Tehani Wessely (ed.) – Phantazein

tehaniwessely-phantazeinYou think you know all the fables that have ever been told. You think you can no longer be surprised by stories. Think again.

With origins in myth, fairytales, folklore and pure imagination, the stories and poems in these pages draw on history that never was and worlds that will never be to create their own unique tales and traditions…

The next generation of storytellers is here.

Fairytales and folk tales are some of the most enduring forms of storytelling. It’s no wonder then that fairytale retellings remain a popular staple of speculative fiction. In Phantazein Tehani Wessely has brought together a set of stories that are as diverse as one can imagine, while all fit under the heading of fairytale (re)telling. Not all of the stories are re-imaginings of classic fairytales, some are based on folk tales or myths and some are original, but all of them are new and entertaining. In fact there wasn’t a story that disappointed, something that is rare for an anthology, as there is always at least one story that doesn’t work as well. Not so the stories included in Phantazein

All of these twelve stories – and one poem – are entertaining and a joy to read. My biggest complaint would be that I wanted more stories, just because I loved these (re)tellings so much. What made these stories even more enjoyable was the scope of their subject matter. There are European tales, but also inspired by Arabian, Chinese, Buddhist and South American myths. They are stories with universal themes: love, compassion, avarice, desire, loneliness, sacrifice. And while there were no disappointing stories, there were stories that spoke to me more than others.

Faith Mudge – Twelfth
A retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, Twelfth tells us the tale from the point of view of the youngest of the twelve prince. It’s a tragic tale and a tale of revenge. I loved the way Mudge twisted the tale to suit the angle of her interpretation. There is also an interesting mirroring of the idea of betrayed hospitality that will cost the King dearly in the end. It is also a fantastic origin story for one of folklore’s most enduring monsters.

Vida Cruz – How the Jungle Got Its Spirit Guardian
Seemingly based on South American mythology, though I wasn’t able to trace its roots, this tale was fascinating for its treatment of traditional gender roles and the consequences of not conforming to them. I loved the cunning way its protagonists try to circumvent their village’s strict social customs. Tenu and Daza’s secretly swap tasks and conduct a hidden courtship, in defiance of all tradition and most importantly Daza’s tyrannical mother. Yet, despite all their efforts they are caught, and when worst comes to worst Tenu’s choice is heartbreaking.

Jenny Blackford – The Lady of Wild Things
Blackford’s story is an interesting mix of Greek mythology and traditional fairy lore. I loved this vision of history repeating itself to a different ending, with both beloveds being lured into the forest and being lost, and yet another version of a sacrifice of one for the greater good. I loved the way Blackford portrayed the mother’s having to decide between duty and love and her heartbreak at having to do so.

Tansy Rayner Roberts – The Love Letters of Swans
Roberts’ story is an alternate telling of Paris’ wooing of Helen, later of Troy, when she is still the wife of Menelaus. But this is not the wooing you’re expecting. Paris is rude, crude, and arrogant, while Helen has no intention to let him nearer to her than two seats over at the dining table. Magic is sneakily incorporated into the story and I liked the fact that it wasn’t just divine. The twist ending is fantastic and one I’d never expected when I started the story.

Phantazein is another great anthology from Wessely, filled with fabulous stories from a strong and all-female line-up. I loved the many different traditions covered in the collection and the one thing I would have really loved to have added in is an explanation for the origins of the stories, which cultures the authors drew on or whether they wrote completely original tales inspired by fairytale tropes. Still, if you enjoy fairy tales, mythology, and folklore, Phantazein is an anthology you definitely need to check out.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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