Thursday, November 1, 2012

Review: Two and Twenty Dark Tales, edited by Nina Berry

Released: October 16, 2012
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, 340 pages

Goodreads description:
In this anthology, 20 authors explore the dark and hidden meanings behind some of the most beloved Mother Goose nursery rhymes through short story retellings. The dark twists on classic tales range from exploring whether Jack truly fell or if Jill pushed him instead to why Humpty Dumpty, fragile and alone, sat atop so high of a wall. The authors include Nina Berry, Sarwat Chadda, Leigh Fallon, Gretchen McNeil, and Suzanne Young.

The following review is based on an eARC provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion. It differs from the final version. 

Review (no spoilers):
I love anthologies, but this is my first time reviewing one. As the title says, there are twenty-two stories by twenty different authors in it but I’m not going to talk about every one of them. Instead, I’m going to point out some of those I think were most brilliant as well as a few that didn’t work for me. Overall, the quality of the stories was very high! Anthologies are always a mixed bunch but I really enjoyed the vast majority of the tales in here.

An aside: as a Swiss girl, I don’t really know many nursery rhymes. We have some here but they’re not such a big thing. They’re more like figures of speech or else short songs or lullabies, but I have the impression that in the English-speaking world they are more part of culture than here. So I didn’t know most of the rhymes these stories were for, which made the reading more exciting for me because I had no real inkling what to expect most of the time since I didn’t recognize the usual context of the rhyme.

The way the stories were retold varied a lot. Some stayed close to the rhyme while others took a more abstract approach, incorporating the general theme or situation instead. There were medieval-ish fantasy retellings, modern retellings, with or without magic. There were wishes and curses and spells. Witches, vampires, some type of faeries, dystopian tales, Irish as well as Egyptian mythology! I really enjoyed how creative these authors got and how they twisted their ‘raw material’!

I was especially looking forward to Karen Mahoney’s story, One For Sorrow, and it ended up to be one of my top favorites! I really enjoyed the atmosphere she created, the references to Poe, the way she took up different fairytale motives and wove everything into something new and original set in the modern world. And I loved the chemistry between her main characters!

Another story, one that really rattled me, was Life in a Shoe by Heidi R. Kling. It's set in a dystopian society where women no longer have the right not to get pregnant and pretty much ‘produce’ another kid each year even though no one has enough food to keep everyone nourished. The lack of choice and the heroine’s will to persevere and pursue a better future than her mother really stuck with me.

A story that made my university-trained, literary theory savvy self rejoice was Blue, by Sayantani DasGupta. The idea of creation through writing, gaining a voice and a sense of self by literally writing oneself into being and being read by another, came through brilliantly in this one. I loved how the main character went from passive, observant chronicler to being an actor in her own right!

One story that seriously creeped me out in a good way was Wee Willy Winkie by Leigh Fallon. The ending is wickedly ambiguous in my opinion! I also really enjoyed the carnival feeling in A Ribbon of Blue by Michelle Zink, as well as the character dynamics in Suzanne Young’s The Wish.

Unfortunately, as I said above, there are some stories that didn’t quite work for me. One of them was Pieces of Eight by Shannon Delany and Max Scialdone. The basic idea was good but it was too big in scope for a short story and would have needed more space to really develop, in my opinion. As it was, it appeared a bit confusing. I liked the writing and the wolf guard character though.

Another one I was a bit disappointed by was Candlelight by Suzanne Lazear. I’ve been curious about her novel Innocent Darkness for a while and was eager to check out her writing, but I was not convinced (in this story at least). The basic idea was good though not exactly new. I liked the bond between the sisters in her story but it was all very predictable, right down to the ending. What would have been interesting is how the characters deal with things at the exact point the story breaks off, or how society reacts to the disappearance of so many teenagers. However, the story might have appeared weaker to me than it really is because it’s positioned right after Life in a Shoe which, as stated above, packed one hell of an emotional punch for me! The problems of these girls just appeared very petty to me after the very real issues Kling’s heroine had to deal with.

I also felt a bit ‘meh’ about Tick Tock by Gretchen McNeil. The atmosphere-building was brilliant but there wasn’t really a plot or an explanation for what was happening. One story I’m undecided about is Clockwork by Leah Cypress. Her idea was really original and I loved the connection she drew between clocks and magic. Her heroine was strong – apart from the ending where, in my opinion, she succumbed to weakness. How you read that ending is highly subjective though which is why I’m conflicted. To another reader, her decision may well be a display of strength.

There were many other stories I really enjoyed though I can’t give them any space here now. Overall I loved the collection so much that I’ll definitely buy a finished version, especially since the second part of a story by Nancy Holder, as well as a story by C. Lee McKenzie and an Interlude poem by Georgia McBride were not included in my eARC yet.

If that’s not enough, proceeds from the first 5000 books sold will be donated to, a literary organization that fosters the advancement of YA literature around the world. So you’re also doing a good deed by buying yourself a set of awesome stories right in time for the Halloween season ;)

Have your read the anthology or any of the authors’ other work? What were your faves?


  1. Great review! I always have trouble reviewing anthologies, because there is just so much to talk about!

  2. I always have troubles with anthologies, also with this one. I guess I don't like the short stories, because you can't bond with it. There were still some stories I liked though, most of them are not in your review :p haha.

  3. I thought this book was just my kind. Taking Mother Goose and finding the dark side. Fantastic. The review was right to the point without a lot of frills.