Black Thorn, White Rose is the second in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling‘s series of adult fairy-tale anthologies. I’d have to say that this is my favorite of the bunch; most of the volumes are good, but this one has so many wonderful stories that have stayed with me for years. A few highlights:
“Stronger Than Time,” by Patricia C. Wrede , is a sad but hopeful take on “Sleeping Beauty,” told through the eyes of Arven, an ordinary peasant widower. He has lived his whole life in the shadow of a mysterious briar-guarded tower. When a prince enlists his help breaching the tower’s defenses, the reader is just as surprised as Arven is. Why does the prince need Arven’s help? I dare you not to mist up a little when all is revealed.
Ann Downer‘s “Somnus’ Fair Maid” is another retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.” This delightful Regency love story doesn’t contain any supernatural elements, but it has plenty of the metaphorical sort of magic. A young girl begins to escape her “sleep” — a stifling, dull life — and Downer has us rooting for her all the way.
Quite possibly my favorite story in Black Thorn, White Rose, Isabel Cole‘s “The Brown Bear of Norway” is in the “East o’the Sun, West o’the Moon” or “Cupid and Psyche” vein. Cole recasts the story in modern times; our heroine is a high-school girl, and the boy she must save is a foreign pen pal. It’s guaranteed to touch the heart of anyone who ever forged a deep connection with someone, then lost touch with them and never knew why.
In “Tattercoats,” Midori Snyder shows us what happens after “happily ever after.” The Princess has been married to her beloved for ten years, and their marriage has become a dull routine. But with the help of three magical gifts, she intends to fight for what she and her husband once had. This story is sensual and moving, and unusual in the world of fairy tales. How often do you get to read a fairy tale about keeping the spark alive in your marriage?
Roger Zelazny’s “Godson” cracked me up. A young man has the Grim Reaper himself as a mentor, and the two of them fall out over whether to spare certain people. The story is darkly comic and culminates in a hilarious ending.
“The Black Swan,” by Susan Wade, is largely based on “The Ugly Duckling,” but with shades of “Cinderella,” “Swan Lake,” and “Pygmalion.” A pretentious serving-man trains an awkward, overweight princess in the social graces, and gives her a makeover, so that she can enchant the man she loves. Then she begins to take it too far. “The Black Swan” is a heartbreaking tale of shapeshifting, and offers a barbed commentary on standards of beauty.
After being somewhat disappointed by Snow White, Blood Red, I was thrilled to find that Black Thorn, White Rose suited my tastes so much better. It’s not without its gross-out moments — Peter Straub‘s “Ashputtle” focuses obsessively on the villainess’s obesity and contains an extremely detailed defecation scene that I did NOT need — but overall, this is a much better anthology, and in my opinion, this is where the series really hit its stride.