known that it's a brave idea to even try to change it, but Armstrong succeeds here by placing it in a future world which is scary enough to live in even before the lead character comes across that monkey's paw.

The undoubted jewel in the crown of this collection, though - so good that at around 60 pages it would be worth the price of this hardback alone - is Rick Yancey's wonderful When First We Were Gods. I don't normally like sci-fi that much - although Yancey's The Fifth Wave is a rare exception - but this far future set update of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birth Mark is a class above nearly any other short story I've read all year. A magnificent space-set story of love and obsession, written with the same wonderful style which has made Yancey's Monstrumologist one of my favourite series, this is a must-read.

Overall, this is a very strong collection which any fantasy or sci-fi fan should go out and get.

Another YA anthology I really liked was Kiss Me Deadly by Tricia Telep (Editor). If stories by individual authors here make you want to check out more by them, some good places to start are Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Monstrumologist: The Terror Beneath by Rick Yancey, The Fall (The Seventh Tower) by Garth Nix and Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr.

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