In this debut collection from C. S. E. Cooney, a swan princess hunted for her bones, a broken musician and his silver pipe, and a rat named Maurice bring justice to a town under fell enchantment. A gang of courageous kids confront both a plague-destroyed world and an afterlife infested with clowns but robbed of laughter. In an island city, the murder of a child unites two lovers, but vengeance will part them. Only human sacrifice will save a city trapped in ice and darkness. Gold spun out of straw has a price, but not the one you expect.
I almost feel guilty giving the narrator only four stars. I did so because she flattens her voice when she speaks narration, but that's probably to increase the contrast with the many character voices she portrays brilliantly. The title story does not suffer from this at all, as the narration is provided by the most charming rat you'll ever meet.
And there is always something special when an author has the opportunity to narrate their own work. You know for a fact that she knows her own characters, and knows how they speak.
Whether the story is a re-interpretation of (or more likely a mash-up of several) classic tales you already know, or a completely original dreamscape with "once upon a time" settings but modern metaphors, they are all engaging, thought-provoking, and intelligent.
Even the scary after-life clowns.