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Book review: The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2

the forgotten and the fantastical 2Remember how you felt as a child, snuggled up under the covers while someone read you fairy tales… lights down low, voices hushed, an air of both the mysterious and familiar surrounding you? Magical wasn’t it? Well, this book of fairy tales for adults allows you to relive some of those feelings right now, with dark forests, evil queens, witches, beasts and fairies all dancing through its pages.

But not in a twee way, oh no! All the stories in this collection offer something a bit different. Some are twists on well know tales – Rumplestiltskin in a modern metropolis (where an iPhone 4 is offered in exchange for the man’s magical skills!), a sleeping beauty who survives major European war, and a Hansel who grows up scarred by his childhood capture – all familiar, yet new.

Other stories take a fairy tale theme and make it their own, so Icarus takes an inaugural flight from a prisoner of war camp in one memorable tale, while a fairy is rescued from certain freezing death in – of all places – Elephant and Castle, in another. And there are The Northern Lights (real-live magic I’ve always thought, despite the scientific explanation), seasons that alter with the life and death of characters, and forests that thrive with their inhabitants and thrum with the beat of elemental passion.

And of course there are mirrors – there are magic mirrors in any fairy tale anthology aren’t there? The ones in this book take on all sorts of powers though, from the classic, evil ‘mirror, mirror on the wall’, to those which show us possible futures and those which help establish female identity in a patriarchal society (mirrors are nothing if not symbolic after all).

As I’d expect from Mother’s Milk Books, motherhood, femininity and empathy also run throughout many of the stories, and breastfeeding makes a number of appearances in a natural way that, for me, adds a gentle realism to the tales. Not that women have the monopoly on love and nurture – one story bursting with love (‘The Worm’ by Sarah Hindmarsh) has a horrible, devouring beast with a soft, devotional side and a master with a true sense of loyalty and love… the ending brought tears to my eyes!

The anthology has seventeen stories which vary in style. Some I enjoyed more than others, and of course I had my favourites. I hope I’ve given you a flavour of some of these but just to highlight some particular standouts – I enjoyed the sci-fi edge to Marija Smitts’ ‘Little Lost Soul’ –the writing drew me in from the very first line and I loved its contemplation of what it is to be human. I also thought ‘Hansel’s Trouble’ by Lindsey Watkins was wonderful – really tightly written and with such an interesting premise – I mean, what child loses its mother to illness, gets abandoned in a wood by its father, is captured by an evil witch, narrowly escapes the cooking pot and then lives ‘happily ever after’? Surely such life events would cause psychological scarring? Well, quite – the author was on to that!

My absolute, overall favourite though was ‘Seal Woman’ by Rachel Rivett. This was a very short tale that had a lovely, lilting poetic feel to it. Told in the first person, the emotion built throughout the story towards a standout last line that gave me goosebumps. Delicious.

So there you have it – an anthology well worth reading. I really enjoyed it and was pulled into the stories, even as I sat in the sunshine sipping a beer, about as far from being a princess lost in a dark forest as I could be!

And do you know what? I’m not even particularly into fairy tales or magic or anything like that, so if you’re not either, don’t let that put you off giving this book a try. You’ll be off into the magical forest of imagination before you know it – and what better place is there to explore?

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The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2 is edited by Teika Bellamy and published by Mother’s Milk Books. It is available to buy here. I was sent a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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