Release: May 29, 2016
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | Humor
Publisher: eSpec Books
Buy it here: AMAZON
Once Upon a Time, ageless tales were told from one generation to the next, filled with both wonders and warnings. Tales of handsome princes and wicked queens, of good-hearted folk and evil stepmothers. Tales of danger and caution and magic…classics that still echo in our hearts and memories even to this day, told from old, cherished books or from memory at Grandma’s knee.
Oh yes, tales have been told…but never quite like these. Journey with us through the pages of Gaslight and Grimm to discover timeless truths through lenses polished in the age of steam.
With tales by James Chambers, Christine Norris, Bernie Mojzes, Danny Birt, Jean Marie Ward, Jeff Young, Gail Z. and Larry N. Martin, Elaine Corvidae, David Lee Summers, Kelly A. Harmon, Jonah Knight, Diana Bastine, and Jody Lynn Nye.
As a fan of fairy tales, fantasy, and steampunk, this collection grabbed my attention immediately. The first story, “In Wolf’s Clothing,” is a perfect play on the words in the title and reimagines the “Little Red Riding Hood” story. “When Pigs Fly” is the story of the “Three Little Pigs,” only now the “pigs” are captains of airships and the “wolves” are pirate vessels attacking the fleet. There are steampunk versions of “Jack the Giant Killer,” “Rapunzel,” and even “Puss in Boots” with clever steampunk inspired titles. “The Steamy Tale of Cinderella” might sound like an adults-only version of the tale until you remember the theme of the collection.
Since space is limited, I have decided to review only one short story in the collection. For a spoiler-free review—if you love any of these three genres, log on to your favorite bookstore and emulate Philip J. Fry from episode 3, season 6 of Futurama. *
It was hard to choose a favorite story in this collection, but I have enjoyed Jody Lynn Nye’s novels for years, so her story “The Perfect Shoes” narrowly edged out the others for the review. I also happen to feel that it is a good representation of the mixture of genres in the collection.
Jody Lynn Nye has written many humorous fantasy series, and has collaborated with Robert Asprin and Piers Anthony, so I started reading “The Perfect Shoes” expecting something clever and light, with perhaps a few puns thrown in for good measure. What I found was something clever and dark, sobering and uplifting, and all-together unsettling. It is a short story that I found myself thinking about long after I read it during quiet, reflective moments. It made an impact.
The story is not a take on “Cinderella,” as one might think from the reference to shoes, but to “The Red Shoes,” a much darker tale originally published by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845. The original tale is based on the idea of temptation and material desire; of being cursed and finding redemption through humility.
“The Perfect Shoes” follows this formula, but with exquisite steampunk details. The shoes, for example, are the creation of a master clockwork maker, M. de Raymond. Instead of being simple adornments, they are fashioned to help the heroine, Monique, fulfill her dream of being the prima ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet:
At her ankles, knees, and hips, there were clockwork joints, gears, and flywheels, but as tiny as those in a fine watch. They would be invisible under her tights. Strangely, the shoes and their attendant gadgetry felt perfectly comfortable, as though they were a part of her body (Nye, 2016).
The shoes allow her to dance beyond her natural ability and she quickly rises to the position of prima ballerina. Monique is willing to trade her soul for her dreams, but M. de Raymond asks for much less. Still, Monique is not willing to keep the bargain she struck. But M. de Raymond does not hold this against her and allows her to keep the shoes and pursue her dreams. Instead, it is her own cruelty to the rest of the dancers and her own pride that bring about her downfall.
Does Monique find redemption at the end of the tale? That would be giving too much away. I recommend reading the tale, and the rest of the collection, for yourself.
*Fry yells: “Shut up and take my money!”
(This, of course, assumes you talk to your computer. Which I do when shopping. Frequently.)