Do not judge a book by the cover is probably the first thing I learned about books. However, sometimes you can, sometimes not and sometimes there are books that you do both. The Nixie of the Mill-Pond and Other European Stories is one of those books that you think you know what is going on (there will be a Nixie, which looks like a mermaid/banshee/fairy, that will do something in a mill-pond) but open it up and there is something completely different. On page one we find a Jack and the Beanstalk story. (Wait! Where is my nixie?) But this is not just any JITB tale. Jack decides to take the magic harp and make a traveling music show out of her. Okay, so story two will have my Nixie. Nope. Not three or four either. About story five or six our titled nixie shows up.
You see, this is not just about a Nixie in a Mill-Pond. This is an interesting collection of fairy/folk tales done in a graphic novel format with more than a few twists and turns. Some stories have a more modern tone or parts, while others seem to stay truer to the original. There are classical elements of “women roles” such as “to be married off” and “are the villain” but also a few contemporary princesses who kick some troll butt (even if one is wearing a cow’s body/or the cow is wearing her head…). There is magic, shape-shifting trolls, talking cats, singing harps, magic beans, great fortune exchanged for a great sacrifice. Each story has its own unique voice and art as each artist puts their own spin on them. Some are favorites like Puss in Boots, Rapunzel and the Pied Piper. There are some you might not be as familiar with. But if you know classic European fairy/folk tales (predominantly from Germany but includes France, Italy, Russia and others) you might be more in the “know.”
Some stories are humorous, some dark and some a mixture of both. While publisher notes have this for ages 10-12, I would recommend ages 13 to adult. There is some content and overall context that might be “too much” for a sensitive or less mature readers. I was confused by one story as the illustrations bled into each other making the action unclear and even at one point what was happening. The why the boy was turned into a goat was unclear as well (other than a kid pun for the end). The mashup art and awkward text made the who was speaking difficult. However, the illustrations of the prince-figure are remarkably good. The Pied Piper is wordless and if one is not familiar with the plot, you might not grasp the action. (At first, I was unsure why the piper was covering their eyes, but then saw that people must be able to see the music). Also, the end of this one has the children dancing off, and everything on the page (children, tree, shadows) look possessed and rat-like. This is powerful but might lead to some confusion. Yet, there is no question what the Singing Bone is about or the action of Puss in Boots.
There is some violence (though I am sure kids have seen worse things in cartoons, video games and movies) and not just the giant falling from the beanstalk kind; such as a royal werewolf (looking like a fluffy doggie; at first) bites the nose off a woman; the nixie drowns a man; the Baba Witch tries to drown a maiden; two rabbit friends go off to kill a dangerous boar and one ends up with a knife in the back. The humor can be borderline adult too (one of said rabbits is a drinker and there is a joke made about that). Some of the art is cartoonish and child-like (and not the fun way) and others detailed to distraction. Of course, there is in the middle as well. Therefore, this is not for everyone. But there probably is something for everyone.
Kel McDonald is one of the editors and contributor to the collection They and the other contributors made something I am not sure I can rate. I probably should average out my feelings on each chapter/story and rate it that way. One drawback is the book will be printed in black-and-white. Even muted colors could have broken things up as sometimes the actual chapter is not clearly marked except for the new art style. Therefore, the table of context is important, the mini-artist biographies are a nice addition and if you want to see what you might be getting into, try The Girl Who Married a Skull: And Other African Stories and Tamamo the Fox Maiden: And Other Asian Stories books one and two of the Cautionary Fables and Fairytales series.