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

Modern fairy tale anthologies are 100% my jam, so I absolutely devoured this 300+ page compilation of 20 short stories and poems written by some of the finest contemporary writers of speculative fiction. Absorbing and for the most part well-written, this is a book of re-told fairy tales that are far darker in nature than the children’s stories most are familiar with, hearkening back to the genre’s origins as court entertainments for the sophisticated and louche. Most of the stories here veer directly into the horror category, with Karen Joy Fowler’s terrific The Black Fairy’s Curse being perhaps the least nightmare-inducing of the bunch. Don’t let that pretty cover fool you: there’s some seriously grisly crime and horror going on within these pages.

That said, I have misgivings about the theme as it applies to the content, as the “cursed” part of the stories is often hit or miss. While I enjoyed the twists of the volume’s opener, Christina Henry’s As Red As Blood, As White As Snow, I found it hard to substitute “cursed” for what is clearly “ensorcelled” (yeah, I’m that kind of nerd.) With the second story, a reprint of Neil Gaiman’s Troll Bridge, I was further irritated by the idea that a curse is something you assume for yourself instead of something imposed upon you: that’s just a penance, son. Of the other stories with questionable connections to curses, Lilith Saintcrow’s Haza And Ghani was exceptional, and I’d love to read more in that setting. I also really enjoyed Angela Slatter’s New Wine even if there wasn’t any curse involved.

Unsurprisingly, this anthology was strongest when it was on-theme, as with James Brogden’s excellent Skin, that re-told a familiar story in modern circumstances while still capturing the dark horror of the original. Christopher Fowler’s Hated was probably the most thought-provoking and topical of the bunch. Charlie Jane Anders’ hilarious Fairy Werewolf Vs. Vampire Zombie was another short that made me want to read more set in that universe, though for much lighter reasons than the gruesome Haza And Ghani.

I did have one other misgiving when reading this anthology. While cautionary tales, fairy or otherwise, can often be subtly misogynistic, Christopher Golden’s Peter Pan adaptation, Wendy, Darling, got on all my nerves, not something I expect from that author. I would also have enjoyed Michael Marshall Smith’s Look Inside if our narrator had sounded like an actual woman and not some guy’s idea of a woman. While it is true that circumstances would permit that a woman wouldn’t report a burglary, no modern-day well-off single Englishwoman in her right mind wouldn’t report a burglar who also left her a stalkertastic note, if only for a paper trail. Even for a fairy tale, it pushed way too hard outside of the realms of reason.

Overall, however, this was a worthy addition to the twisted fairy tales genre, and just another great anthology from Titan Books. But don’t just take my word for it: check out the other stops on the blog tour with the handy infographic above and see what other reviewers have to say about this book!

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