Nine retellings of traditional fairy, folk and religious tales, reshaped and enriched with insight, detail, and Walker's precise, poetic language. Adult fairy tales are usually tongue-in-cheek, pornographic or psychoanalytic. Not these: Walker remains true to the spirit of her source material while giving it grown-up appeal. She takes stories drawn from the oral tradition and moves them over to the literary tradition, turning archetypes into individuals, adding some psychological motivation, dark irony, and a touch of overt metaphysics. In the title story, the Princess Mengarde, who has executed 97 aspirants to her hand, views the latest suitors through a window ""which was revelatory of various degrees of cunning."" She sees that the ""eldest possessed that bluff professionalism that veils deep dishonesty,"" while ""the second disclosed to her observation the laziness of the capable man, who need not think anything through because he owns a strong arm and a deceptively winning smile."" Another window reveals motive, right down to ""the ravenous hunger of birds in their graceful swoop, and the love of destiny in the inwinding curve of the road."" Walker's imagery is especially suggestive with characters who stand midway between man and beast: In ""Ashiepattle,"" the King remembers his first glimpse of the Queen-to-be: "". . .the ragged convolvulus of her enormous ballooning sleeves, iridescent blue, green and white, like the splayed abstraction of mallards hung on a door."" A tribute to the magical, folkloric heritage of Western Europe, these literary fairy tales may even raise an occasional adult frisson.