Thursday 26 September 2013

To Spin a Darker Stair by Faith Mudge and Catherynne M Valente

To Spin a Darker Stair is a chapbook published by FableCroft Publishing and edited by Tehani Wessley. It contains two short stories, one each by Australian author Faith Mudge and well-know US author Catherynne M Valente, and gorgeous illustrations by Kathleen Jennings. Both stories are fairytale retellings with a sinister twist.

The first story is "A Delicate Architecture" by Catherynne M Valente. From what I've read of Valente in the past (about half of Palimpsest and maybe a short story or two), I've found her to be on the borderline of the kind of stories I enjoy. For example, I found Palimpsest a bit too literary* for my liking. "A Delicate Architecture", on the other hand, was on the right side of the scale for me to enjoy. Valente deftly crafts a story about a girl with an unusual upbringing. It's surreal in the way that some fairytales are, but it's lovely. The ending made me happy, and I appreciated the foreshadowing leading up to it, evident only in retrospect. I was not, as I read, trying to guess which fairytale was being retold which I think augmented the reveal.

The other story is "The Oracle's Tower" by Faith Mudge. I had only read one other story by Mudge, which appeared in One Small Step, so she is a fairly new author to me (as well as fairly new generally, I gather). "The Oracle's Tower" is a different sort of fairytale. (The start put me in mind of some of Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard, interpret that as you will.) The choice of main character, giving voice to a character marginalised in the traditional telling, allows Mudge to put a very different spin on the tale. The original story isn't exactly cheery, so I found Mudge's darker retelling particularly haunting. I will certainly be keeping an eye on Mudge's future output.

To Spin a Darker Stair is a very thin volume that punches above its weight class. I recommend it to fans of fairytale retellings, especially those looking for a quick read. This volume is quite different to other things FableCroft have released and it will be interesting to see what other innovative projects they come up with in the future.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2012, FableCroft
Series: no
Format read: Paper!
Source: Purchased from publisher.
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge (well, half of it)

* A reminder that I define literary as a story which is primarily character-driven rather than plot-driven.

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