Fearie Tales is an anthology of short horror stories inspired by some of the Brothers Grimm tales, presented alongside the tales that inspired or influenced them. Given that this is my first time reviewing an anthology, I’m going to give you a quick and spoiler-free (mostly) summary of each tale and then add my thoughts on it underneath to try and put into words my feelings on this confusing book. I was so excited to read this, I picked it up in Brighton and it looked exactly my cup of tea and ended up being…well, you’ll see.
1. Find my name by Ramsey Campbell
Modern Rumplestiltskin, is it real or is she going mad?
I liked this one, it attempted to place someone alive now into the narrative of a story never designed to make sense – why on earth would you promise your firstborn to a tiny, magic man? I struggle with short stories because I like depth of character and such, but you got just enough hints of the main character’s past to carry her through so well done Ramsey.
2. Down to a sunless sea by Neil Gaiman
Gave me chills, woman whose son runs out to sea and never comes back. Very eerie.
Neil Gaiman is great, I might be biased here but this was one of my favourites out of the book. I have realised in hindsight that what I wanted was Neil Gaiman writing me scary fairy tales for the entire book. Alas I had to read ‘Look Inside’ which was awful – see below for details.
3. Open your window, golden hair by Tanith Lee
Man encounters a tower while travelling Europe, locals won’t even look at it and for good reason.
I also really liked this one, and even though I wasn’t a fan of the main character what happened to him struck a chord with me – possibly because one of my greatest fears is being trapped in something I can’t escape with no hope of help.
4. Crossing the line by Garth Nix
Magic realism in the Wild West, flesh-carving fae and gun-toting widows galore.
While this wasn’t my absolute favourite plot-wise, it had enough positive elements that it’s still pretty high up for me. The main character took no shit, which I appreciated, and the idea of these inhuman flesh-carvers was super cool. It was nice to see a woman kicking ass in a fairy tale, even a modern re-imagining of one.
5. Peckish by Robert Shearman
Hansel and Gretel if they never truly escaped the witch. Do not eat this lady’s cooking.
I do not trust this lady’s gingerbread men one bit. An interesting story about freedom and choosing your own life alongside the psychological scarring that would undoubtedly come from encountering a cannibal witch in the forest.
6. Look inside, Michael Marshall Smith
‘I’m not an angry feminist’ woman, thinks someone has broken into her house. Ended with a dick joke.
I hated this story – which is a shame because the concept is interesting. The home is where we should feel safe and taking that away unnerves people. But I’m sorry, if you say wanting to leave a house that may have been broken into is ‘the sort of feeble shit that gives us chicks a bad name’ (I’m not even joking here) you’re likely sexist and moreover not a good writer. Didn’t really mesh with his writing style but that might be because he was insulting right out of the gate. Also, if you’re following up Neil Gaiman in an anthology, maybe don’t rely on penis-based humour as the punchline of your story.
7. Fraulein Fearnot by Markus Heitz
Translation, woman who doesn’t feel fear and wants to meet a ghost. Gory, I was mostly on board until the rape threats. Technically lesbians, but I don’t care that much because I don’t like them.
This one felt all sorts of cheesy. There were corpses everywhere, blood, monsters, ghosts, curses…it was like they span the proverbial horror-trope wheel and decided to go with ALL THE OPTIONS. Also believe it or not there are ways to have a female character be frightened that don’t involve the threat of sexual assault.
8. The Ash Boy by Christopher Fowler
Cinderella mourns her dead brother by making an ash version of him in the fireplace. Ends with man reading his crying daughter the story and possibly going off to kill his wife.
Now this one saved me from just abandoning the book after the last two entries. Take classic Cinderella and take away the happy ending before adding a handful of vengeance and just a tiny bit of gay.
9. The Changeling by Brian Lumley
Man meets weird ocean creature in Greece and admires his bling, turns out he might be one too but he’s not sure.
Another ‘okay’ entry, I liked the idea of these sea-creature-people-hybrids and the right circumstances awakening the DNA. That bit was cool, the rest of it was well told but not hugely thrilling to me.
10. The Silken Drum by Reggie Oliver
Man obsesses over his Japanese tenant while also possibly discovering that she’s a faceless man-killing spirit.
I feel like there’s a little bit of a stereotype in the sort of exotic and mesmerising Asian woman trope, and this guy is unhealthily obsessed with her, but that’s part of the Japanese spirit lore involved so if you take away that pink-toned lens it’s a good story. It’s well written, certainly, and all perving aside it’s pretty creepy!
11. By the weeping gate by Angela Slatter
Follows the ‘plain’ daughter of a brothel madam as she discovers something questionable about her sister’s fiancée. Ends up ‘a very fine girl indeed’.
I bloody loved this one, the formation and running of the brothel is told in such a matter-of-fact way and the idea of stealing youth is a nice nod to tales like Snow White and that desire to be beautiful. Also, looks are no indicator of intelligence because the girl defined by her plainness is also the only one to see how blatantly creepy this guy is.
12. Anything to me is sweeter, than to cross shock-headed Peter by Brian Hodge
Children used as examples of what happens to naughty children in a sort of freak show fight back and punish the adults that used them for entertainment.
Ooh boy this one is intense, possibly because unlike the others it contains no magic. Just human cruelty and how frighteningly realistic it is. What is scariest about this story is that I can actually see this having been a thing.
13. The Artemis line by Peter Crowther
Haunted house turns into fairy world nightmare, stolen child, memory loss, scarecrows, also trolls for some reason.
I hate scarecrows. And creepy houses. And dumbwaiters. So this seemed like the perfect recipe for my worst nightmares right up until the humming line of trolls. I even loved their take on the changeling and what it is, and the loss of memory, but the second half of it felt a bit disjointed for me – which is weird because judging by reviews, this is quite a popular one. Maybe give it a try anyway?
14. The Silken People by Joanne Harris
Child becomes obsessed with the ‘silken people’ insect/faerie folk and things get weird.
Short, sweet and very creepy. Much more the classic setting and style of the fairy tales we know and love, and a nice ending to it too, one of my favourites!
15. Come unto me by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Creepy house guardian, ties woman up a lot, kills cats and eats flesh and all kinds of nasty. The men in this story are literal garbage. Actually made me kind of queasy.
This one certainly met its mark in that I still get a little queasy when I think of it. Although that might be because it involves pregnancy – the idea of which I am famously not a fan, especially when it might be a magic gremlin baby. Certainly ended it with a bang.
As noted, this is an anthology, which makes it a hard one to review and rate because some of them I really liked and some of them I absolutely hated. If you follow me on twitter, you’ll see that a while ago I actually posted a picture of a certain paragraph in ‘Look Inside’ on there just to point out how terrible it was. This story actually contains the most cringe-worthy ‘woman written by a man’ I have ever encountered. I’m not sure this man has ever actually spoken to any women. The anthology as a whole was…disappointing, which is sad. The introduction was interesting, and the original tales woven throughout were a nice look back at where some of our favourite stories originated, but in places it committed the cardinal sin of writing – it bored me. I bought this in Waterstones so it wasn’t cheap, and it left me wishing I’d borrowed it from a library. I’m not a huge fan of anthologies for this reason, it’s a lot of money to pay for a book if you’re only going to like two of fifteen stories or something along those lines. In the end, I settled on the rating I’ve given because it’s kind of in the middle for me. I’m afraid it’s not one I’d recommend overall, but a few of them are good!
Overall rating: 3 books out of 5