Songs of Love & Death and the “Once Upon a Time” Challenge

I found out about Carl’s “Once Upon a Time” Challenge from Caroline@ Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and being a great fan of short stories and fairy tales, I decided to join. The challenge runs from March 21st to June 19th. More details on Carl’s website.
I wasn’t sure which one of the levels I should participate in, so I’ll start with short stories for now and see what comes up next. Being relatively new to the world of books based on legends or fairy tales, I thought it would be a better idea to start small. This short story collection caught my attention because of the name and also because Neil Gaiman was on it. Two strong reasons to give it a try. So I did.

The second anthology I’ve read this year is about love stories, some with a tragic end and some with their happily ever after. This collection is comprised of 17 stories, many of them using fairy tale elements, demons and all kinds of spirits, their setting varying from ancient castles where kings and queens hold court, to traveling spaceships.
Before each story there’s a short introduction of the author, works they have published and a brief description of the story.
I liked most of the stories but these are special:

The Marrying Maid, by Jo Beverly, is set in London in 1758. A young man must find his bride before his twenty-fifth birthday or everyone related to him by blood will die. Caught between a battle of wits between Titania, the Faery queen, and her husband, king Oberon, Rob has no choice but to find the girl who will marry him before the set date. The story brings back memories of Shakespeare’s famous “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; there’s a mention of leprechauns and gold buried at the end of a rainbow, and also of Robin Hood.

Demon Lover, by Cecelia Holland, is the story of a girl, Fioretta, who is abducted by a wizard and brought to his castle. There she reigns as his queen during the day and tormented by the wizard-demon during the night. Magic can have terrible power but true love conquers. A story that incorporated elements of another famous fairy tale in which remembering a name is all that stands between destruction and happily-ever-after.

Rooftops, by Carrie Vaughn, starts in a modern day theater, where Charlotte is supervising the rehearsal of her first important play, the one that’s supposed to make her famous. It’s a Gothic story, modernized, but something seems to be lacking. Just like there’s something lacking in her life as well, until one night a masked man saves her life and gives her what she wanted: a bit of adventure.

The Thing About Cassandra, by Neil Gaiman, is one story that confused me. Two friends, Stuart and Scallie, start reminiscing about the past one hot summer night. When Scallie says he has met Stuart’s former girlfriend, Cassandra, things start to get complicated. The fact is, she does not exist – Stuart made her up a long time ago to impress his friends. What’s true and what is imagination, where is the line that stands between them? I couldn’t find it in this story but I liked it nevertheless.

The Wayfarer’s Advice, by Melinda M. Snodgrass and Courting Trouble, by Linnea Sinclair, are the stories I liked the least. The fault is all mine, I admit. The science fiction setting does nothing for me, especially when it’s right at the beginning of the story and I gave up before the end. I could have overlooked it if this was secondary to the story, but I just couldn’t get through to the “mechanical part”. That being said, I did like The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Blue Boots, by Robin Hobb, is the story of Timbal, a young, orphan girl working at Timberrock Keep, and Azen, the handsome wandering minstrel whom she falls in love with. He calls her Blue Boots because that’s what she wears on her days off, a present from her father who died a tragic death. After a magical night spent together, intrigues and misunderstandings force them apart but the blue boots bring them together again.

His Wolf, by Lisa Tuttle, is one of the best stories in the book. It explores the connection between a man and a wolf and the fact that not only humans can repay an act of kindness. I liked it so much that I’m afraid saying more about it will only spoil the magic of the whole story.

You, and You Alone, by Jacqueline Carey, is a story that spans generations. When Anafiel is sent to the court of Rolande de la Courcel to mediate a marriage between his near-sister Edmee, and the famous prince, he never expected to fall in love with the handsome youth himself. But love does not ask, and the attraction between the young poet and the warrior prince blooms into a beautiful love story with a tragic end. My only regret was that the story ended so soon. The writing was beautiful, flowing easily, the world it created drew me in and never let me go until the end. I could have read a whole book based on it.

Man in the Mirror, by Jasmine Galenorn, is the story of a spirit caught between two worlds and yearning to be a man of flesh and bone again. Imprisoned in an old house, he lies and waits for his chance and when Laurel, a young woman with a terrible past is drawn to the same house, he can see his way out. But then love ruins his plans and he must make a decision. Can he switch places with Laurel and leave her a prisoner in his stead so he can escape and live a normal life again? Ah, who said love was easy…

I will probably never grow tired of fairy tales. To create an entirely different world, to bring back legends and myths from various cultures and use them again to create something new which has its roots in the stories we heard as children, that is a relatively new concept I’ve started to explore, and I’m beginning to like it more and more. Snow, Glass, Apples, by Neil Gaiman, was the first such story that captured my heart and made me remember Snow White again. Mermaid, by Carolyn Turgeon, was another, and I expect there will be more to come in the near future. I look forward to reading similar stories.

You can find Caroline’s review here.

*Read in March, 2012

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14 Responses to Songs of Love & Death and the “Once Upon a Time” Challenge

  1. Caroline says:

    Thank you for the link. It looks as if the challenge had started very well.
    I’m glad I bought this collection not too long ago, it sounds like it is really good.
    I’ve read a novel by Lisa Tuttle years ago and liked it very much, I think it was called Gabriel.
    Blue Boots sounds like another one I would like.
    I haven’t had the time to properly start the challenge but I will soon. Either with Robin McKinley or with Patricia McKillip.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Caroline,
      It is a very good collection of stories and I enjoyed it a lot.
      Lisa Tuttle is a name that I’ve seen come up often lately – one of her short stories, Replacements, is in the vampire anthology I’m reading now and it’s creepy and very, very good. I will keep an eye out for “Gabriel”, thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Vishy says:

    Wonderful review, Delia! This looks like a wonderful book! I loved your description of ‘Rooftops’, ‘The Thing About Cassandra’ and ‘Man in the Mirror’. ‘His Wolf’ also looks like a wonderful story, from your description. I love the second name of Melinda Snodgrass 🙂 The only Snodgrass I know is a character from Charles Dickens’ ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and I thought it was a name created by Dickens. It is interesting to know that there is a real Snodgrass.

    • Delia says:

      Ah, The Pickwick Papers, yet another classic book I want to read!
      Apparently there’s a website called “The Snodgrass Clan Society” so it appears this is quite a popular name. 🙂

  3. olduvai says:

    I just had to click on by when I saw Songs of Love and Death, what a great title. And it looks like a pretty good list of contributors too. I’ll have to check this book out soon.

    • Delia says:

      Glad you like the name, too. If you read it, do let me know, I’ll be curious to see what you think of it.
      Thanks for visiting and for your comment.

  4. Jenners says:

    I’m impressed that you took the time to comment on so many of the stories!

    • Delia says:

      I liked most of them, they truly are magic, and I wanted to spread the word. I did not read them in order though, but picked the ones I thought would be more interesting. I might re-read it at some point, or at least some of the stories. “His Wolf” is one that had stayed with me and I loved it.

  5. I liked about half of the stories in this collection, and gave up on several others midway. It’s funny, I didn’t think even the good ones had stuck with me, but as you described them I find I remember some quite vividly! Blue Boots seems to have especially stuck, and I thought Cassandra was brilliant. Confusing, or maybe I should say world-tilting…but brilliant!

    • Delia says:

      Glad to know that you enjoyed this anthology, or at least half of it. 🙂
      “Blue Boots” was beautiful and “Cassandra” really had a twist at the end. Neil Gaiman is a magician with the words, his short stories are truly special. I wish I would be able to say the same about his novels one day.
      Thanks for dropping by and for taking the time to leave a comment.

  6. Lynn says:

    I love fairy tales also, and retellings. This event of Carl’s is brilliant – reading all these great reviews for books.
    I must admit I tend not to read short stories and I don’t know why that is but I definitely avoid them. I think I need to get over that a little bit!
    Lynn 😀

    • Delia says:

      Hi Lynn,
      I wasn’t particularly fond of short stories either until I bought a few really good anthologies and changed my mind. Now I can’t have enough of them. 🙂
      The problem with short stories is that you never know how many you’re going to like but this one is pretty good, maybe you’ll give it a try.
      Thanks for the visit and for your comment.

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