Review: Grim edited by Christine Johnson

Grim - Christine Johnson, Ellen Hopkins, Julie Kagawa, Amanda Hocking, Claudia Gray

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Reviewing anthologies is never easy, but I love them. It’s a brief look at many different writers and how they interpret a pretty broad topic. Anyone who’s ever read my reviews probably knows, I can’t get enough of twisted fairy tales. And I can be pretty harsh, because I read a lot of them, which only makes reviewing thiscollection harder. While I liked several individual stories, I also felt that more were uninspired and lacked oomph. The only fair way to do this review is to take a brief look at each chapter.

The Key by Rachel Hawkins - I found this to be a pretty “eh” retelling of Bluebeard. Instead of a wife finding a hidden closet of dead bodies in her new husband’s home, we get teenage psychics and tattooed bad boys. It wasn’t that it was unfaithful, just not inspiring. And it felt extremely short. In a book where the stories only average 30 pages, this still felt like the shortest by far. (Best Bluebeard retelling is Cruel Beauty, which mixes Bluebeard with Beauty and the Beast for creepy as fuck results. FYI.)

Figment by Jeri Smith-Ready - Very pretty prose. Well written, but I don’t think I would connect it to the source material, (Puss in Boots,) if the author hadn’t specifically included several boots references. It’s hard to find a balance between modernizing fairy tales and changing them completely and this didn’t entirely work for me as a modernization. Again, though, as a short story about luck and talent and their intersections, I did find it successful. 

The Twelfth Girl by Malinda Lo - Good, interesting contemporary retelling with a creepy twist at the end. I immediately recognized it as the 12 Dancing Princesses, but it didn’t feel like a retread. I wish it was a touch longer, though. 

The Raven Princess by Jon Skovron - Very straightforward retelling of the Raven. (Fairy tale, not Poe poem.) The end is different, with a “be yourself” kind of moral. The only “modernization” was the gay giants, which, while I always love to see LGBT representation, I found somewhat, token? A little on the nose? So far only The Twelfth Girl has been grim. 

Thinner Than Water by Saundra Mitchell - Well there’s my grimness. Phenomenal, truly. It follows the beginning of Cat-Skin in horrifying, (and possibly triggering,) detail, before veering off to an end that is entirely the author’s construct. Again, I thought the end was a bit rushed and I was left confused if the princess had been planning this all along, or if she just happened to stumble into another queen’s camp, but that’s more than made up for by the emotionally powerful prose.

Before the Rose Bloomed by Ellen Hopkins - I don’t like the original Snow Queen and its preachy overtones, so magnifying them and including the Tree of Knowledge, didn’t work for me at all. The religious references don’t feel well integrated into the whole story, and worse, Greta never feels empowered, despite going on a globe spanning journey to rescue her boyfriend. She cries and prays and God fixes it all for her. I didn’t get the point of changing the characters names from Gerda and Kai/Kay to Greta and K. I couldn’t get a handle on a time period. Honestly, I hated it.

Beast/Beast by Tessa Gratton - Reminded me of Beauty by Robin McKinley, which isn’t a bad thing at all. I really liked Beast’s nature-inspired appearance and how that kept Beauty from being truly afraid while still being monsterous. I thought the end was really sweet, and oddly for a Harlequin Teen book, is the only one with romance so far.

The Brothers Piggett by Julie Kagawa - A violent, twisted Three Little Pigs with a hint of Sweeney Todd. Amazing. We could have condemned the “nice guy” more, but a quibble. Kagawa may have finally won me over.

Untethered by Sonia Gensler - Pretty, well written, with a surprising twist, but I wouldn’t call it, or its inspiration,The Shroud, a fairy tale. 

Better by Shaun David Hutchinson - Other reviews called this a Pied Piper retelling, (as does the author; I had to look it up,) and I can see that at the very end, but I found it to be more of a scifi Pinocchio/Frankenstein hybrid. I liked it, regardless! The end was suitably creepy, the length felt right, but this is where I realized how uneven the anthology is. Nothing about this or Untethered fits with the rest of the collection. In a different anthology, I’d give Better four stars, but combined with the other stories?

Light It Up by Kimberly Derting - I liked the plot, but I had some issues with the writing. There are phrases that didn't work, like "laugh-frown" and a really weird description where the author trips over herself to emphasis that a character is white. There's also a scene with a tense change, probably for dramatic effect, but it read unintentional and sloppy. I could also have done with a dozen less "bitch"s. I'm all for teenage characters swearing like their real-life counterparts, but it got repetitive and gross. This is one I wanted to like more than I did. 

Sharper than a Serpent's Tongue by Christine Johnson - I never connected with this retelling of Diamonds and Toads. In many ways, it’s, again, a very straightforward modernization. “Nice sister” gets jewels and roses when she speaks, “mean sister” gets toads and snakes. Unfortunate is the reason for the blessings. I didn’t like the sexual assault plot or the way any of it was handled at all. The last line did resonate, which brought the whole thing back from the edge, but I couldn’t get over how detached I felt from the characters. 

A Real Boy by Claudia Gray - Another human falls in love with a robot story, this one actually is supposed to be based on Pinocchio. Is it any wonder I was confused by Better? I like the love story aspect better than any other story in the collection. It’s really beautifully, sweetly told. I wish there had been some more world building, but otherwise Rowan and Blue have something really good here.

Skin Trade by Myra McEntyre - Ugly.

Choppily written, lacking in plot, mindlessly violent. I have no idea what the author was even trying to do. The story is a complete mess. I almost quit. Twice. In 20 pages. This is just ugly.

Beauty and the Chad by Sarah Rees Brennan - I didn't get what the author was going for at first, but once I did, I found myself smiling at it. I didn't exactly like the story. I'm not sure the conceit worked. I found Chad's voice wildly grating. The moral was heavy handed. But I do applaud Brennan for doing something different and playing with gender/gender roles. It made me think more than I would have expected. 

The Pink by Amanda Hocking - This was one of the only tales I was completely unfamiliar with, so with no preconceived notions, I liked it. The end could have had more tension and the phrasing "the pink" made me think of vaginas, not carnations. 

Sell Out by Jackson Pearce - Too short. I was interested in the idea, but the execution needed a whole mess of world building. 

Seventeen stories, but only seven left an impression once the book was closed. I only hated two, but I also only loved four. Unfortunately, I think the collection needed more editing. The book is called Grim and has an amazing dark, spooky cover, but most stories are anything but. A common thread of “fairy tales” can only carry an anthology so far. Some are contemporary, some are classic fantasy. One’s a ghost story, two’re sci-fi. I wish the editor had gone with one more defining characteristic in all the stories, like all contemporaries or all twisted endings. Right now, I feel like I could split these into two or three smaller collections and have them all be more successful for it.