Steve Berman’s newest short story collection is a charming set of thirteen modern fairy tales featuring queer teens. The stories–based on fairy tales, local legends, and even a Buffy episode–range from sweet to downright creepy. Characters receive advice from mythical beings, wander into fantasy worlds, and argue over whether labels constrain or empower those who claim them. Love, adventure, and nasty breakups abound in these stories, most of which center on young queer men, although two stories feature queer women as protagonists.
Each narrative presents an exceptional blend of the real and the fantastic. One is set completely in a fantasy world, while another contains no speculative elements at all. Berman’s world-building is serviceable, but I was more satisfied with his less speculative pieces, the ones that present a high school slice-of-life drama that takes occasional field trips into the fantastic. The collection’s strongest story, “Only Lost Boys Are Found,” falls into this category: a high-school freshman protagonist tries to find his missing boyfriend after a traumatic coming-out process and has to confront a pirate and ninja en route.
The tales in this collection are accompanied by several artists’ illustrations. Ilike Merey, known for the graphic novel a+e 4ever, contributed quirky, charming art that complements the text particularly well. Some of the other illustrations, however, felt overly cartoonish or distracting.
Overall, Red Caps is an enjoyable addition to the queer fantasy genre. It is not without its rough patches. Some of the stories are executed more successfully than others, and there are a few typos and old-fashioned terms that would have been addressed in a more rigorous editing process. Libraries that don’t yet offer many queer fairy tales may be better off purchasing Malinda Lo’s Ash or Berman’s 2009 anthology So Fey. Nonetheless, LGB fantasy fans will be glad to find this book on their library’s shelves.
Reviewer: Jane Sandberg, Burlington (WA) Public Library