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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bedknobs and Beanstalks by E.M. Lynley

Bedknobs and Beanstalks by E M Lynley, editor
Publisher: Ravenous Romance
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Anthology)
Length: Full Length (207 pgs)
Other: M/M
Rating: 4.5 Cherries
Reviewed by Phlox

Once upon a time. As children, those four words told us we were about to enter a brand-new world: scarier, happier, more enchanted than our everyday life. No matter our own particular expectations and experience with fairy tales, we knew we were in for a wild ride. Handsome princes would save beautiful damsels in distress and the ogres never got the girl.

Perhaps in our own stories, or in our own lives, we aren't quite satisfied with those happily-ever-afters. What sound-minded prince would choose any of those airheaded bosomy blondes that populate familiar animated versions of the original, much darker, and more ominous tales made famous by the Brothers Grimm?

Not to mention, fairy tales were often used as bedtime stories.

Well, put all that behind you and prepare for a new type of fairy tale. Not only are they guaranteed to get you into bed. though not for sleep, you won't find a single of those old-fashioned stereotypical characters.

Instead enter a world where a magic cock ring can grow into a mighty peenstalk, or an unhappy shepherd can meet the sexiest wolf imaginable. A Japanese youth with the strength of a bear finds himself weak in the face of a beautiful samurai, and a young man in a ball gown can charm a prince to distraction. These are but a few of the adventures that await you, once upon a time!

Anytime E M Lynley appears as the editor of an anthology, the reader is assured of two things: a well-balanced collection and short stories that won’t disappoint. This collection is no exception. A good mix of humor and tenderness seed this collection of M/M fairy tales, mostly re-workings of familiar standards but all with the necessary elements of the fairy tale – romance, conflict and magic. Since there are nine, stories (a good, strong magic number) it’s an easy task to touch on all of them:

Jack and the Peenstalk: While I often smile when I read funny stories, it’s rare to find one that has me audibly laughing. This Clancy Nacht gem had me in stitches with its satirical take on the evils and ennui of modern life. It’s not merely a bit of humor, though. There’s a sweet love story here as well, giving us hope for the possibility of redemption for even the most selfish slacker.

The Rebelliously Single Prince: While this piece has some dark humor running through it, this is a more serious story dealing with expectations and intolerance. There are familiar elements, but Lenore Black has constructed an original fairy tale here, with no direct folk/fairytale parallel and it packs a bit of a punch, both poignant and ultimately triumphant.

Cry Wolf: A pookah story? I thought. Hooray! The pookah (or pooka or pucca) is one of my favorite Celtic folk denizens. One didn’t used to see many pookahs in romance or erotic fiction, but they have begun to crop up in delightful variety. Unfortunately, this is one of the weaker stories in the collection. While it’s well-written and an interesting take on the Boy Who Cried Wolf, the ending is a bit scattered and not entirely satisfying with the sudden introduction of new elements.

Kintaro: A rethinking of several Japanese fairy tales (ah, variety!) especially the Peach Boy, S. J. Frost does a lovely job with setting and character for a short piece. Sweet and sensual, detailed and well paced, this is perhaps the most romantic (in a traditional romance sense) tale in the group. Touching and beautiful, I loved this one.

Ashes and Crystal: A marvelously inventive retelling of the Cinderella story, Jason Rubis dares us to think differently about the traditional fairytale heroine. To say too much more would be giving it all away – this story alone is worth the price of admission.

Handsome and Grateful: Kilt Kilpatrick always writes with a wicked sense of humor. This tale is no exception. Before anyone bristles about children in erotic stories, this Hansel and Gretel are innocent but quite definitely of age. Hilarious, with a good portion of pop culture thrown in.

Swan Made: Gorgeous, gorgeous story, set against a backdrop of modern despair. A man living a grey life of quiet desperation finds passion in the most unlikely place. His inability to face what his visitor truly is nearly costs him the love of a lifetime. Of the serious stories, this one, along with the Merman’s Tale, was the most emotionally engaging and heart-wrenching.

King’s Honor: A nice take on the Twelve Dancing Princesses, it resolves a nagging fairytale question. I’ve often wondered myself why anyone would be interested in such selfish princesses, only interested in their own pleasure. Since it’s a M/M story, of course our hero couldn’t be less interested in the princesses, but his motives are more complicated and there is a bit of a surprise at the end.

The Merman’s Tale: Since this evokes the Little Mermaid, I had some trepidation over reading this one. After all, Andersen fairytales are often tragic rather than happily-ever. Never fear, gentle readers, all will be well. Jay Di Meo tells his haunting merfolk tale with pathos and sympathy, a story of overcoming cultural fears and ingrained biases in a search for love in a cruel world. A good choice as a last story to leave readers with. This strong, poignant piece would have been hard to follow at any rate.

E M Lynley has done it again, putting together an anthology of intelligent, well-selected pieces from authors of widely ranging voices. It might have been nice to see a more widely ranging cultural mélange as well but the balancing of humor and sensitive love story, of the erotic with the romantic, more than makes up for it. This is an exploration into human sensuality and longing well worth the trip.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved this anthology! As you said every story was strong and had a unique tone. I wish EM Lynley had a story in here, since I love her writing, but she did a great job as an editor here.

I'd like to point out you spelled EM Lynley's name wrong in your subject line (with 'i' instead of 'y,' even though it's correct in the text of the review.