Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand Hardcover – May 19, 2008 by Louise Hawes  (Author)fantasy book review Louise Hawes Black Pearls: A Faerie StrandBlack Pearls by Louise Hawes

Once upon a time, there was a woman who was so caught up in a book that she did nothing all day but read it, from cover to cover.

Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand is a gem. Louise Hawes‘ dark, sensual fairy tale retellings and Rebecca Guay‘s evocative illustrations work perfectly together to form one of the best books of retold tales that I’ve ever read. I checked this out from the library, but I’ve resolved that I simply must have a copy of my own to treasure.

Hawes’ prose is perfect for the genre. Her writing is beautiful without being heavy, and she has a talent for conveying visceral images in arch, elegant turns of phrase. She’s also got a knack for metaphors. They’re sometimes unexpected, sometimes familiar, and always perfectly fitting for the character who thinks them. (Rapunzel’s witch compares hatred to poisonous mushrooms, Gretel notes that her angry stepmother is “set and stiff as beaten cream,” and one of the seven dwarfs sees a bedraggled Snow White as a diamond that has not yet been cut.) My favorite metaphor in the book comes from the Snow White retelling as well: “watching the orange village at the bottom of the fire tumble into ruin.”

My favorite among the tales is “Evelyn’s Song,” which tells the story of the golden singing harp from Jack and the Beanstalk. It’s a haunting tale of servitude and freedom. The other stories, too, look at the old tales from new angles and explore the tangled emotions that lurk within the archetypes.

I would recommend this collection to anyone who enjoyed the Datlow/Windling fairy tale series, Tanith Lee‘s Red as Blood, and though Hawes sets her tales in “once upon a time” rather than our time, Francesca Lia Block‘s The Rose and the Beast… And she read happily ever after.

Black Pearls: A Faerie Strand — (2008) Publisher: “… and they lived happily ever after.” Remember the fairy tales you put away after you found that no princess is as beautiful as common sense and happy endings are just the beginning? Well, the old tales are back, and they’ve grown up! Black Pearls brings you the stories of your childhood, told in a way you’ve never heard before. Instead of lulling you to sleep, they’ll wake you up — to the haunting sadness that waits just inside the windows of a gingerbread cottage, the passion that fuels a witch’s flight, and the heartache that comes, again and again, at the stroke of midnight. Make no mistake: these stories are as dark as human nature itself. But they shine, too, lit with the fire of our dreams and our hunger for magic.


  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.