Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales

Edited By Melissa Marr & Tim Pratt
Published on October 22nd 2013
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Netgalley
The best writers of our generation retell the classics.

Literature is filled with sexy, deadly, and downright twisted tales. In this collection, award-winning and bestselling authors reimagine their favorite classic stories, ones that have inspired, awed, and enraged them; ones that have become ingrained in modern culture; and ones that have been too long overlooked. They take these stories and boil them down to their bones, and then reassemble them for a new generation of readers.

Today's most acclaimed authors use their own unique styles to rebuild twelve timeless stories.
This anthology is a collection of short stories that are often retellings of classic stories, both fairy tales and otherwise.  There are some big names in here -- I'm fairly sure I requested this one solely because of Neil Gaiman -- and while all of the classics the stories are based on are not familiar to me, I'm a sucker for new takes on things.  Here are my brief thoughts on each of the stories. 

That the Machine May Progress Eternally by Carrie Ryan
This story follows Tavil, who goes underground to investigate the Machine, an underground city where most of the population has gone to live.  People on the surface live without technology and get by in a very basic, everything-by-hand way, but Tavil wants to know what there is to see down below.  For some reason, I had a hard time getting started with this one, but once I got past the first few pages, I enjoyed it. It's an interesting, somewhat cautionary story about over-reliance on technology, and it gets creepier as it goes on.    

Losing Her Divinity by Garth Nix
This one is told as one side of a conversation, a man recounting a story about a rogue goddess to someone investigating her disappearance.  While this was an okay read, and well written, I think this is one that is best enjoyed by someone familiar with the source material (Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King") that Nix is reinterpreting, and also slightly with Nix's other works, as he mentions in his author's note that two of the characters are ones he'd previously created.  I'm familiar with neither, so a lot of the parallels and real interesting plot points may have been lost on me.

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman takes on Sleeping Beauty here, and while it can be as tricky to follow as his writings can often be, it's a neat take on a timeless tale.  I had expected Gaiman's tale here to be something very dark and was surprised that it was something else entirely.  I really enjoyed how much agency the queen, our main character, has in this one.  In fairy tales, that's kind of a rare quality, when women are sent to sleep to await true love's kiss or whatever.  She's making her own choices, going into her own battles, doing things of her own volition rather than to please anyone else.  

The Cold Corner by Tim Pratt
I really enjoyed this one.  At the start, it's a nice little contemporary story about a young man coming home to North Carolina after living out in California for several years.  The narrator's voice is easy-going and natural as he fills you in on why he's coming back home.  It's perfectly normal until bam! it gets super weird.  I don't want to talk too much about it so as to not spoil the weird plot point.  This one may work better if you don't know the original source material, or at least don't know what it's about, because that veer off into weird-town is pretty awesome, and you'd probably expect it if you knew the story Pratt was riffing off of.

Millcara by Holly Black
This is another story told as one half of a conversation, in this case, our narrator, Millcara, talking to a friend who appears to be ill or otherwise non-responsive.  I loved the narrative voice of Millcara, who appears to be a young girl but, as you very quickly learn, has a much older voice.  I don't want to spoil too much of this, but this story sucked me in as details are slowly revealed about Millcara and the scam she and her mother pull on people, and as you learn just what happened to the person Millcara is narrating to.

When First We Were Gods by Rick Yancey
Yancey turns a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne into a futuristic sci-fi story, where the wealthiest people live lifespans of billions and billions of years by uploading their mental data into a new body whenever they grow tired of the one they're in.  Here, we get to take a look at immortality through one of the elite, as well as a mortal being, and see how immortality changes what it means to be human.  I liked this one more than I thought. The choices one of the leads makes as he tries to cope with what appears to be the immortal equivalent of a midlife crisis slowly begin to spiral out of control as the story spans billions of years of history. The characters aren't likable, but that's kind of the point of the story - I don't think you're supposed to like Beneficent or Courteous very much.

Sirocco by Margaret Stohl
A while back, I read that awful R.L. Stine book where people kept dying on a movie set.  I wish I could get back the time I invested in that and spend it on reading/re-reading "Sirocco" instead.  Set in a creepy castle in Italy, Theo is an assistant on the set of a movie his father is directing, which is already not going well and starts to go even less well when mysterious things start happening on set. I don't know that the ending entirely paid off -- it seemed abrupt and I'm still kind of wondering what role all of the characters played in what happened -- but overall, I enjoyed it.  It was just the right amount of creepy and mysterious for me.

Awakened by Melissa Marr
This might actually be my favorite so far, it is so sad and tragic and melancholy throughout.  Influenced by Kate Chopin's "The Awakening", Marr has added a dash of mythology, with our narrator being a selchie who is now bound to the land, and to the man who has taken her other skin.  This one really managed to strike an emotional chord as we read about Eden's life with the man who has essentially enslaved her, for all the wrong reasons.  This one does involve some scenes of physical abuse, aside from the fact that Eden is being held captive and can't disobey her master, so it may not be for everyone, but the plot and themes really resonated for me.

New Chicago by Kelley Armstrong
Monkey's Paw Story!!! Ahhh I love riffs on this story so much -- you get three wishes on a monkey's paw, only most of the time, the wishes go horribly wrong.  Armstrong sets the story in a dystopian future where a virus turns people into almost-but-not-quite zombies.  We follow two brothers trying to survive.  When one of the brothers acquires one of those mystical monkey paws, he's very careful with his wishes, but we all know how the monkey's paw stories end, don't we?  This one was great and had me on the edge of my seat as I waited to see what fate would befall the boys.

The Soul Collector by Kami Garcia
This one is pretty deliciously gruesome.  A girl escapes a terrible life, but it's not without consequences.  When she has to revisit her old stomping grounds, so to speak, she's in over her head, until she gets some mysterious help.  Garcia does supernatural stories well, and this one is no exception.  I wish I knew a little bit more about Petra and Will, our main characters, but we learn enough about them to be invested in what happens to them. Like I said, this is probably the most gruesome/graphic in terms of violence in this collection, so more squeamish readers may want to skip it.

Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy by Saladin Ahmed
This story is beautifully written but I feel like it's full of symbolism and references that I don't really get.  I understood it a bit more when I read the author's note, and I think this is a story where I may have benefited from knowing the original source material (Spenser's "Fairy Queene").  I wish I had gotten more out of this one because, like I said, the way Ahmed weaves words together is pretty spell-binding.  I'd love to check out more of his original works, as I think I would like them.

Uncaged by Gene Wolfe
In this story, you have to do a lot of reading between the lines. It wasn't bad, I was just confused a lot, even though what was happening was fairly obvious.  I feel like it raised more questions for me than it actually answered, and I don't really do well with open-ended stories.  It's got an overall sense of foreboding  and is moderately gory, things which I enjoy in my creepy stories; generally I thought it was good, but could have been better.   I didn't love this one a whole lot and felt like it was kind of a weak way to end an anthology.  

Overall, for most of these stories, I think I may have been better off not being acquainted with the source material.  I feel like they packed more punch and surprise for me because I didn't know what was coming and I didn't know where to be looking for parallels between other stories.  The downside of any short story collection is that we only get the barest amount of world building: enough to get the gist of what's going on, but not necessarily enough to really flesh out the universe.  For many of the stories, I found myself wanting more than we got.

This is a great collection of stories -- in general, they have a pretty creepy vibe, but they are all over the map genre-wise.  Fantasy, paranormal, dystopian, contemporary, etc. - I think there's something for everyone in this collection, especially if you're looking for a collection of sometimes chilling stories without being all-out horror.

Sound interesting?  Thanks to the publisher, we're giving away a finished copy of Rags & Bones!  Open to anyone with a US address (no PO Boxes, please).

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