Review: To Spin A Darker Stair edited by Tehani Wessely

Cover of To Spin A Darker Stair

To Spin A Darker Stair is a short chapbook that pairs two fairytale reworkings: A Delicate Architecture by Catherynne M Valente and The Oracle’s Tower by Faith Mudge. Valente’s story is a reprint, picked specifically to complement the story by Mudge.

Thematically, the stories are well-matched. Both carry a strong fairytale atmosphere and give the reader a sense that anything is possible. Both have a similar angle on their protagonist.

However, this similarity is a double-edged sword. A Delicate Architecture is a wonderfully deft tale, full of rich detail. Pairing it with The Oracle’s Tower serves to highlight the flaws in the latter–flaws that may have been overlooked if paired with a more contrasting story.

For example, A Delicate Architecture simply launches into the tale, drawing the reader along with a strikingly unique situation. The Oracle’s Tower, in contrast, follows a worn path wherein the narrator urges the reader to listen to her tale in a somewhat clumsy attempt to impart a sense of wisdom and urgency. This approach always tends to backfire a little for me; I rarely like being told what to do. The ending was framed likewise, setting out a possible conclusion to the story without being at all satisfying. It came across as a writer’s frantic attempt to wrap up the tale before the word count blew out.

The illustrations and cover art by Kathleen Jennings deserve a special mention. They tie the stories together beautifully and help strengthen the fairytale atmosphere.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Being only 51 pages, it is the perfect travel book and I devoured the whole lot in a single bus trip. With Fablecroft Publishing¬† scheduled to launch the anthology Phantazein at Conflux 10, it seems certain we can expect more along the same theme from them–especially with Mudge and Jennings making reappearances. However, I also hope that¬† FableCroft will produce more of these chapbooks in the future to help enliven future commutes.




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  1. Review: Phantazein edited by Tehani Wessely | Earl Grey Editing - November 11, 2014

    […] my September review of To Spin A Darker Stair, I anticipated that Phantazein would prove to be more of the same. Having now read it I can say: it […]

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