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Book Review: Black Swan, White Raven by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Black Swan, White Raven

by Ellen Datlow (Editor) and Terri Windling (Editor)

Genre: Adult Fairytale Retellings, Short Stories, Anthology

Published in 1997

3.7 Stars

Are you a fan of fairytales? Do you like retellings as much as the originals and even more? Since my answer is yes to both questions, I picked up this book. It was a random choice. The title and cover got my attention when I added the book to my library a couple of months ago.

Black Swan, White Raven is a short story anthology with adult retellings of fairytales from across the globe. There are a couple of poems too. The book has 21 pieces, some short, some long, some quirky, some weird, and some bland.

It’s expected that any anthology will have hits and misses. After all, readers are different, and so are their tastes. The collection should cater to various readers and this book does manage to do so (to a good extent).

I wasn’t impressed by a few stories, and there were a couple that made no sense. Probably because I didn’t know the original. But I feel a good story should stand out on its own, even if it’s a retelling.

So for people like me who want to read 2-3 stories a day or in between other works, Black Swan, White Raven might be a good option. I’d say go in with minimum expectations.

The following are some stories I liked for their twist, creativity, narration, or execution.

"No Bigger than my Thumb: by Esther M. Friesner is fast-paced, blunt, and deceiving. The narration hooked me, and the ending didn’t disappoint. The ending isn’t elaborate but does its job rather well.

"In the Insomniac Night" by Joyce Carol Oates is twisted and confusing. The writer keeps us intrigued by moving back and forth and by increasing the sense of urgency in the narration. Ultimately, it leaves the reader hanging. Not the kind of endings I like, but somehow this one stayed with me.

"The Trial of Hansel and Gretel" by Garry Kilworth is just too good. The story builds gradually, and even though the ending comes out of nowhere, it’ll make the reader smirk or even chuckle at the writer’s cleverness.

"Rapunzel" by Anne Bishop takes three POVs to chart the life of three main women from the original. I like the contrasts between the ladies and how the story ends on a positive note, albeit in a different yet satisfying way.

"Sparks" by Gregory Frost is inspired by a tale I don’t know. It takes time to get to the actual story. There’s a bit of rambling throughout the story, but the plotline was interesting.

"The Reverend’s Wife" by Midori Snyder is something I’m in two minds about. I like the storyline and the characters. The writing is good too. Just that I wished one setting was different.

"True Thomas" by Bruce Glassco is a retelling of a fairytale I’m not familiar with. I treated it as a standalone and enjoyed the way the writer’s imagination worked.

"The True Story" by Pat Murphy is my favorite after Rapunzel. The story is narrated by Snow White’s stepmother and makes us wonder why this isn’t the original version. I wanted the story to be longer.

In the same vein, do check out "Medusa" by Rosie Hewlett (published in April 2021). It’s a balanced feminist retelling of Medusa’s story in her own voice. I loved reading this one." The True Story" reminded me of this book with the alternate viewpoint and strong narrator’s voice.

"The Black Fairy’s Curse", "Riding the Red", and "The Orphan, The Moth, and the Magic" seemed abrupt towards the end. The first two were too short to make proper sense until the last paragraph or two.

To sum up, Black Swan, White Raven is not the best fairytale retellings anthology, but it is a decent one. Pick it up in-between reads and you’ll finish one extra book for your reading challenge. ;)


About the Author: Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, and amateur photographer. She got a degree in MBA and MA English Literature and chose to become a writer and a poet instead of a corporate professional.


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