As a general rule, I avoid short story collections. It’s not that short stories are inherently bad, just that they’re difficult to pull off well for the multiple times in a row in takes to make a book. And while I might really love one or two of the stories, for the most part, I find short story collections to be largely forgettable (of course, it’s also possible that I’m just reading the wrong ones).
But strangely, I can’t get enough of fairy tales, and what is a fairy tale if not a short story? I love Aesop, Mother Goose, Perrault, Anderson, and the Grimms, as well as authors who take a break from their normal writings to pen a fairy tale collection (like Oscar Wilde and Herman Hesse). Is it the fairy tale structure I’m drawn to? Do I need witches and fairies and talking animals in order to find a short story satisfying? Do I think that’s odd considering I’m a full grown adult? (The answer to that last one, at least, is no.)
This week for our book challenge I read two short story collections. As he explains in the introduction, Neil Gaiman got the idea for the title M is for Magic from author Ray Bradbury, who used to release his short story collections for children with titles like R is for Rocket and S is for Space (Gaiman wrote Bradbury to ask if it was okay to use the idea, and it was).
Overall this was a good collection of stories! My favorite was “The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” a hard boiled detective story wherein Jack Horner is hired to find out who offed Humpty Dumpty. I also really enjoyed “October in the Chair” (in which the anthropomorphized months of the year hold a meeting) and “Sunbird” (about a very mysterious gastronomy club).
Even though they weren’t my favorites, most of the others were at least interesting: “Troll Bridge” (about a boy bargaining for his life), “Don’t Ask Jack” (there’s something terribly wrong with that jack-in-the-box”), “Chivalry” (about an old lady who finds the Holy Grail at a flea market), and “The Price” (let’s just say that you should probably go adopt a cat).
There were really only three stories that I could’ve done without: “How to Sell the Ponti Bridge” (in which a man conspires to get rich by selling the…well, you get it), “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” (about teen boys trying to hook up with girls but instead they find something they did not expect), and “The Witch’s Headstone” (actually an excerpt from Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, so I’d already read it).
So in the end, I enjoyed 7 out of 10 of the stories in this collection. But I guess that’s not so surprising considering it IS the great Neil Gaiman.
I first gained knowledge of Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns (a collection of fairy tale-style stories) when it basically took over #Bookstagram. But since I don’t generally make a habit of seeking out YA titles, I had no plans to read it until my sister more or less threw it at my head, screaming that I would love it.
As usual, she was right.
It’s almost as if Bardugo wrote this book specifically for me. This is EXACTLY the kind of fairy tale I like — some are creepy, some are tragic, some have happy endings, but they’re all completely original takes on the types of stories I thought I knew well. In addition, each tale is beautifully illustrated: the pictures start small at the beginning, then gradually change and grow as the story does, in sometimes adorable, sometimes horrifying ways.
There are six tales in The Language of Thorns, and it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite. Like literally, seriously impossible.
“Ayama and the Thorn Wood” is about a girl sent to negotiate a truce with a beast who’s tormenting the village. “The Too-Clever Fox” is about Koja the fox’s many escapes from near-death. “The Witch of Duva” tells the tale of a village where girls go missing. “Little Knife” belongs to Bardugo’s Grishaverse; it’s about a poor Tidemaker who attempts to win the hand of a rich merchant’s daughter. In “The Soldier Prince,” a nutcracker ponders his existence. And finally, “When the Water Sang Fire” is a lesson not to cross a selkie.
And so, my final verdict:
M is for Magic = totally
The Language of Thorns = Ohmygoshyesdoitrightnow
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