For the most part I really enjoyed this book as the stories focused on the pursuit of one's own story even if it bucks trend. I loved that, my favorite story in the anthology, "The Story of the Eldest Princess," subverted the usual fairy tale and allowed the heroine to choose her own path. It reminded me of Mercedes Lackey's Five Hundred Kingdoms series in which the heroes and heroines are always battling against the Tradition which is compelling them to follow certain predetermined paths. In this case the eldest princess is nervous because she is well educated in the ways of quests and believes that she will fail and therefore have to wait seven years for her youngest sister to save her. (As we all know, three siblings always set out on quests successively only to have each fail due to hubris or stupidity until the humble and savvy youngest sibling manages to get it right.) Instead our eldest princess is prepared, intelligent, and not at all arrogant. She manages to make friends with all manner of seemingly odious creatures who are traditionally to be avoided and who steer her clear of the many pitfalls of the standard quest and allow her to forage a new path that is just right for her. So even though she doesn't finish the quest her parents set out for her, she has successfully and competently begun her own personal story. The moral I took from the story is that you mustn't compare yourself to other's who have come before you but set forth on the path that is right for you, and that a personal quest is essential to all of us no matter where it ends. I guess I've been doing a lot of soul searching lately and I read this book at the most auspicious time.
The rest of the shorter stories seemed to also be variations on this theme. Another one that has particular relevance in this time of massive tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, economic disparity and the like, was "Dragon's Breath" which focuses on the very boring small village of no name that encounters a terrifying and destructive force that they can barely comprehend. The moral of this story though, is that after the fear and destruction are finished, the villagers are no longer bored but grateful to be alive. In other words, sometimes strife has a purpose and that purpose is to remind us that we are all alive and there is joy to be found in the darkest places.
This all sounds so trite and I don't mean to sound preachy, because this novel isn't at all. In fact there is a lot of dark humor, not to mention a sort of c'est la vie attitude and a lack of moralizing. "The Glass Coffin" hints strongly that a brother and sister have an inappropriate relationship while the sister's husband has a job that is far less masculine than his wife's inclinations; "Gode's Story" has one of the best last lines of any story I've read; and so there is a lot of wry humor and poking fun of the darker elements of fairy tales.
My only complaint was that I wasn't so enchanted with the longest story, "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye." I enjoyed the first half but quickly got tired of the almost stream of consciousness style of writing. It reminded me of how much I despised reading James Joyce and Virginia Woolf in AP English.
But all in all this is an intelligent, deceptively funny, and engaging read.