I'm a big fantasy fan and I love inverted fairy stories so this anthology of short stories all of which take an established fairy story or ideas from fairy stories and turns it around into a m/m story seemed just the thing for me. Surprisingly for an anthology, all the stories were well written with clever plots and interesting characters. In fact, it's been quite difficult for me to single out one or two stories to highlight as my favourites.
Swan Made by Mina Kelly caught my interest because its themes were slightly darker than the other stories. It tells of lonely older man Joseph who discovers a cloak made from swan feathers in a local lake. He takes it home, puts it in a cupboard and forgets about it. Later that night a strange naked man turns up at his house and the two men have sex. The nameless man stays with Joseph, easing his loneliness, but whenever Joseph leaves the house he returns to find that the house is being systematically searched.
The story is written from Joseph's point of views and we follow him as he is at first bemused and then reliant on the strange man who enters his life. It isn't difficult to know who the man is and there were a number of sly, amusing comments about the difficulties the two men have to overcome in order to live in harmony. Their relationship is tinged with sadness though as Joseph faces the inevitability that at some point the man will find what he is looking for and leave, leading to a poignant scene which left me feeling quite heartbroken on Joseph's behalf. Don't worry though, like all good fairy stories, he gets his happy ending.
Another unusual story was Japanese set, Kintaro by S.J. Frost which told the story of a man, Kintaro, with extraordinary strength who lives in the forest with his mother. One day a Samurai finds him and after losing to Kintaro in a wrestling match takes him to the feudal Lord to train as a Samurai. The lord is impressed by Kintaro's strength and wishes him to fill the gap in his personal guard left when one of his men was killed. What Kintaro doesn't realise is that the guardsmen are always paired and that lone Samurai Suetake is still grieving over the death of the previous guardsman and his lover.
What attracted me to this story was that it had a different setting to the other stories in the anthology. Instead of kings and soldiers we have lords and Samurai. Kintaro had a lovely innocence about him that contrasted nicely with the weariness of Suetake and I liked that despite their opposite natures they worked as a couple. I also liked the relationship that the feudal lord had with his guardsmen and how the young and inexperienced Kintaro seemed to breathe a new spirit into the the men. Overall a well written and engrossing story about how innocence can overcome grief.
There were a couple of stories with similar themes about young men who refused to conform and marry the princesses. The Rebelliously Single Prince by Lenore Black was one such story where the king is so despairing of his son who sneaks out each night to cavort with the stable boys that he locks him in his room with a guard outside. Every morning the prince is still debauched, so the king makes a hidey hole for his most trusted advisor to watch over the prince at night. What followed was a delicious mix of a beautiful, tender sex scene and voyeurism which I found both amusing and romantic. The second story was Kings Honor by JL Merrow where a young soldier arrives in a strange land to solve the riddle of the twelve dancing princesses. Before arriving at the castle he meets a young woodsman who, along with his grandmother, offers to help the soldier solve the riddle. The writing in this story was a mix of cheeky humour and seriousness which blended together to create an interesting tale of the pitfalls of too much power and how the simple things in life are often the best. Great stuff.
Honourable mentions also need to go to A Merman's Tale by Jay Di Meo which was a sort of cross between The Little Mermaid and The Frog prince but still managed to pack a strong emotional punch and Cry Wolf by Mercy Loomis which crossed magic and shifter romance to tell the story of a shepherd who falls for the big bad wolf.
One thing I feel I ought to mention is that the story Handsome and Grateful by Kilt Kilpatrick had both m/m and f/f sex scenes in its irreverent pastiche of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. This is not a criticism, just a warning for those who aren't interested in f/f stories.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this set of stories. Recently, my main complaint about anthologies has been that many of the stories have been too similar in theme. I was pleased to find that this anthology had a set of diverse stories whilst also sticking to the theme of the book. I highly recommend Bedknobs and Beanstalks, with a grade of 'Excellent', to those readers who like fantasy and inverted fairy stories and also who are looking for a set of well written, amusing tales which nevertheless give us the emotion and happy endings that all good romance should contain.
Buy this book HERE.