The book so nice (and massive), I reviewed it twice.
Rather, I separated my review into two parts because there are thirteen original tales in addition to Poe’s stories and I felt it best to separate the meat from the bone, so to speak.
For part one of my review, see this post.
As previously noted, I give this collection -
FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARS
- for the ingenious twists and turns each writer employs, all of them living up to Poe’s incredible legacy while adding something unique to the conversation.
I’ve already selected a favorite from the new stories, so felt inclined to select one from Poe’s tales as well.
Between ingenuity and the analytic ability there exists a difference far greater, indeed, than that between the fancy and the imagination, but of a character very strictly analogous. It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.
From “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe
Though it must be said that at times Poe’s ingenuity and imagination tend to get him tangled in the weeds a bit, as happens in this particular story, but the take-away is still rich.
Each of the original tales is paired with a reimagined story. They each deserve to have a significantly amount of devoted attention, but I’m a bit out of practice and there are thirteen of them, so in the interest of respecting your time and mine I’ll give each a brief review with my impressions. It should be noted that they’re all fantastic.
“Metzengerstein” - “She Rode a Horse of Fire” by Kendare Blake
This was my first time reading Poe’s tale and I found the theme of vengeance over some unspoken slight to be...very Poe.
Blake takes these themes and the general structure of the narrative and makes it more intimate and immediate. The main character, a young woman working at the estate, tells the story of the young master of the house and his descent into ruin, very similar to the events of the original tale with a few twists. Instead of a fiery-colored horse, his object of his attention is a red-orange sports car and the strange woman who drives it.
There’s mystery, there’s obsession, and there’s self-immolation.
It’s quite Poe-etic, really.
“The Cask of Amontillado” - “It’s Carnival!” by Tiffany D. Jackson
Unlike the original narrator, Jackson’s doesn’t shy from naming the slighs the antagonist has heaped upon her. She’s just as brash as her predecessor, but also just as cunning in her plan to dispose of her hated nemesis.
While the specifics are outside of my own personal experiences, I was enraptured by the vibrant culture I was given a peek of in the story. The sounds of the Carnival parade, the feel of the oppressive midday heat, the cool tang of the drink, all of it kaleidoscoped around the narrator as she entombs her hated nemesis once and for all.
“Annabel Lee” - “Night-Tide” by Tessa Gratton
Gratton’s story takes Poe’s poem and breathes life into it in a way that had my own breath catching as the cool ocean waves creep up the protagonist’s legs.
The love she feels for Annabel Lee is tragic, just as in the original, but the way she speaks of it, jumping from present to past and back again left me yearning as she does for the beautiful, pure connection.
I never knew I needed a sapphic retelling of this story until Gratton gifted it to me and I can see myself sinking into a warm bath and rereading this again and again.
“The Pit and the Pendulum” - “The Glittering Death” by Caleb Roehrig
The original story always seemed a bit overfraught to me, and rereading it just confirms this remembered presumption.
Roehrig’s tale is certainly fresher than Poe’s. Not only does it take place in modern times, but it taps into the fear many young women feel on a daily basis. Only this protagonist doesn’t heed the explicit warnings and is taken in a Se7en-style cardinal-sin-revenge-plot.
My mind strained a bit at the repeated tortures, but it was the end that mattered. Freedom for her, like in the original story, comes at the hands of a rescuer, but unlike in Poe’s story, Roehrig’s protagonist uses her wits to help facilitate her own escape from certain death.
“The Purloined Letter” - “A Drop of Stolen Ink” by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Another of Poe’s stories I had not previously read, or paid enough attention to in order to remember. Which, upon reading it in this volume, I can perhaps see why. At times Poe gets...wordy...and dare I say mansplainy (I dare, oh do I dare) in his descriptions.
Lloyd-Jones’ story, on the other hand, is utterly captivating. The moment the world is introduced, with the near-future tattoo identification system as a means of battling identity theft, my attention remained fixed and it just gets more intriguing from there.
I’m adding Lloyd-Jones’ books to my goodreads TBR list as I type this.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” - “Happy Days, Sweetheart” by Stephanie Kuehn
Obsession and anger that turns into single-sided, purposeful rage. Kuehn takes the heart of Poe’s original story and distills it into a narrative that makes my toes curl in sympathy for the protagonist who tries, every single day, to succeed. But every day she’s found wanting, not because of anything she’s done wrong, but because of the world she’s been born into.
My favorite quote of the reimagined collection comes from this story, and I read in awe of the sociopathic purposefulness the protagonist demonstrates.
Even if her ambition comes at a terrible price.
“The Raven” - “The Raven (Remix)” by amanda lovelace
The revisioning of this poem is riveting and quick and made me audibly gasp in the end.
“Hop-Frog” - “Changeling” by Marieke Nijkamp
Let’s just say that Poe’s story is...not a progressive tale of difference and disability.
Nijkamp, however, takes the reality of what life was once like for those born with physical limitations and incorporates the world of the fae. It’s a bloody and beautiful reimagining of the original story, still holding with Poe’s tradition of vengeance, but adds another option for the lost and lonely, as well.
“The Oval Portrait” - “The Oval Filter” by Lamar Giles
Another story I was not familiar with, the punchline of the original seems quite abrupt, but with a twist like that it’s hard not to leave it that way.
Giles’ interpretation is fresh and unexpected. I certainly didn’t anticipate there being a football locker room in any of these stories, but it works perfectly with the retelling.
I enjoy the way the death isn’t played the way Poe’s was. Its revelation isn’t the point of the story. A woman’s untimely demise is the impetus for the action, not the conclusion of it.
“The Masque of the Red Death” - “Red” by Hillary Monahan
A classic tale that reminds me of The Decameron, which I’m (very slowly) making my way through at the moment, Poe’s story speaks of the follies of wealth in the wake of a tragedy most average people have no way of avoiding.
Monahan takes this and twists, referencing the original in the opulence and descriptions of the club setting, juxtaposing it to the poverty the character faces before fulfilling her role as the harbinger of death.
“Ligeia” - “Lygia” by Dahlia Adler
Poe’s story is one of love and loss and incredible interior decorating. There’s the implication that the protagonist may have had something to do with his second wife’s mysterious recurring illness, but regardless, when she is dying he can’t seem to keep from remembering his dearly departed Ligeia, whose memory haunts him even as he witnesses his second wife expire and resurrect again and again until at last his mind or memory or perhaps some magical force transforms her into his one true love.
Adler’s interpretation is a fresh, citrus-scented reimagining of the original. Lygia is the speaker’s girlfriend, prom date, and tragic lover. I enjoy the way this same-sex relationship isn’t played for dramatic effect. The teen girls’ passion for each other is normalized and lovely, up until Lygia’s untimely demise.
Enter her replacement, who is pale where Lygia was tan, blonde where she was dark, and the protagonist, still wrapped up in a shroud of grief, slowly twists and transforms this unfortunate new girl into her lost lover in a way that would make Poe proud.
“The Fall of the House of Usher” - “The Fall of the Bank of Usher” by Fran Wilde
One of Poe’s classics, Usher is an atmospheric tale that plays on the reality of genetically fragile ancient families, decaying estates, and the fear of being buried alive. There are elements of the macabre, ubiquitous to most of his stories, and the fantastical as the house physically falls after the remaining Ushers die in each other’s arms.
Wilde takes it in a fantastically different direction while still keeping with the eeriness of the source material; incorporating hacker siblings, a bank, sentient robotic moss, and a hefty dose of deception.
The first short story I ever wrote was for a middle school writing class and involved a hacker. I won the class competition, a candy bar, and a soft spot for that particular character type. I was rooting for the hacker siblings from the start.
They’re testing the security of the Bank of Usher when things go wildly awry. The story is snappy, fresh, and delves more into their relationship than the original did. I also appreciate that the setting is implied to be the original House of Usher.
“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” - “The Murders in the Rue Apartelle, Boracay” by Rin Chupeco.
Poe’s story reminds me of “The Purloined Letter” with its lengthy details and descriptions, but as it deals with murder and not a letter, it’s a bit more titilating, even if the conclusion is farsical and centered around “Otherness” in a way that sets an uncomfortable itch between my shoulderblades.
Confession, I’m currently reading Chupeco’s second Bone Witch novel, The Heart Forger, so I’m a bit primed to love everything she writes and this is no exception.
The story starts with the casual revelation that fantastic creatures like aswang, werewolves, and vampires exist and equally casually reveals the main character’s identity as a trans woman living in Boracay. Like I mentioned before, I’m already in love. The protagonist hooks up with a diplomat’s son, who’s stunning attention to detail seems almost otherworldly, even though he’s a mere human. Now this isn’t a story I’m willing to spoil, but let’s just say the discomfort I had with the “Otherness” in Poe’s tale makes way to sheer enjoyment in this one.