Review – Grim edited by Christine Johnson

Title: Grim

Editor: Christine Johnson

Star Rating: * * *

Genre: Fairy Tale Retellings, Short Stories, Young Adult

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

 Cover - Grim


Grim is a collection of short stories based on classic fairy tales with new twists and reimaginings.

Individual Stories

(Pardon the formatting. WordPress has decided it doesn’t want to space anything. Will try to fix this later!)

The Key – Rachel Hawkins (Based on Bluebeard)

I have mixed feelings about The Key. On one hand, the writing is great. I love the protagonist, and the author builds the world up deftly in a very short time. The story reads like a fantastic first chapter in a book length retelling of Bluebeard. Unfortunately, it’s only a short story. It’s not that it doesn’t work in this form. I actually thought the abrupt ending was rather punchy, but now I have a yearning for a book that does not exist! I think a modern, paranormal, crime thriller retelling of Bluebeard would be amazing, as suggested by this story. So the lesson learned from this particular piece is that you should leave your readers with things to think about, but not make them grieve over what does not exist (a difficult line to balance!).

Figment – Jeri Smith-Ready (Based on Puss-in-Boots)

I loved Figments to pieces. Admittedly, Puss-in-Boots is one of my favourite fairy tales, so perhaps I was biased to begin with, but this was a very unique and creative re-telling of the story. In Figments, Puss is a stuffed cat that is actually an entity that creates luck for its owner by influencing and manipulating people around them. Those who give Figment up too soon find that their fortunes rapidly change for the worse…

Despite the fact that I really enjoyed this story, the atmosphere and emotional aspects of the piece did seem quite mixed up. I had a hard time figuring out whether Figment was really a malevolent force, or whether it was just a lonely being that really didn’t want to be left alone. The epilogue answered a lot of my questions, but it made my initial read of the story a bit confused.

The Twelfth-Girl – Malinda Lo (Based on the Twelve Dancing Princesses)

In The Twelfth Girl, Lo writes about a group of mysterious teenagers who go dancing in an other-worldly realm every night until one of them realises that the price paid to access this privilege is too high. I really appreciated this story for the fact that the teenagers seemed quite real in their youthful selfishness and self-confidence. I was also pleased to see that lesbian attraction played a role in this story, and was not presented as something strange or deviant. Some other reviewers have thought that this particular relationship seemed to come out of nowhere, but after all the ridiculous examples of instantaneous heterosexual love that have been rammed own my throat as sexy and affecting, I was really happy to see a pair of young women have a chance to be involved simply because they were sexually attracted to one another.
The Raven Princess – Jon Skovron (Based on The Raven)

The Raven Princess was not one of my favourite re-tellings as it didn’t really do much to change the source material. While the writing itself was fine, the narrative was almost unaltered save for the end, and this twist conclusion wasn’t particularly surprising or interesting. It’s a fun story to read if you are unfamiliar with the source material, but as a story in a volume of some very interesting fairy tale adaptations, Skovron’s piece did not stand out. I should mention, however, that I appreciated the addition of the gay giant couple. That particular detail made me smile!
Thinner than Water – Saundra Mitchell (Based on Donkey-Skin)

For readers, there should be a trigger warning on this piece for sexual assault and incest. Thinner than Water deals with some very dark and serious themes, but it ended up being one of my favourite pieces in Grim. In Mitchell’s version of this tale, a young princess is forced into agreeing to marry her father who has been sexually abusing her for years. While she desperately attempts to find some way out of this situation, she realises that she has very few options and no real friends or allies to ask for help. However, in the end, the princess uses her ingenuity and perseverance to escape her father’s castle, raise an army, and come back to take her land away from the man who thought it acceptable to sexual assault his own daughter for no other reason other than she was beautiful and unable to reject his desires without getting herself in trouble under the law. This was a much more empowering take on the original tale that gave the princess agency and voice and allowed her to save herself without the help of a prince.
Before the Rose Bloomed – Ellen Hopkins (Based on The Snow Queen)

I really hated this particular story. Hopkins wrote a piece of prose, but then spaced it as if it were a poem. This hindered my reading of the story as the lines became disjointed, and the flow was almost impossible to maintain. Additionally, her retelling barely strayed from the original tale, so I felt like I sloughed through this disaster of a piece for nothing.

Beast/Beast – Tessa Gratton (Based on Beauty and the Beast)

Gratton’s Beauty and the Beast rewrite was quite similar to the original, but with some interesting twists and themes. I appreciated the plant-based appearance of the Beast, as well as Beauty’s struggle with the concept of choice. However, I think this is another story that may have been better if it were longer (at least novella size) so that these novel bits could have been explored in a bit more detail.
The Brothers Piggett – Julie Kagawa (Based on The Three Little Pigs)

In Kagawa’s retelling of The Three Little Pigs, the youngest pig is a great example of a Nice Guy™. He’s a shy, socially awkward young man who falls desperately in love with a beautiful young lady, and because she is nice to him, he assumes that she might like him in a less than platonic way, and has an emotional breakdown when it turns out that she does not. His brothers, to protect him, try to kill this young woman, but, as it turns out, it is hard to kill werewolves, and she comes back to seek revenge. I thought that this particular story was a very feminist interpretation of The Three Little Pigs that blended modern and fairy tale concepts quite well.
Untethered – Sonia Gensler (Based on The Shroud)

Gensler’s Untethered seems really popular with other reviewers, but it didn’t do much for me. While the writing in the descriptive sense is beautiful, I didn’t feel like there was much of a story here. The author was trying very hard to present a certain twist to the narrative, but this just made Untethered a bit disjointed and confusing for a reveal I thought was rather obvious.
Better – Shaun David Hutchinson (Based on The Pied Piper)

Better would make a really interesting book as I felt like we only got a tantalising glimpse into a new and problematic world. In Hutchinson’s retelling, the children on a generational spaceship are dying, so one of the doctors builds an artificial human to experiment on in order to figure out how to cure the children. The narrative deals a lot with what it means to be a human being, but I felt like the conversations that it was trying to have about artificial humanity needed more explanation and development to really shine. On the other hand, spaceships and science in a fairy tale retelling are always welcome on my bookshelf!
Light it Up – Kimberly Derting (Based on Hansel and Gretel)

Light it Up was a neat contemporary retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Two young adults are abandoned in the woods by their step mom, and the witch they meet is actually a cannibalistic park ranger! While the story didn’t push many boundaries, it presented a strong reinterpretation of an old fairy tale in the modern day that felt like it actually fit.
Sharper than a Serpent’s Tongue – Christine Johnson (Based on Diamonds and Toads)

Johnson’s retelling was very strange and uncomfortable. In the original Grim tale, the daughter who produces gems when she speaks is decidedly kinder and more empathetic than her sister who spits out snakes and reptiles. Johnson, on the other hand, tries to reverse this construction of good and bad, framing the sister who was cursed as a stronger, more independent, and more sympathetic character. I liked the idea, but the implementation of this commentary was lacking. The good sister, in this case, wanted to remain silent after her neighbour touched her sexually without consent. It was the other “bad” sister who wanted to speak out, and to be truthful, I’m not sure what message the author was trying to get across.

A Real Boy – Claudia Gray (Based on Pinocchio)

In A Real Boy, the main protagonist helps to build a robot that is incredibly human, and when she falls in love with him, she runs into the problem of wondering if these emotions are real and whether or not he can reciprocate. While this wasn’t a particularly innovative idea, Gray wrote a very satisfying short story, and it made me feel a lot of warm fuzzies.

Skin Trade – Myra McEntire (Based on The Robber Bridegroom)

Skin Trade is a horrible story. Not only was there not enough detail for the narrative to stand on its own, what was there just made me feel uncomfortable even beyond the type of discomfort that one should feel given the original story. In The Robber Bridegroom, the female protagonist undergoes a very frightening experience, but she also manages to expose her fiancé’s evil. She’s allowed to have agency and empowerment. In Skin Trade, not only does the story start by suggesting that women at clubs who fall for attractive men who are secretly murderers are at least somewhat to blame, the female protagonist has no role in bringing down the skin traders, other than being a love interest. She has none of her own ingenuity, and the hero turns into one of the skin traders who decides to sacrifice himself for her. In comparison to Thinner than Water, the other incredibly dark fairy tale being tackled in this volume, McEntire narrative is less socially progressive than the original.

Beauty and the Chad – Sarah Rees Brennan (Based on Beauty and the Beast)

Brennan contributed a second Beauty and the Beast rewrite to Grim, and hers was the one that really stood out to me. I absolutely loved her often silly, but very touching reconsideration of this tale. In this story, Belle is ends up a servant to the Beast because she is concerned about her father’s honour, so she dresses up like a young man and volunteers a year of her time to the Beast. However, the Beast confuses her. After all, surfer dude talk is a bit out of place in old, fairy tale France, and he’s dealing with significant culture shock after having been teleported back in time by a witch. The two fall in love, though the Beast mistakenly believes that he is now marrying another man, but decides that love is really what is important, not what he thinks his sexuality is. Overall, this was a very sweet story with delightful touches of humour.
The Pink – Amanda Hocking (Based on The Carnation)

The Pink was another addition to this volume that didn’t actually rethink the original Grimm tale. Instead, it was a basic retelling of the original story with a few added details. Hence, it was not particularly memorable amidst the more creative pieces in this volume. Given the fact that the main character had the power to do almost anything he wanted with a wish, this was definitely an example of a wasted premise that could have been adapted into something really different with a bit more effort.

Sell Out – Jackson Pearce (Based on Snow White)

In Sell-Out, Prince Charming is just a regular young man who just so happens to have the power to bring dead people back with a kiss. In this world, there are agencies who hire people like him to service those who are willing to pay a lot of money to give their loved ones a second chance at life. While the premise was interesting, the actual story didn’t push any boundaries. The protagonist was very conflicted about his powers, and he was ready to accept a bribe from a disgruntled relative to botch a kiss reanimation. However, when he goes to complete his fake job, he realises that Snow White was a beautiful person filled with life and talent, so he wakes her up anyway despite his agreement with her evil step-mother. Charming’s issue with his job could have been an interesting one to expand on, but, unfortunately, the length of this short story wasn’t conducive to giving readers more than a superficial look at this conflicted character.


2 thoughts on “Review – Grim edited by Christine Johnson

  1. Great review! I just started this last night, so far I have only read The Key, and I wasn’t that impressed either. I read all of your mini reviews, and I have to say that Figments sounds the best to me. I’m glad that you enjoyed most of these stories 🙂

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