Book Review: A Whole New World

a whole new worldA Whole New World
by Liz Braswell
(#1 in the Twisted Tales series)
Fairy-Tale Retellings
376 pages
Published 2015

I’ve been wanting to read the Twisted Tales series for quite some time, and finally requested the first book. To be honest, I’m not thrilled. Aladdin was never my favorite Disney movie, though, so it might just be unfortunate that it’s the first book in the series. I’ll probably still try the rest.

The book actually sticks pretty closely to the Disney movie in descriptions, characters, and setting. Everyone looks like their Disney movie counterparts. I had to check the inside cover to find that the book is indeed an official Disney product. There’s no way they’d get away with it, otherwise; it’d be blatant copyright infringement, and Disney is rather strict about that.

Basically, the book takes the script of Aladdin and asks one question – what if Aladdin really did give Jafar the lamp instead of keeping it when he got stuck in the cave? We know what Jafar does with the lamp eventually, but what if he had it first, before Aladdin? A lot of the plot is familiar – Jasmine and her tiger, the hourglass with people stuck inside of it, the Sultan playing with his toys. It’s really interesting to see the plot elements deconstructed and put back together in new ways.

I’m not sure whether I like this plot or the movie plot more; I never had strong feelings about Aladdin so I’m probably not the best judge.

It’s alright. If you’re a fan of Aladdin you might like it more than I did. I’m withholding judgment of the entire series until I read a few more, though.

From the cover of A Whole New World:

What if Aladdin had never found the lamp?

Aladdin is a street rat. There’s really no getting around that. Like most, he’s just trying to survive another day in impoverished Agrabah.

Jasmine is a princess, one who is about to enter into an arranged marriage. All she wants is to escape her fate, to see what lies beyond the palace walls.

But everything changes when the sultan’s trusted adviser, Jafar, suddenly rises to power. With the help of an ancient lamp, Jafar becomes determined to break the laws of magic and gain control over love and death. Soon Aladdin and the deposed princess Jasmine must unite the people of Agrabah in rebellion to stop the power-mad ruler. But their fight for freedom grows costly when it threatens to tear the kingdom apart.

This isn’t the story you already know. This is a story about power. About revolutionaries. About love. And about one moment changing everything. 

Book Review: Spinning Silver

spinning silverSpinning Silver
by Naomi Novik
Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retelling
466 pages
Published July 10, 2018

I had previously read Uprooted, and adored it, so I was eager to get my hands on this book as soon as it came out. I was very excited to see it as a Book of the Month choice for July, and quickly made it my pick!

I received the book last weekend while I was at Anthrocon, so I didn’t get a chance to sit down with it until yesterday. (It officially came out Tuesday.) I proceeded to read straight through the entire book because it was SO. GOOD. Novik writes absolutely ENTHRALLING fairy tales. And in Spinning Silver, she has written fae as beautiful, alien, capricious, and as absolutely bound by rules as they should be. Doing a thing three times, even by normal means, gives one the power to ACTUALLY do the thing; in Miryem’s case, turning the Staryk’s silver into gold (by creative buying and selling) means she gains the power to LITERALLY turn silver into gold. Which then gets her into the trouble the rest of the book is built on.

One of my favorite lines was very near the end of the book, about the Staryk palace:

The Staryk didn’t know anything of keeping records: I suppose it was only to be expected from people who didn’t take on debts and were used to entire chambers wandering off and having to be called back like cats.

My only real quibble with the book is that it shifts viewpoints between at least five characters, and doesn’t start their sections with names or anything, so it takes a few sentences to figure out who’s talking. It never takes too long, but it did occasionally make me go “Wait, who is this….ah, okay.”

The plotlines weave in and out of each other’s way for most of the book before all colliding into each other at the end and showing how everything connects. I was definitely confused on occasion, but it was that enchanting Alice-in-Wonderland kind of confusion more than actual puzzlement. The book is, by turns, a mix of Rumpelstiltskin, Tam-Lin, Winter King vs Summer King, Snow Queen, and a little Hansel and Gretel. I love seeing elements of so many fairy tales woven together and yet still remaining recognizable.

And the ending! Oh, the ending was absolutely, marvelously perfect.

I loved this book, just as much as I loved Uprooted. I can’t wait to see what fairy tales Novik spins next!

From the cover of Spinning Silver:

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty – until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.

When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk – grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh – Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.

But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.

Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.

 

Book Review: The Merry Spinster

the merry spinsterThe Merry Spinster – Tales of Everyday Horror
by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
Fairy Tale Short Story Anthology
188 pages
Published March 2018

So this JUST came out. I’d had my eye on it for a few months, and put a request in as soon as my library ordered it. The author recently came out as trans, so it’s also part of my effort to read more inclusively. Ortberg definitely played with gender and sexuality in several of these tales; in one of them people decided whether to be the husband or the wife, independent of their gender, in their marriage. (One party to the marriage in the story stated “I’ve been trained for both roles.”) In another all of a man’s daughters used male pronouns and that was never explored further. That was slightly odd.

These were dark, twisted versions of these stories. “Our Friend Mr. Toad,” for example, involved gaslighting and psychologically torturing poor Mr. Toad. I found that one particularly disturbing. I enjoyed the title story, Ortberg’s version of Beauty and the Beast, which has a very different ending from expected. I also really liked “The Daughter Cells”, inspired by The Little Mermaid. I LOVED “Fear Not: An Incident Log.”

I think this was a great, albeit strange, little book. It’s unique, for sure, and a quick read. If you’re looking for a fairy tale collection that is VERY different, try this one.

From the cover of The Merry Spinster:

From Mallory Ortberg comes a collection of darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales. Adapted from the beloved “Children’s Stories Made Horrific” series, “The Merry Spinster” takes up the trademark wit that endeared Ortberg to readers of both The Toast and the best-selling debut Texts From Jane Eyre. The feature has become among the most popular on the site, with each entry bringing in tens of thousands of views, as the stories proved a perfect vehicle for Ortberg’s eye for deconstruction and destabilization. Sinister and inviting, familiar and alien all at the same time, The Merry Spinster updates traditional children’s stories and fairy tales with elements of psychological horror, emotional clarity, and a keen sense of feminist mischief.

Readers of The Toast will instantly recognize Ortberg’s boisterous good humor and uber-nerd swagger: those new to Ortberg’s oeuvre will delight in this collection’s unique spin on fiction, where something a bit mischievous and unsettling is always at work just beneath the surface.

Unfalteringly faithful to its beloved source material, The Merry Spinster also illuminates the unsuspected, and frequently, alarming emotional complexities at play in the stories we tell ourselves, and each other, as we tuck ourselves in for the night.

Bed time will never be the same.

Book Review: Crimson Bound

Crimson BoundCrimson Bound
by Rosamund Hodge
Fairy-tale Retelling
436 pages
Published 2015

Well, Rosamund Hodge has done it again. I think this one was actually better than Cruel Beauty, and about on par with Bright Smoke, Cold Fire. Crimson Bound is billed as Cruel Beauty #2, but it doesn’t actually seem to take place in the same world. They’re only connected in that they’re both dark fantasy retellings of fairy tales. Crimson Bound is loosely (VERY loosely!) based on Little Red Riding Hood. It’s amazing.

In Rachelle’s world, The Forest is the dominating theme – it encroaches on villages and towns, sending “woodspawn” to attack people, and Forestborn to turn more humans into bloodbound and ultimately Forestborn. Humans are sheep to The Forest; prey to the Forestborn. Once a Forestborn has marked a human, they have three days to kill someone or they will die. If they kill someone, they become bloodbound – an intermediary step before they become completely Forestborn. Bloodbound have increased strength, resilience, and fighting skills, so the King has extended an offer to Bloodbound – even though they are known murderers, since they had to have killed someone to gain their powers – he will grant them clemency in exchange for their service to the realm. Guard the people from the woodspawn, the mindless monsters the Forest sends to attack people, and he’ll let you live.

So Rachelle is a Bloodbound, bound to the King. Unlike most, though, she still believes in some of the old pagan stories about The Forest and the Devourer – the ancient evil driving the Forest’s predatory ways. The book is about her quest to stop it from coming through into their world and destroying everything. There are twists and reveals that I cannot mention here, but it is an AMAZING piece of world-building and myth and I LOVED IT.

I also discovered she has several short stories post on her website so I’ll be binge-reading those for a while!

This book – and anything by Rosamund Hodge – is pure magic. If you like dark fairy tales, you can’t do better than this.

From the cover of Crimson Bound:

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless—straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in a vain effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Together, they navigate the opulent world of the courtly elite, where beauty and power reign and no one can be trusted. And as the two become unexpected allies, they discover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic . . . and a love that may be their undoing. Within a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

 

Book Review: Cruel Beauty

cruel beautyCruel Beauty
by Rosamund Hodge
Fairy-tale Retelling
342 pages
Published 2014

After reading Bright Smoke, Cold Fire I knew I HAD to find more Rosamund Hodge. She has a fantastic flair for taking fairy tales (or Shakespeare!) and twisting them into something darker but more realistic. Cruel Beauty is a twist on Beauty and the Beast, but this is no Stockholm Syndrome-suffering Beauty. She is resentful, and bitter, and angry at her father for subjecting her to this. She has trained her entire life to go to the Beast and destroy him, even if it means destroying herself too. What she find at the castle is nothing like what she expected, though, and neither is she what Hodge’s Beast expects. Watching these two bitter, mocking characters dance around each other to get to the bottom of the curse and what actually happened to their world is engrossing and beautiful.

I couldn’t put this book down once I started it, and I’ve already started Crimson Bound (Little Red Riding Hood), the next book in the same world. There’s also a novella, Gilded Ashes (Cinderella), that I should snag a copy of.

The world is lovely and evocative, with gods and Forest Lords and Demons who actively participate in the world and grant wishes and make deals. It’s a little bit Rumpelstiltskin, a little Fairy Godmother, a little Greek mythology, and all Rosamund Hodge. She’s got talent, and writes my favorite micro-genre SO WELL.

If you like dark fairy tales, read this and then everything else Rosamund Hodge has written. It’s excellent!

From the cover of Cruel Beauty:

The romance of Beauty and the Beast meets the adventure of Graceling in this dazzling fantasy novel about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Perfect for fans of bestselling An Ember in the Ashes and A Court of Thorns and Roses, this gorgeously written debut infuses the classic fairy tale with glittering magic, a feisty heroine, and a romance sure to take your breath away.

Betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom, Nyx has always known that her fate was to marry him, kill him, and free her people from his tyranny. But on her seventeenth birthday when she moves into his castle high on the kingdom’s mountaintop, nothing is what she expected—particularly her charming and beguiling new husband. Nyx knows she must save her homeland at all costs, yet she can’t resist the pull of her sworn enemy—who’s gotten in her way by stealing her heart.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

So I usually publish a review on Saturdays, but as it’s St. Patrick’s Day today, I thought I’d do something a little different, and share the Irish books on my shelves! I have Irish and Scottish ancestry, so I’ve always been fascinated by Celtic things. It’s also a popular theme in the Renaissance Faire community, so I see a lot of it. So here are my Irish books, with a couple of more general Celtic books tossed in.

bloody irishBloody Irish – Celtic Vampire Legends by Bob Curran
A short book, only 186 pages, but centered on Irish Vampire stories. This book hails from the days I played Vampire: the Masquerade all the time! I didn’t find anything in here too creepy, but it gave me material to use in my games!

 

celtic myths legendsCeltic Myths and Legends by Eoin Neeson
This one actually belongs to one of my housemates. Unlike the rest of these, it only has seven stories, but they are preceded by a lengthy foreword on the place of myth in Celtic history, and what we know about ancient Celtic history. Each story is much longer than the stories in most of these other books, as well. And having the larger historical context is pretty interesting.

 

irish fairy folk peasantry talesFairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry edited by William Butler Yeats
This one focuses more on the Irish tales, rather than general Celtic ones, and most of them were collected in the 19th century by folklorists, so the language is rather old-fashioned. There are stories here that I haven’t seen anywhere else, though, like Bewitched Butter, and Rent-day, and The Pudding Bewitched.

 

great irish fantasy myth talesGreat Irish Tales of Fantasy and Myth edited by Peter Haining
Similar to Celtic Myths and Legends, this book includes context for its stories, but instead of a lengthy foreword, it contains a few paragraphs before each story about the legend it came from and the authors who recorded it. I like the bit of context and history it gives to each individual story.

celtic fairy talesCeltic Fairy Tales collected by Joseph Jacobs
Another general Celtic book. It overlaps a few stories with the Irish Peasantry book – The Horned Women and King O’Toole and his Goose, among others, but still a fun book of fairy tales. He has a second book (More Celtic Fairy Tales) that I don’t own.

 

 

 

irish tales fairies ghost worldIrish Tales of the Fairies and the Ghost World by Jeremiah Curtin
Another book belonging to a housemate. A tiny book of only 124 pages, it still manages to cram in 30 stories told within a framework of a man and his houseguest trading stories.