Two months ago I said I generally disliked fairy tales, so imagine my surprise when I fell in love with Priya Sharma's reworking of Rapunzel in her short story "Blonde." Still, I figured that story would be the exception which still reaffirmed my overall hatred of fairy tales.
Except now I've also fallen for C.S.E. Cooney's novella "The Bone Swans of Amandale," a delightful reworking of "The Juniper Tree" and "The Pied Piper" with a good dash of swan princesses thrown in. Cooney's story takes fabulous liberties with all of these fairy tales and tropes, melding them into a heart-touching yet fun story narrated by a rat named Maurice.
Yes, the novella is narrated by a rat. Likely the best rat to ever narrate a fairy tale. You'll love Maurice even as he gnaws the flesh off dead bodies, as any good rat of the Middle Ages will do.
Perhaps the reason I've long hated reworkings of fairy tales is because most authors merely retell the original stories in modern settings or with different characters, a perfect recipe for banality. But in Sharma's "Blonde" and Cooney's "The Bone Swans of Amandale" the original fairy tales and tropes are mere touch-stones for deeper explorations of life and fantasy. Sharma and Cooney are not content to retell a fairy tale. Instead, they create something totally new which resonates with what came before but isn't beholden to it.
And both authors do this with such wonderful language. Just as Sharma is known for her beautiful short story writing, so too is Cooney known for her lyrical style. "The Bone Swans of Amandale" is a joy to read, with phrases and descriptions which absolutely delight (more so because they're uttered by a rat).
As a side note, Cooney says she wrote "The Bone Swans of Amandale" after seeing a Mercer Mayer illustration of rats — perhaps this one? — in the living room of Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner. For good measure, a comment Theodora Goss made to Cooney then inspired the swan princess character in the story. As Cooney says, "I defy you to spend any amount of time around Theodora Goss and not start hallucinating about swan princesses."
With a backstory like that, you can imagine how deep the fantasy roots reach with Cooney's novella.
"The Bone Swans of Amandale" was originally published several months ago in Cooney's short story collection Bone Swans. The novella is highly recommended, as are all the stories in the collection.