cover image Black Swan, White Raven

Black Swan, White Raven

Ellen Datlow. Avon Books, $23 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97523-5

John Crowley, Joyce Carol Oates and Michael Cadnum are the biggest names among the 21 authors who contribute to this sterling fourth collection of retold fairy tales edited by Datlow and Windling (Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears). A few of the stories here, such as Anne Bishop's ""Rapunzel,"" differ from more familiar versions only through a change in point of view, but others take more radical and inspiring liberties. In ""The Trial of Hansel and Gretel,"" Gary Kilworth raises more than a few doubts about the motivation behind an old woman's murder, while Oates demonstrates, in ""In the Insomniac Nights,"" that imagined threats can be just as deadly as real ones. Susanna Clarke's charming ""On Lickerish Hill"" sets the tale of Rumplestiltskin in the days of the gentleman scientist, and Don Webb's ""Three Dwarves and 2000 Maniacs"" proves a wonderfully twisted mix of fairy tales replete with deliciously bad puns. Other standouts include Pat Murphy's ""The True Story"" (of Snow White) and Esther Freisner's ""No Bigger Than My Thumb,"" a bitter tale of witchcraft and vengeance. Compared to these, the Hansel and Gretel remakes of Crowley's ""Lost and Abandoned"" and Nina Kiriki Hoffman's ""The Breadcrumb Trail"" come off as strangely bland. Readers looking for deeper insight into childhood stories will enjoy this collection, as will anyone who just wants to read some good fantasy. (June)