Belle Noir by Ava Zavora
Author: Ava Zavora
Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Fairy Tales / Romantic Relationships / Retellings / Coming of Age / Self Discovery / Fathers-Daughter Relationships)
Publisher/Publication Date: CreateSpace (6/1/2013)
Source: The author.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: Five short stories inspired by fairy tales and magic, set in a variety of universes with a different twist to each story.
Reading Challenges: E-book
Do I like the cover?: I do, a bit (although I feel like it also could be a romance or paranormal cover). It hints at one of the stories, 'Grotesque', really well!
I'm reminded of...: Mary Robinette Kowal
First line: Some curses fade and leave nothing but the faintest mark, a tea stain on watered silk., from 'Transfigured'
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy (especially as it is $1.99 on Amazon).
Why did I get this book?: I love fairy tale retellings!
Review: This slender collection of five short stories is familiar (three of the five stories were inspired by Beauty and the Beast) and darkly bittersweet. More in the Grimm vein (pun!) than Disney, Zavora leaves the reader feeling uneasy and discomforted -- which is a surprisingly fun state to be in!
Each story lingered with me and, frankly, got under my skin (although I will say, the titular story 'Belle Noir' is the one I really can't shake!). The opening story, 'Transfigured', is the most fairy tale-ish in nature while 'No Loyal Knight and True' has the opening of a crime thriller but takes a delightful direction toward Lady of Shallot. 'Belle Noir' is just straight up creepy while 'Grotesque' -- the only story not specifically based on a fairy tale, I believe -- is moody and modern. 'Mirabilis' is more of a fantasy, but I was immediately captivated by the world Zavora wrought and I would love a novel about this place/our heroine. The volume closes with a copy of Tennyson's poem, 'The Lady of Shalott'. Zavora includes an 'Afterword' where she talks about some aspect of each story -- a rather fun inclusion I wouldn't mind in every volume of short stories I read! (For those who love geeky extras, Zavora has a video playlist for each of her stories!)
While the book blurb has an 18+ 'mature' warning in it, there's nothing particularly 'adult' in the stories, and I had to wrack my brain for what might be construed as 'mature'. There are two moments, perhaps, in different stories, that are vaguely disturbing, but no more so than anything you'd find in any other novel. And it's a brief allusion, nothing graphic, so don't let the warning scare you off. This isn't erotica or even sexytimes.
Dark, punchy, and fun, Belle Noir is perfect for when you're in the mood for a beach read that isn't cheery. Those of you who want something dark and fast for either RIP or Dewey's Readathon in October, consider this collection. And of course, if you like fairy tales retold, give these a try.
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I'm thrilled to offer an e-book copy of Belle Noir to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 9/6.