Please don't take any of that to be an insult to these stories, merely a way to convey that these tales are fairly harsh. Yes, all "fairy tales" come from a dark place, but these dig way deeper. Personally, I am a huge fan of stories that are based on fairy tales, but are more "grown up" for lack of better phrasing. I adore The Chronicles of Alice series by Christina Henry, as well as a collection of short stories called (re)Visions: Alice, and I count Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories among my all-time favorite books. I went in to Redder Than Blood expecting stories with twists and turns that reminded me of the classic fairy tales we all experienced as children. Well, I definitely got that, but Lee explores with relative ease such topics as rape, murder, incest, serial killers, pedophilia, prostitution, cross-dressing, homosexuality and more. Again, not a book for kids.
Tanith Lee crafts stories based on Snow White, The Pied Piper, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel, The Frog Prince, Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood, Swan Lake, Beauty and the Beast, and The Twelve Dancing Princesses (the only tale with which I was completely unfamiliar). The namesake of the book, Redder Than Blood, is the first story in the collection and, unfortunately, the most difficult to read. It's not that the story is bad, or the topic too uncomfortable to read, it's that the verbiage is really obtuse. I am a speed reader by nature and I often found myself needing to read certain phrases over because I didn't quite catch the meaning the first time around. It almost felt as if the story had been written in another language and then translated back to English. In short, it's the tale of a clever daughter outwitting her father through a riddle, and becoming an object of desire and obsession for men throughout the ages. Luckily, this is the only story written in this purple style, and while it took me longer to get through than it should have, once I moved on to the other stories in the book, I quickly burned through them. I say that mainly so that if you purchase this book, press on through the first story as much better ones come after.
Like Redder Than Blood, Snow-Drop is a take on Snow White, but modern instead of ancient. Here, a second wife obsesses over a child her predecessor imagined and painted, but never had, to the point of madness. Magpied is obviously a tale based on The Pied Piper and I found it rather amusing, especially as someone who doesn't have children.
She Sleeps in a Tower, Awake, and Love in Waiting are all variants of Sleeping Beauty , one steeped in prostitution, one in Fae magic, and one a short, sweet but sad tale.
Cinderella is a favorite classic fairy tale, but in The Reason For Not Going To The Ball, we see a very different side of the "wicked stepmother" as she desperately tries to protect her beautiful stepdaughter from a life she knows all too well. Talk about a twist! Midnight is pretty close to the original, but with a sweet turnabout at the end, while Empire of Glass blew me away with its genius end that I didn't see coming.
Rapunzel takes the classic tale and turns it into a beautiful story about a man trying to escape his future and finding love along the way, while Open Your Window, Golden Hair is a cautionary tale about things not always being as they appear. Kiss Kiss is a lovely story based on The Frog Prince and imparts the sentiment that sometimes we don't know how good we have things until they're gone. Into Gold is a peculiar interpretation of Rumpelstiltskin steeped in lore and the Greek gods.
Blood-Mantle and Wolfed are based on Little Red Riding Hood and one tells the tale of a childhood sadly lost, while the other follows a strange ménage à trois that might just live happily ever after.
My Life as a Swan is the longest story in the book and one of the more depressing ones as well. It is based on Swan Lake and clocks in at over 50 pages, but personally, I was not a fan. The Beast, on the other hand, is absolutely brilliant as it spotlights a beast of a different color. The Beast and Beauty does as well, just in a different way. It's more about love seeing past outward appearances, but insecurity still looming. Below the Sun Beneath is my favorite tale and the perfect story to round out the collection. It is based on The Twelve Dancing Princesses and has a feckless king with 12 lovely daughters, whom he despises, suspecting them of witchcraft. He searches for a worthy heir to his throne in a most dangerous way, at least to those who hope to try. To me, it was the best story of the bunch.
If you enjoy twisty-turny dark stories based on fairy tales, you'll probably enjoy Redder Than Blood, but some of the stories are pretty out there and to be honest, there was just a bit too much incest and child rape for me. I get that in the long-ago past, that may have been the norm, but I don't necessarily enjoy reading about it. On the other hand, some of the stories are a delight. You'll have to decide for yourself whether the book is for you.