Grim ed. by Christine Johnson, published 25th February 2014 by HarlequinTeen
The short story form is something I both loath and admire. It’s a tricky form and for me, it’s all about the finish. There is nothing more annoying than a lacklustre ending, or even worse, a finish that ‘just stops’. Like, ‘maybe this should have been at least a novella but I was tasked to do a short story so TA DA! This is all you get.’
Grim enticed me with just the title. I was intrigued to see how it would work with, or against, classic fairy tale traditions. And there’s a great line-up of authors too!
I’ve had a scan around Blogsville and I’ve noted that many have decided to go for the ‘these are the stories that stood out’ approach, but I want to give the bigger picture. So I decided to grade the stories individually first, because I’m sure I’ll be naturally more aligned to one narrative than another.
I apologise in advance because this will be a long one! Stay with me for the ride.
The Key by Rachel Hawkins – A pretty good start. It heads into ‘psychic momma’ territory which I feel like has been done to death, but at least the characters here are compelling. Hawkins excels at building tension and suspense and I really enjoyed how the smaller details at the beginning played a bigger part at the end… But for all its sinister potential, it finishes far too early! The main character legs it.. aaand.. ?
A solid start, but I felt like this could have easily been a novel instead. 3/5.
Figment by Jerri Smith-Ready – If you have seen any of the Bleach anime, then the best way to describe what ‘Fig’ is, is to imagine Kon. I’m not really sure what to make of this story to be honest. It’s a lot lighter than its predecessor and I’m not completely sure I’m on board with the moral of the story. It seems to be saying ‘make your own luck’ as well as ‘get rid of unhealthy friendships’ but then ‘magic gives you luck afterall’? I might be a little harsh, but for me it lacks the darkness I so sorely crave from a collection like this.
It was enjoyable, but not memorable. 2/5
The Twelfth Girl by Malinda Lo – A boarding school. A good girl. A bad girl. Secret magicky clubs. I enjoyed the way this interacted with a fairly well trodden tradition of witchy goings on. If you’ve seen ‘The Craft’ then you’ll understand what I mean when I say it has a similar teeny, ‘dark magic bad’ vibe to this. I was digging the girl-on-girl action like a miner, but for all its contemporary edge and balls, this story falls flat on its face at the finishing line. It just stops. Some great characterisation, but I didn’t completely understand Liv’s motives.
Dark, but ultimately disappointing in the end. Another that felt like it should have been a novel, or a series even! 3.5/5
The Raven Princess by Jon Skovron – A more classic approach here. A struggling queen character ends up cursing her daughter and poof! She’s a raven. I thought that the character of the hunter and the queen were well done. The raven, not so much. I didn’t feel a connection at all there.
I appreciate the traditional approach, but I felt like it lacked in complexity. 3/5
Thinner than Water by Saundra Mitchell – Oh. Now THIS is what I have been waiting for. A classic fantasy style but it takes some dark themes and attacks them head on. It’s unsettling, uncomfortable too at times, but so compelling. The writing itself is beautiful, the phrasing more akin ot poetry than prose and I fell utterly in love.
Intelligent, informed and engaging writing. 5/5.
Before the Rose Bloomed by Ellen Hopkins – ‘A retelling of the snow queen’. There is something altogether too simplistic about the narrative stance in this story and the juxtaposition between traditional and contemporary elements jarred somewhat for me.
Well thought of, but lacking sparkle. Left in the shadow of what went before it. 2/5
Beast/Beast by Tessa Gratton – Another winner here for me. It’s Beauty and the Beast (and who can think of that story without imagining Disney?) but revamped in a creative and original way. There’s no more poor maiden, it’s as the title suggests ‘Beast/Beast’ which makes a pretty bold statement in itself. Beauty is a strong willed young woman, willing to do what it takes to escape, but also to take those terrifying steps towards finding out who she is. And Beast is… Well… Let’s just say I fell for him.
A really interesting way to retell a well-known story. Dark and wild. 5/5
The Brothers Piggett by Julie Kagawa – Again, I enjoyed the classical approach here. It seems to be reminiscent of Three Little Pigs, but with a darker twist. Let’s throw in a werewolf and a bloody ending for all. Yeah. The ending. After all Percival went through he met a cliché end, potentially bloody, but not surprising.
This was a lot of fun. Great characterisation in Percival. 3.5/5
Untethered by Sonia Gensler – Uh. Ok. A ghost story, fuelled by grief. But she lost me somewhere. It’s a really moving story about the relationship of a mother and daughter(s), and I admired how the grief itself was described and interwoven into the narrative. I was completely lost, however, at the moment that should have been the climax of the story. Where the ghost is directly interacted with I was confused as to who was talking to whom and was even left wondering if the ghost was a ghost at all.
A great concept. But I was lost. 1/5
Better by Shaun David Hutchinson – Cinematic SF. Set aboard the Hamelin, this has the same kind of emotional punch as something like I Am Legend coupled with an ethical questioning as in The Island. Pip is the last chance for humanity, but how human is she? Oh man, I loved this story.
Memorable. Scary. Beautiful. 5/5
Light It Up by Kimberly Derting – Ah. Hansen and Greta? Yep, we’re going down the child-eating route. I thought that it was interesting to put the story of Hansel and Gretal in a contemporary setting, and I enjoyed the person-centred approach too. I liked the character of Hansen. Greta, not so much. She’s a headstrong girl, but ultimately too abrasive for me. Maybe she needs to be.
An interesting spin, well executed. 3.5/5
Sharper than a Serpent’s Tongue by Christine Johnson – Weird but kind of wonderful. ‘Blessings. Curses. Who was to say which was which?’ I don’t want to say too much else it will ruin the surprise! I’m not completely convinced Johnson pulls it off, and I wish the ending was different (sisters should stick together!) but it was a fun read.
Good, witchy fun. 4/5
A Real Boy by Claudia Gray – Cybernetic Pinocchio. Hm. I’m not sure how I feel about this one. I thought it was sweet, especially the ending, and it’s another interesting twist on a classic.
Newly thought, nicely done. Cute! 4/5
Skin Trade by Myra McEntire – A darker turn. I love the way this opens ‘Naked flesh should have had more of an appeal.’ BAM! I’m hooked. This is a strange tale for sure, and I didn’t follow it completely. I felt like it had an SF element I wasn’t understanding, but then, I was also a little offended that it’s a appear to be a copy of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Or at least, in the narrative style and the way the ‘brothers’ interact.
A lot of promise, but hard to follow. 3/5
Beauty and the Chad by Sarah Rees Brennan – I liked the relaxed, colloquial feel this interpretation had, but ‘Beast/Beast’ was a tough act to follow. I don’t have much to say about it really… I liked it.
Easy to enjoy, but it didn’t grab me. 2.5/5
Pink by Amanda Hocking – A traditional fairy tale setting. I really liked the relationships in this story and the way the characters interacted with each other. I’m always made a little stand-offish when I’m given a female character that has only dreams and wishes to be a good wife and produce a goddamn heir. Ick. That said, I couldn’t not like the queen (her relationship with a king twice her age was a little odd, but you can’t control love, eh?) she was a compelling character.
Solid storytelling. Not my favourite in the collection, by enjoyable. 3/5
Sell Out by Jackson Pearce – A cool one to end on. Short and definitely sweet (if you like corpses and creepiness that is.. which I do, so perfect match for me) I kinda felt like this was a teaser for a longer piece. It could easily be made into a YA novel for sure.
A great finisher. Strong characters. Cool concept. 4/5
All in all I enjoyed this collection of short stories. I think different stories will appeal more to different people etc. I prefer the darker ones, but it’s nice that there is a mixture of light and dark, and of styles too.
I’m a little confused as to the target age group for Grim, mostly because some stories I’m not sure would be appropriate for the younger end of the teen/YA market and others aren’t old enough for it, if that makes sense. There’s a confused direction perhaps, like the mission statement was misinterpreted or something. I’ve also seen mentioned in other reviews that there is some ‘Angela Carter’ about this collection…
…Let me just say, as a great fan of Carter, I BLUMMIN’ WELL HOPE NOT! I can see why Grim might be compared to The Bloody Chamber, but MY GOSH would that be inappropriate…
I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a ‘pick up and put down’ kind of read, when you don’t want to invest too much of yourself into a longer narrative. Short stories are the answer! And if you like the slightly spooky, or strange, then this will tick all the boxes.
My top three are as follows:
Thinner Than Water
These stood out for me in both narrative style and technique, and also in creative inventiveness.
If I were to star grade this as a whole, I’d probably give it 4 out of 5. There are ups and downs, but it’s worth it for those absolute blinders!
I’m really interested to hear what anyone else makes of these stories. To anyone that’s read Grim, which are your favourites?