Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, editors, Black Thorn, White Rose (Avon, 1999)

In this second collection of original and retold fairy tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling present eighteen stories and poems by authors such as Nancy Kress, Patricia C. Wrede, Midori Snyder and Jane Yolen. As with the first volume, Snow White, Blood Red, the editors provide an introduction, this time written collaboratively. (Written separately or together, the Datlow/Windling introductions to their many anthologies have earned a reputation as being worth the purchase price of the book.)

Nancy Kress offers one of two retellings of "Rumplestiltskin" with "Words Like Pale Stones," a story in which the miller's daughter proves herself to be resourceful and resolute. In Patricia Wrede's "Stronger Than Time," the power of love to endure is proved in a luminous tale based on "Sleeping Beauty." "Somnus's Fair Maid" by Ann Downer is a more lighthearted look at the same tale written in the manner of a Regency novel.

Daniel Quinn explores the aftermath of the frog prince's experiences in the wrenching tale "The Frog King, or Iron Henry." "Near-Beauty" by M.E. Beckett sounds like a science fiction retelling of "The Frog Prince" at first, but takes some surprising twists and turns. Michael Kandel's "Ogre" employs understated humor effectively in a look at a theater company with, well, problems.

Michael Canum cooks up a sassy streetwise gingerbread man in "Can't Catch Me" while Lawrence Schmel's brief poem "Journey Bread Recipe" is chilling and cautionary. Isabel Cole's entrancing "Brown Bear of Norway" parallels the folk tale in a thoroughly modern setting, delicately dancing the fine line between fantasy and reality.

Tim Wynne-Jones retells "The Goose Girl" from an infrequently considered perspective, adding an unexpected depth to the story and elevating the false princess into a noble character. Midori Snyder, one of fantasy's most sensuous writers, does not disappoint in "Tattercoats," a tale which explore the ways in which old love is made new. Jane Yolen sets her heart-rending "Granny Rumple," the second retelling of "Rumplestiltskin," in the Jewish ghetto of an Eastern European city. Not only is the tale a fresh, original interpretation but it is also a reminder of the fluid and changing nature of folk tales.

Howard Waldrop's "The Sawing Boys" mixes old time gangsters and saw musicians in a most unlikely combination in this take on "The Brementown Musicians" set in the American South. The late Roger Zelazny's "Godson" is a smooth contemporary look at a very old presence, while "Ashputtle" by Peter Straub is a horrific exploration of carefully concealed mental illness.

Ellen Stieber's poem "Silver and Gold" offers an unexpected interpretation of those precious substances. Storm Constantine's novella "Sweet Bruising Skin" is a dark, haunting retelling of "The Princess and the Pea." The final story, Susan Wade's "The Black Swan," is about transformation born of pain, an original story incorporating fairy tale elements. A bibliography completes the book.

The sheer inventiveness of the writers is remarkable. The quality of the writing is generally high, and the stories are well-placed, effecting a balance in moods and emotions. Many of the stories linger in the mind, and this is a collection well worth rereading and re-exploring.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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