Reboots and remakes get a bad rap. I know – that’s a controversial stance to take. For instance, let’s look at Star Wars, which has Death Star levels of angst aimed at it as if it were Alderaan, because Disney and Lucasfilm are wiping out the expanded universe. But here’s the thing – those beloved stories don’t cease to exist. A lot of those old stories and characters are imprinted on fans – not to mention wookiepdia. What does happen, is that the old stories won’t necessarily line up perfectly side by side to form a cohesive piece of a puzzle. Instead, there will be more than one puzzle now, and it’ll be difficult to say which storyline is actually cannon. Sometimes the pieces will be interchangeable. You want to know which one is cannon? Here’s the cool thing: whatever you want it to be.
Enter Rags and Bones: a collection of new stories by some of genre fiction’s biggest authors riffing off of old stories they fell in love with and either retelling them, or reinterpreting them.
Take Neil Gaiman’s story – “The Sleeper and the Spindle.” It’s a Snow White/Sleeping Beauty mash-up, where the sleep from Beauty’s castle begins to spread beyond her kingdom, infecting other lines. The dwarves, who are more impervious to this than the humans, return to Snow White before her marriage to Prince Charming. It’s very unlike the Disney movies blurring our collective consciousness and all the better for it. In Gaiman’s story, we get a tale featuring a pro-active, adventure-loving princess, lined with delicious details and surprises as sharp as thorns.
Rick Riordian takes on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” and sets it in a dystopia (or utopia, if you’re living in the upper class). It’s the longest story in the collection, but also one of the most entertaining. Initially, I thought it’d be pure popcorn SF romance, but eventually it grapples with classism and privilege and packs more of a bite than I expected it to. I’ve not read Riordian’s YA series, and listening to this story made me think that might be a loss on my part.
You don’t always have to be familiar with the story the author’s are riffing off of either. I’ve never read Henry James’ “The Jolly Corner,” but Tim Pratt’s tale “The Cold Corner,” which follows a young man who at a family reunion sees different versions of himself was completely absorbing.
Melissa Marr’s takes the bones of Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” and twists it into one of the best selkie stories I’ve ever read, exploring the struggles, tribulations, and objectifications women continue to face in the modern world.
Some of the stories that stayed a little too true to their source material left me a bit cold. Kelly Armstrong’s take on “The Monkey’s Paw” is set in a dystopian future, but if you know the story, there aren’t too many surprises along the way.
On the other hand, Millcara – Holly Black’s modernization of Carmilla – is a haunting tale of young love and lust that is sure to please vampire fans.
Without a doubt, though, my favorite story from this collection is Saladin Ahmed’s “Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy” – which tackles racist caricatures of Muslims from Edward Spencer’s The Faerie Queen. I’m a big fan and supporter of Ahmed’s work in general, and I think this story is one of his best: unflinching, lyrical, and filled with humanity and dignity.
One slightly odd bit is that the book has six illustrations by Charles Vess, along with the artist’s notes. But there was no way to view the artwork in question in my copy of the audiobook.
Rags and Bones is a fascinating new collection that proves old stories can still be respun into different tales that are both beautiful and surprising.
Special thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a review copy of this audiobook.