Some books you buy for the stories within, some books you buy for the sheer joy of what they look like, such as the British edition of Charles de Lint’s Someplace To Be Flying for its cover art as I did, or perhaps the Small Beer Press edition of Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of The Sword for, well, because you love the novel and wanted to own a really nice edition of it. And then there’s The Starlit Wood, which combines superb stories with truly amazing design.
The book is much smaller than the typical hardcover, so it fits nicely in the hand, making it perfect to hold for extended periods, say on a winter’s night while you’re snug and warm in your favourite reading spot. As you can see, the cover art is lovely, though you can’t see that it’s embossed, making a tactile experience far beyond the usual cover. It’s as well designed as some of the much more expensive specialty press books I’ve gotten over the years.
Let’s start with the editors. I didn’t recognise either Dominik Parisien or Navah Wolfe, so I looked them up. Parisien did the Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction; Wolfe is an editor at Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s science fiction and fantasy imprint, which published this anthology, and it appears that this is her first turn as an anthology editor.
In an interview, she tells of her abiding affection for modern tellings of fairy tales: I devoured the fairy tale retelling anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling— Snow White, Blood Red; Ruby Slipper, Golden Tears; Black Heart, Ivory Bones; and so many more. I fell in love with Terri Windling’s Fairy Tale Series of novels, including Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose, Patricia C. Wrede’s Snow White and Rose Red, Charles de Lint’s Jack the Giant Killer, and Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin.’
So what about the contents? you ask. Let’s start off with ‘In the Desert Like a Bone’ in which Seanan McGuire turns Red Riding Hood into a western. As always, Catherynne Valente does a superb job of taking the original fairy tale and giving it a fresh twist in ‘Badgirl, the Deadman, and the Wheel of Fortune’; Theodora Goss gives us a story, rare for her, ‘The Other Thea’ with Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Shadow’ as its source; and ‘Seasons of Glass’ and Iron’ by Amal El-Mohtar came to be in the best way possible when, as she puts it, ‘Just about a year ago, my now-husband, then-fiancé’s niece asked me to tell her a fairy tale. I made one up, liberally mashing ‘The Black Bull of Norroway’ with ‘The Glass Mountain’ in order to tell her a story about girls rescuing each other and going off to have adventures together.’
And that’s just the merest small tasting of a cornucopia of great, if more dark than light, stories, which also includes works by Charlie Jane Anders, Aliette de Bodard, Jeffrey Ford, Max Gladstone, Daryl Gregory, Kat Howard, Stephen Graham Jones, Margo Lanagan, Marjorie Liu, Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Sofia Samatar, Karin Tidbeck, and Genevieve Valentine.
It’s certainly a great collection of stories that reminds me most aptly of the sadly defunct Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror anthologies, which makes sense, as Wolfe cites them as one of her primary influences. If you’ve got someone on your Winter Holiday gift giving list who’s into these sort of stories, a wrapped copy of The Starlit Wood would be a perfect gift for them.
(Saga Press, 2016)