At Midnight (Dahlia Adler) – Book Review

We never get tired of fairy tales. Told and retold in the oral tradition, before being claimed, collected and transcribed, and then told and retold again, fairy tales have never failed to fascinate. From the watered down and Disney-fied versions that we watch or are read as children, right through to the darker takes that inspire contemporary TV shows and movies, fairy tales continue to speak to something deep within us.

The retelling of fairy tales is as old as time. Just as originally fairy tales would be recited orally, morphing slightly with each retelling and each reteller, so now each new generation of writers brings what they need to an older story, adding and subtracting elements, even changing the moral, but more often than not managing to retain the heart of what makes a fairy tale live.

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New from Titan Books, At Midnight is the latest collection of stories that aim to rewrite and retell classic fairy tales, from ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ and ‘Snow White’ (originally collected by the Brothers Grimm) to ‘Puss in Boots’ (Charles Perrault) to ‘The Little Mermaid’ (Hans Christian Anderson). One lovely touch, that you might not notice until you reach the end but it’s better to know at the beginning, is that this book also contains the ‘original’ version of each of the tales that it retells, in case you want to acquaint or refamiliarise yourself with them, either before or after reading what editor Dahlia Adler has on offer.

These new stories, aimed at the current generation of young adults, are by no means sanitised, touching as they do on passion, blood, and sexuality. Many strongly embrace diversity, and in particular queer identities, and where better to talk of transformation, otherness, and the search for true identity than in a fairy tale, where such themes have always been prevalent?

There is certainly variety here, and – as with any collection – what you most favour will depend upon your personal tastes. ‘Just a Little Bite’ by Roselle Lim is a satisfying if rather gruesome take on ‘Hansel and Gretel’. ‘The Sister Switch’ by Melissa Albert draws inspiration from various sources, and feels both familiar and unsettling in its telling. ‘In the Forests of the Night’ by Gita Trelease is a magical and colourful tale inspired by ‘Fitcher’s Bird’. This was by far my favourite of the collection, and one that benefits from not knowing the story it is based on.

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‘Mother’s Mirror’ by H. E. Edgmon and ‘The Littlest Mermaid’ by Meredith Russo switch things up a little, with tales that take delightfully unexpected angles on ‘Snow White’ and ‘The Little Mermaid’. ‘Coyote in High-top Sneakers’ by Darcie Little Badger is an enjoyable and relaxed take on ‘Puss in Boots’, and ‘Sharp as any Thorn’, by Rory Power, is both beautiful and highly upsetting.

These ’15 beloved fairy tales re-imagined’, all by very talented writers, range from the whimsical to the horrifying. Some have truly happy endings, and some lean far more towards the grimmer and more frightening ‘original’ tales. If you love a lost shoe, an evil queen, a riddle and an unexpected transformation in your fiction, then this fun and feisty collection will have something magical to offer you.

At Midnight is out now from Titan Books.

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