Fairy Tales With a Twist: Rainbow Rowell, Nic Stone, Soman Chainani, Ken Liu, and Gayle Forman – The Faraway Series (Amazon Publishing)

This series of short stories caught my eye not only because it’s fairy tales with a twist but also because these stories are written by  authors I was already interested in. The only one I’ve read before is Soman Chainani, but I’ve at least heard of most of the others. And. I just can’t walk away from a new fairy tale retelling.

by Rainbow Rowell, Nic Stone, Soman Chainani, Ken Liu, Gayle Forman

Published: Amazon Publishing, 2020
eBook: 171 pages
Series: Faraway #1 – #5
My rating: 7/10

Faraway is a collection of retold fairy tales that take the happily-ever-after in daring new directions. Whether read or listened to in one sitting, prepare to be charmed, moved, enlightened, and frightened all over again.

As with any story collection, quality varies and everyone will prefer different stories over others. But I have to say I like the idea for these stories. Each tackling a well-known fairy tale and telling a version “for the here and now”. I don’t know exactly what the authors were told to do, whether they could choose their own fairy tale or were assigned one, but it’s interesting to see how they went in such different directions.

Rainbow Rowell sets her story in a (probably?) post-apocalyptic, strange world and focuses on character relationship. Nic Stone and Soman Chainani both leave their feet firmly on real-world ground, but both chose very dark topics, as befits a fairy tale if you ask me. The two were my favorite stories.

Ken Liu did some amazing world building and set up intriguing characters but forgot to tell a story with them. And Gayle Forman stuck closely to three fairy tale characters who all live in the same fairy tale universe together.

That said, all the stories were entertaining to read and I didn’t hate any of them.

Rainbow Rowell – The Prince and the Troll (3/5)

As my first taste of Rainbow Rowell’s writing, this wasn’t bad. It’s the story of Adam, who lives by the road, which is very lucky because the road is beautiful and safe. Adam meets a woman (a troll?) who lives under a bridge and strikes up a sort of friendship with her, expressed through daily Starbucks coffees.
While the budding relationship was okay to read about, I was much more interested in the world these characters inhabit. We don’t get much information but there is a strange post-apocalyptic feel to it and the road is the only safe place, except not really? Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t really go anywhere and we’re left with a well told but ultimately flat tale. The ending also didn’t feel very satisfying and I didn’t see the point of the little twist, because it changes nothing.

Nic Stone – Hazel and Gray (4/5)

This modern take on Hansel and Gretel  managed to be super dark without ever feeling too dark. Hazel and Gray are young and in love but Hazel’s stepfather forbids them to see each other. Hazel’s stepfather also has wandering eyes and sometimes creeps up on Hazel looking at her decidedly unfatherly. So the two teens sneak away, get lost in the woods, and stumble upon a big house. In hope of finding a phone to use or at least figure out how to get back home, they enter and… well, they find something unexpected that I don’t want to spoil for you.
I really liked this story. It manages to pack a bit of backstory as well as the dark and sinister main plot and while things wrap up rather neatly, I found the conclusion satisfying and the fairy tale twist well done.

Soman Chainani – The Princess Game (5/5)

My favorite story of the bunch! Told through transcribed audio recordings of a police investigation at a prestigious High School, this is the story of a murder investigation. Girls are being killed off in “fairy tale style”. A girl stabbed with a spindle, another with her voice box cut out, yet another stabbed with glass slippers… Former undercover cop Pederson is trying to get to the bottom of it by interrogating the “Princes”, the High School’s jocks and his friends (up until they learned he was a cop, at least). These interviews were chilling to read and deal with topics such as toxic masculinity, High School pressure, gossip, social media, and many more.
I loved everything about this! It is suspenseful, the characters (aptly named after Disney princes) felt real, and the revelation of the killer is absolutely chilling!
Side note: I’m quite curious what the audiobook version of this is like. If you’ve listened to it, please let me know: Are there different narrators for the characters? Is it just one narrator reading in different voices? This would be so cool as an audio drama!

Ken Liu – The Cleaners (2.5/5)

Although my most anticipated of these stories, this turned out to be my least favorite. Ken Liu tells us of three characters in an intriguing world where memories cling to objects, letting the person touching it receive a jolt of emotion. Gui is a cleaner, and one who can do his job easily because he is lacking the power to feel memories or emotions from objects. Clara is also a cleaner but one who works with gloves that sometimes aren’t enough to protect her from receiving terrible memories.
Her sister Beatrice has a heightened sense and works as a lawyer. When she touches an object, she sees full memories rather than just impressions. That’s all very intriguing!
We get snippets of these three characters’ lives and how they deal with their jobs but this story’s problem is that it doesn’t tell a story. It’s just an introduction to a world and characters with no real beginning, middle or end. I would totally read a novel based on this but on its own, the tale just didn’t work for me.

Gayle Forman – The Wickeds (3.5/5)

And the last of the Faraway tales is all about the evil mothers from Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel. These three – now rather aged and much hated by the kingdoms – team up and decide to embrace their wickedness together. If the gossip magazines say they are evil, then why not actually be a little evil? In this story we learn that things didn’t happen quite the way we remember from the original fairy tales and it also makes sure to teach us a Feminist Lesson in each chapter. Now, I’m all for the message, but I prefer it to be delivered with a bit more subtlety than three women with wrinkles smashing a mirror…
I thought each chapter’s message was too obvious and not very original in its execution. The whole “it didn’t happen that way, I’m actually the good guy” idea is so old and worn, I didn’t really care. But the three women do come together in a sort of friendship which is really nice and the ending was actually so good that it turned things around for me.

I find it interesting that my favorite stories are the ones with absolutely no speculative elements to them. That doesn’t sound like me at all, but maybe it’s the combination of fairy tales and a completely different genre that works so well. Fairy tales already have magic. Putting them in a real world setting while keeping some fairy tale elements with feels cleverer than just continuing a fairy tale in its own world.

While this is not a groundbreaking collection of stories, I do wholeheartedly recommend “The Princess Game” and “Hazel and Gray”, and I’m also happy that I now know Nic Stone. I had never read anything by her, nor even heard of her. But someone who handles such dark themes so deftly might even get me to pick up a contemporary YA book. Even if it has no magic in it.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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