Two and Twenty Dark Tales
Publication date: October 16, 2012
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The stories in this dark anthology are all based on Mother Goose nursery rhymes, taking the well-known lines of our childhood and putting a frightening twist on them, telling the story behind the story. The stories range from bleak gothic literature to downright terrifying horror-movie slashers, so be prepared for mature themes such as rape, suicide, murder, and some just plain evilness.
Linking the stories together with the Mother Goose theme created an interesting set of tales, and showed the authors’ range and creativity. I loved the variety — in this one book there’s dystopian fiction, fairy tales, Egyptian mythology, historical fiction, fantasy, and science fiction. No two authors took the same sort of route in connecting the rhyme to their story. Some are very literal to the rhyme (i.e. “Life in a Shoe” — “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…”), whereas others simply used the rhyme as a plot point within the story (i.e. “The Wish” — “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”). It was fun to start a tale with the rhyme in mind and wonder where the author was going to go with the story to tie it in.
A few of my favorite stories…
– “Wee Willie Winkie” – This one gave the rhyme a clever, dark twist, combining a real-world setting with a terrible mystical element that changes how you read the rhyme forever. The tone is dark and foreboding, but the author avoids getting gory or explicitly violent — in classic horror-story fashion, the most horrible part is “off-screen,” leaving it to the reader’s imagination.
– “Sea of Dew” – based on the “Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod” rhyme. I enjoyed this creative, though horribly sad tale of four teenagers who are awaiting rescue on a lifeboat after their ferry capsized. The characters were realistic and despite the brevity of the story, the reader becomes attached to them, making the ending all that more sad.
– “Tick Tock” – based on a rhyme beginning “There’s a neat little clock…” (another new one for me). This short tale is the kind of horror story that you’d tell around a campfire — a bit gory, perhaps, but I could picture being completely freaked out over it while sitting in a dark, wooded campsite.
– “A Pocket Full of Posy” – based on “Ring around the Rosy,” this one takes the tale and breaks it down literally, telling the story of a teenage boy whose girlfriend, Rosy, is found dead in a field of flowers, with him as the main suspect. Though this story was definitely one of the more gory ones, I appreciated how the author kept to the rhyme and yet changed how the reader views it.
As with any anthology, there are obviously going to be stories that the reader doesn’t like. My biggest issue was that many of the stories that I found to be lackluster all came at the beginning, so for awhile I really had to talk myself into diving back into the book, though once I hit the latter half of the book, I found the stories much more enjoyable and interesting, and could hardly put it down. In the stories that I didn’t like, the biggest problem seemed to be the lack of development, especially the development of the characters. I understand this is a particular challenge with short stories, to make your characters memorable and make the reader feel connected to them, despite the story’s brevity, but there were a number of stories where I found I simply didn’t care what happened to them, which is a shame.
A few of my LEAST favorite stories…
– “As Blue as the Sky” – Based on the rhyme beginning “Taffy was a Welshman,” this was an unfortunate beginning of the anthology. It’s not a well-known rhyme, so it’s unlikely to grab the reader’s attention right away, and the story seems to have missing pieces, as if the reader had picked up a book partway through. Having no development of the protagonist, I didn’t feel connected to the story and there were strange elements in the first half that didn’t make any sense at all until the very end.
– “Blue” – Based on “Little Boy Blue,” this story lacked enough context for me. Both the narrator and the boy are characters about whom little is known — even at the end, I’m still not really sure what the narrator is or what her purpose is — and the plot is really lacking in development and excitement. Looking back, I’m not even really sure what happened.
– “Pieces of Eight” – Based on a rhyme beginning “Sleep, baby, sleep” — again, another rhyme I had never heard before. Though obviously going for some sort of fantasy adventure spirit, the boy Marnum’s quest and motivation weren’t very clear. The rhyme served as a riddle for him to solve, but it turned out more literal, which only added to my confusion. I felt disoriented by the lack of background knowledge and unclear setting and found myself disinterested in the story itself.
– “The Well” – Based on “Jack and Jill,” this one tells the story of twins who seem to them to be the sole survivors of a universal plague, whose hatred for one another leads to their downfall. The characters in this one were wholly unlikable, and there were parts of it that seemed really unnecessary and just made me go “huh?” It’s like the author really wanted to tell another story, but then had to somehow work in the part where they fell down the hill — it was too forced and unrealistic.
Overall, I’d recommend this book to mature readers. The tie-in to the Mother Goose rhymes is really what makes this book unique and interesting, and the dark elements make the stories full of mystery and intrigue, which fans of the suspense/thriller genre will appreciate.
Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book!