Bittersweet pain conceals a deeper beauty.
I received Mirrors & Thorns through Our Write Side in exchange for an honest review.
A fun collection of fairy tale inspired stories, sampling a wide variety of topics. Stories range from youthful tales of children and magical creatures, ancient powers best left undisturbed, and desperate characters driven to the brink by cruel tormenters. The variety of styles adopted by the authors adds an additional freshness to each story. Some truly emulate the classic fairy tales passed down through oral tradition, while others engage their otherworldly topics with a more modern and everyday approach. Frequently audiences may find themselves frustrated that the stories are not longer. Some leave questions unanswered, while others simply have a momentum to them, one that continues even after the final page.
+Strong Variety, United by a Consistent Fairy Tale Style
+Strong Narrative Voices
*Often Grim/Harsh Tone
*Frequently Familiar Plot Patterns
1. Young Blood by Kerry Black
To escape his younger sister, Jacob would pay any price.
Crisp scenes usher audiences through the essentials, while the resolution hangs overhead, waiting to pounce.
+Strong Opening & Ending
2. Nova and Ember by Sarah Nour
On the eve of winter, families gather for the fall festival. It’s a time of celebration, until an old ritual marks two young children for death. Desperate to escape their fate, the children head out in search of the mythical black sow.
Once in a while the story flirts with fear, but always within that safety which often defines childhood.
+Good, strong details. Nice word usage.
+Good sense of rhythm, back and forth between tense and mellow
+Mystery and questions pull audiences right along.
*It is a young story.
3. Inheritance by Melanie Noell Bernard
An ancient house, abandoned and forlorn. A young woman, eager to find her fortune. That night, a strange sound fills the halls, driving her from her bed. She never believed the stories. Now she’ll learn the truth.
Throughout the story, the protagonist looks back at her earlier decisions, debating past choices in a rich inner dialogue that helps to characterize her, and provide some much-needed background information. Carefully chosen details slowly raise the tension; turning what could be a very mundane scene into a suspenseful mystery.
+Strong Narrative Voice
*Slow, sometimes dense read
4. Twice-Made Vows by T.S. Dickerson
A king, robbed of love, is forced to marry again. The kingdom rejoices, welcoming their new queen, but the specter of loss is not so easily banished. Strange visions haunt the young bride, forcing her to wonder who her husband truly sees when he looks into her eyes.
Crisp dialogue paints a vivid picture of each character; tense threads that combine into a focused conflict, which itself is part of a larger web. Overall the story works, but every so often audiences will catch a glimpse of a larger story, a larger world.
-Easily could have been longer
5. Snow Bride by J.M. Ames
In a cold, backwater inn, a young man fresh from the mine hopes to barter his treasure for a little female comfort. He never considers what she might want, or what she’d be willing to do to get it.
A perfectly sized snippet of storytelling. Strong details manage to simultaneously reveal character and setting without ever slowing down the pace. There’s a reckless abandon about the story; one that made me sorry to see it end so quickly.
+Strong, well-used details
+Dense (in a good way)
+Short but very well done
+Grim and harsh, but also light-hearted
6. The Life & Death of Cora Svanros by Cassidy Taylor
Two girls, trapped in a deadly game; serving as sport for their cruel master. Time after time they try to escape, and each time they fail. Then a stranger offers them a cryptic hope. His words lead them to a place of lost memories, where the greatest danger may be the temptation to let go and forget.
A familiar pattern, and a fun one, particularly when it’s so well executed, but gradually the story grows into something more. Through her experiences, both the protagonist and the audience explore the nature of identity, memory, and life.
*Strong but familiar plot
7. Forbidden Mirror by J.K. Allen
Two sisters, born to rule. Crystal, gifted with charm, and Raven, the only one who can see through it. To claim the throne, Raven will turn to magic. Heedless of the warnings, she hurries on to the Great Thorn Palace, where her destiny awaits.
Much of the story is spent simply following instructions, and ignoring warnings, until the conflict reaches its natural conclusion. Summaries help to keep things moving, but also keep audiences at a distance.
*Reminiscent of a fairy tale
-Overuse of Summary
8. Selkie Cove by Paul Stansbury
A young woman, in search of adventure, finds herself in the middle of an otherworldly story. Does she dare to believe it? Believing, what should she do?
Colorful characters dominate the scene; each with their own unique voice. Some may see it coming, but in the end there’s only one way this story can finish. A cautionary tale, of temptation, and the price we pay.
-Poor Info Management
9. Roland by J. Lee Strickland
In the wake of loss, Roland travels to a nearby relative in search of answers, and returns with a gift. Suddenly all of his endeavors flourish, earning him quite a reputation. Soon people flock to his home, eager to share in his good fortune. Roland is hard pressed to hide the secret of his success, and ration its dwindling power.
The slow pacing is balanced by the poetic writing, which often gives the everyday setting an otherworldly feel. It’s a poignant story, with strong ideas, and the patience to let audiences learn gradually.
+Strong Writing/Colorful Language
*Slow, mellow story
10. Open Window by Lucy Palmer
Many dream of finding a perfect partner, but for one woman it has become a nightmare. Desperate to find darkness in him; she will feed her own.
This story feels too large to be conveyed with such brevity. There isn’t enough time to answer all the questions raised by the narrative. Audiences may infer the protagonist’s motives, but more is needed.
+Strong Narrative Voice
11. Maria Morevna and the Deathless One by S.L. Scott
A young woman searches for an equal, and stumbles upon a man who defies all expectations. But to bridle a sorcerer, she will need magic of her own.
Vivid descriptions paint a clear picture, while summaries gloss over most of the narrative; reducing the protagonist to beauty and pride. The story ultimately rewards her iron determination, but leaves her unchanged by the experience.
*Familiar fairy tale style
*Dominated by Summary
12. The Falling Angels of Fifty-Six by C.L. Bledsoe
For generations people have questioned the existence of angels. Now they descend to earth, their only message a hollow roar as they plummet like stones. Most fled from their wrath, but not Bernard. Now he wanders the deserted towns and homes of the Midwest, searching for food, and answers.
The everyday tone and style offsets the otherworldly premise, rooting the story in the very human struggles of its characters. The significance of the angels is not ignored, but the author is wise enough to recognize that some questions cannot be answered within the scope of this story.
+Strong Narrative Voice
*Some Unresolved Questions
13. The Roommate by Edward Ahern
An everyday afternoon, interrupted by a strange cat. Once Enid learns of it, Clara knows no peace.
Most of the story is told in a unique style; a kind of one sided dialogue that omits what other characters say and do, using indirect references to establish the rest of the story. Scenes are vivid, but sometimes the distinction between colorful allegory and concrete description can be difficult to make. Many may want to reread it a second time, once they understand what’s really going on.
+Strong Narrative Voice
-Can be confusing at times
14. Through the Gates of Hell by Stacy Overby
A mysterious figure hunts the damned, sealing their souls away so that he might save his own. Countless times he’s captured them, but never one like this. Only the gates of hell can contain such a fiend, a place that even demons fear to tread. But can he succeed where all others have failed, and even if he does, will he have the strength to return?
The opening scene is awash with details; cultivating a strong sense of foreboding without actually revealing what waits the nameless hero. The tension is masterful, with just enough information to give audiences a sense of the story, while leaving some questions unanswered.
As the story moves along, it makes a pronounced shift. Moving away from concrete details and actions; the story instead focuses on the protagonist’s inner struggles. Disorientation and blackouts help to justify the protagonist’s introspections, but are also used to gloss over how the protagonist is moved from one location to another.
The story tries to convey the protagonist’s struggle to continue, to hold on to hope, but without spending more time with the character it’s difficult to feel the connection needed to create a proper catharsis. The ending tries to fashion a proper denouement, but like the rest of the story, it feels rushed and ambiguous.
Thief’s Covenant (Widdershins #1)