The Faery Reel, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (2004) E

Date read: 3.23.08
Read from: Public library
Reviewer: Emera

The Faery Reel is a collection of “tales from the twilight realm” by 25 notable authors of fantasy, including Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Holly Black, Tanith Lee, Gregory Maguire, and Patricia McKillip.

I picked this out not actually expecting to be all that impressed, since Datlow/Windling collections aren’t always uniformly strong, despite their typically high-powered author selection. But here, at least, my expectations were far surpassed; this is a remarkably beautiful, moving, and varied collection. I found only two or three stories less than strongly written, and they still had concepts that were fun or clever or fresh – which is saying a lot when you’re going for a topic as well-worn as fairy stories. (As a note, authors in the collection keep to the spelling convention of faerie = race, Faery = place, so I’ll follow that convention below.)

My favorites from the collection:

  • Katherine Vaz’s flawless “Your Garnet Eyes” – The title and my summary don’t do it justice, but it’s the story of a lonely Brazilian girl whose father is still pining after his lost sea-nymph wife; written with delicate, ironic, sad wonder.
  • Kelly Link’s “The Faery Handbag,” about a girl whose eccentric, Scrabble-playing grandmother claims to hold the enchanted village of her birth inside her enormous, hairy handbag. This is one of Link’s most popular and lauded stories, if I remember correctly, and I can see why – both characters and concept are immediately arresting, and stay in your mind long after reading. I was also tickled to find that the story significantly features the Garment District, a thrift shop in Boston that Kakaner and I had explored together a few months prior to my reading the story.
  • A. M. Dellamonica’s “The Dream Eaters,” about a law-enforcement officer who’s forced to plunge into Faery on behalf of her best frenemy, who literally stole her dreams during their childhood. Colorful, off-the-wall, and strongly told, and its surreal urban setting reminded me of Miéville‘s New Crobuzon (though that’s probably just me).
  • Emma Bull’s “De La Tierra,” about a faerie “enforcer” of sorts who’s rewarded for exterminating displaced faeries who have been driven away from their native homes, but find themselves unable to blend in with modern society. A very thoughtful reflection on environmental issues, illegal immigration and cultural integration/imperialism, as well as being very, very sad, and infused with haunting images. This story, like many of the others in the collection, was particularly successful in playing upon a strong sense of place. I did find the ending a little cheap, unfortunately.

And two little surprises that were noteworthy in my book, one good and one bad –

  • Holly Black‘s vivid modern retelling of “Goblin Market,” set in a night market in the Philippines. I’ve read two novels of her Modern Faerie series and found them a rather tacky, though extremely entertaining, and so was pleased to read her much more polished entry here.
  • Patricia McKillip‘s highly disappointing “Undine.” My love for McKillip’s work is unspeakably strong – her novels inform a vast part of my internal mythology – but this story winds up mired in a silly, unconvincing premise, despite its beautiful opening scene.

Overall, I enjoyed just about every page of The Faery Reel, and it’s likely I’ll be purchasing a copy for myself in the future.

Go to:
Ellen Datlow
Terri Windling

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  1. Maureen E’s avatar

    I’ll have to look this one up! It sounds a little more my style than the Red/White series, although there were some good stories in the one I read recently too (just surprisingly uneven for such a high-powered anthology).

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  2. Emera’s avatar

    Yes, of the Red/White collections I’ve read, I feel as though three-quarters of the stories are trying too hard to be edgy/grim. The imagination and execution of the Faery Reel stories was far better overall.

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  3. Maureen E’s avatar

    I feel as though three-quarters of the stories are trying too hard to be edgy/grim.

    Yes, that’s it exactly! I’m all for non-Disney versions of fairy tales, but almost every story ending unhappily/darkly gets old fast.

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