Book review: Cursed: An Anthology Edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane

This collection of dark tales, featuring writers such as Christina Henry, Neil Gaiman and Karen Joy Fowler, explores and reimagines the power of a curse.

Cursed is an anthology of dark tales by twelve contemporary authors, such as Neil Gaiman, Karen Joy Fowler, Christina Henry, M.R. Carey and Charlie Jane Anders, working in fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, and any other highly imaginative genre speculative fiction genre one might care to name. 

These authors are at the height of their careers, working across the writing spectrum from short stories to screen-writing to graphic novels, and they bring their formidable talents to craft tales based on the concept of a curse: what it means to be cursed; what it takes to create a curse; how one lives with a curse; and how a wish can so easily become a curse. Many of the stories are reinterpretations or updates of well-known fairy tales, others are entirely new but still retain that fairy tale energy of reality-but-make-it-shiny.

A contemporary take on Bluebeard sees the story told in a modern setting and from a different point of view, but the gruesome quirks of the title character remain. The tale of Hansel and Gretel is transformed in Haza and Ghani, where brother and sister journey to a new world, and ovens, witches and revenge take on new and fantastical meanings.

Sleeping Beauty dreams peacefully until she is awoken, but was she cursed by her dream or by her waking? A woman is placed under a powerful curse by a demi-goddess, and after centuries of torment perhaps it is making them both suffer.

A woman is cursed to die again and again, reviving in the bodies of others who have passed away, but she always finds her way back to her true love. And a golden boy who grew into a golden man faces his worst fear when his intangible appeal is stripped away; will he have the strength to start his life again without his privilege?

These and many more twisted, thought-provoking stories take the reader to unexpected places, across times and dimensions, and into the homes and caves of characters both new and recognised.

Through the art of the short story and the fluid, ephemeral magic of the fairy tale, these authors explore with dark and imaginative prose every facet of what it means to be cursed, bookended by two poems by Jane Yolen.

I would highly recommend this anthology to anyone who enjoys the compact power of the short story, or the timeless reiteration of the fairy tale, or any kind of dark fiction that explores the limits and capabilities of the human mind and soul.

4 ½ stars out of 5

Cursed: An Anthology Edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane
Publisher: Titan Books
Format: Paperback
Categories: Anthology
Pages: 384pp
Release Date: 3 March 2020
RRP: $19.99

Jemimah Brewster
About the Author
Jemimah Brewster is a Melbourne-based writer and editor with a love of sci-fi, YA, graphic novels and short stories. She loves books and can always be found reading, writing or re-purposing them. She also runs Underground Writers, a zine and resource for new and emerging Australian authors.