Book Review: And They Lived: A Short Story Anthology Sabrina Zbasnik (2014)

October 29th, 2014 12:20 pm by Kelly Garbato

Love the Feminist Fairy Tale Retellings!

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review though Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, minor spoiler alert for the story summaries below. I tried not to include any major reveals, but if you’d rather approach this anthology with fresh eyes, skip the play-by-plays.)

The description for And They Lived – a collection of nine short stories by Sabrina Zbasnik – sucked me in immediately: “And They Lived isn’t just a dark turn and modernization of the fairy tales. It gives power back to the powerless in the classic stories. Women are no longer the victims and their story doesn’t end with true love’s kiss.” Feminist retellings of fairy tale classics? Sign me up!

While the book’s synopsis says that there are eight stories included here, the review copy I received from the author actually contains nine tales:

“Before Midnight” – Cinderella attends the ball not in search of her prince, but a mark: a lecherous man old enough to be her father, with a foot fetish to boot, who calls himself “Charming.” She leaves one of her infamous glass slipper embedded in his orbital socket.

“Fifth Horseman” – Part short story, part riddle, “Fifth Horseman” posits a brother to War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death: “I come before the four riders and I linger after. I am the fifth rider, never spoken of, never known until it is too late.” Hint: he is heavily trafficked in by politicians and Fox News pundits.

“Hollow” – The Empress Jia made a deal with the demon Vengeance many years ago, to help avenge the deaths of her parents and brothers. But the price Jia would ultimately pay turned out to be far greater than she realized.

“Darkness Shall Not Be Breached” – Vampire spider babies!

“The Tower” – With references to both Hansel and Gretel and The Frog Prince, “The Tower” features a demonic Rapunzel who’s found herself imprisoned in a tower thanks to a curse cast by her witch mother. Only a good man can free her – yet a good man would never dare invade the sanctity of her room in such a manner.

“Destiny” – What happens when the king allows his first-born child – long since prophesied to be the cause of his downfall – to live instead of killing her outright?

“The Flower Garden” – A meditation on beauty and fickleness involving a young princess and her flower garden.

“Insomnia” – What if sleep eludes you even in death?

“Red” – A grim, contemporary take on Red Riding Hood that casts the titular character as an agent in a vigilante group of assassins. Rumor has it that a shadowy figure named “Wolf” has it out for them – Grandmother especially. When Red receives a signal to meet Grannie at the Cottage, she’s startled to find the body of an eviscerated Woodsman – and a rifle-wielding wolf in grandmother’s clothing.

My favorites, of course, are the fairy tale remakes – particularly “Before Midnight” and “The Tower” – as well as the unexpected “Fifth Horseman.” (Cue images of Titus Welliver, James Otis, Matt Frewer, and Julian Richings, while also trying to mentally cast the fifth brother for the upcoming season of SPN.) I especially love the preponderance of female protagonists, including at least two women of color (Ella Cinder and Empress Jia).

The rest of the stories are readable enough, though not quite as memorable. It’s a decent collection that falls right in the 3.5 star range (*silently cursing Amazon & Goodreads for not allowing half-stars!*), reluctantly rounded down to three stars where necessary.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Two of the stories feature WOC (The Empress Jia in “Hollow” and Ella Cinder in “Before Midnight”).

 

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