A welcome, clever update of fairy tales that work best when they reinvent the originals.

CINDER THE FIREPLACE BOY

AND OTHER GAYLY GRIMM TALES

LGBTQ+ characters take center stage in Mardoll’s reimagining of classic fairy tales.

Mardoll’s fairy tales might sound familiar, but if readers pay close attention, they’ll notice he’s made a few changes from the classic Brothers Grimm versions. In one, a prince who makes a reluctant deal with a frog discovers the amphibian is a beautiful young man in disguise. In another, a princess falls in love with a woman trapped high in a tower, accessible only by climbing the woman’s long golden hair. In the wonderfully titled “Sometimes Hansel and Othertimes Gretel,” a woodcutter’s child identifies as a boy on some days and a girl on others. The kind woodcutter accepts the child’s fluidity, while the child’s mother is annoyed by it. As Mardoll explains in the book’s introduction, he has always loved the Grimms’ fairy tales—and has frequently given volumes of them as gifts—but found them lacking in one area specifically. “I was proud to share my love for these tales, even if sometimes I felt a gnawing hunger when I remembered how heteronormative the stories were; how much sooner would I have found my queer self if those old tales had contained queer representation?” In these 31 versions of the classic tales, Mardoll has removed instances of racism, antisemitism, and Christian moralizing while introducing queer and disabled characters. Women fall in love with women; husbands give birth to babies; and beautiful maidens use wheelchairs to get around. The tales are preceded by content notes warning of potential triggers, from the classic (“Cannibalism, Murder, Dismemberment, Execution”) to the contemporary (“Accidental Misgendering”). Mardoll also starts each story by identifying the pronouns of the characters who will appear in it.

Mardoll’s prose mimics the fabulist style of the original tales. The language is precise without delving too deeply into the specifics of character: “Once upon a time there lived a child who liked to be idle and daydream, as children often do. Their mother was very vexed by this and accused the child of being lazy, insisting that a young person on the cusp of adulthood as they were should learn a useful trade such as spinning yarn.” Gorgeous color illustrations by Dingley, which manage to feel medieval and modern at the same time, accompany the text. Some of the tales are essentially the originals with a few pronouns swapped: The Frog Prince seduces a man, and Rapunzel is wooed by a woman. The more interesting ones are those in which the characters’ queerness contributes to the plot, as in the fairly ingenious title story, which is perhaps the best in the book. The protagonist is a boy who everyone thinks is a girl. His cruel stepmother and stepsisters misgender him and call him Cinderella, and it’s only the power of a magic bird that allows him to present his true self to the handsome prince. While the reader may sometimes wish Mardoll had allowed the characters’ new traits to propel the stories in new and surprising directions, the author has succeeded in his task of creating more inclusive versions of the stories that the Grimms fans know and love.

A welcome, clever update of fairy tales that work best when they reinvent the originals.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2021

ISBN: 979-8985042412

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Acacia Moon Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

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BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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