Category Archives: Fairy Tales Retold

Fairy Tales which have been given a twist which makes them unique from their source-tale, but are still clearly related.

Spindle’s End

McKinley, Robin. Spindle’s End (2000). 422 Pages. Firebird. $6.99

Princess Briar-Rose would have been special even had her parents not been barren for so long before her birth. She was a Crown-Princess, to become the first queen in nearly 400 years. However, the evil fairy Pernicia has been waiting for a queen for a very long time. On the princess’s name-day, Pernicia takes the opportunity to curse the child; she will prick her finger and die on her 21st birthday.

Shocked, and a bit overwhelmed, nobody reacts but the fairy Katriona, a young woman from far away Foggy Bottom. With the help of another fairy, Katriona whisks the princess away, hoping to hide her, and protect her with “ordinariness.” This gives Rosie the time to grow up, into a strong young woman who has a chance against the dark fate she faces.

First Lines

The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust. (Housecleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country, you had to de-scale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn’t, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water.

Thoughts:

Everyone knows Sleeping Beauty. The infant princess, cursed by an evil fairy, saved by a good one. Doomed to prick her finger and die, but not truly. Spindle’s End is simultaneously Sleeping Beauty, and its own tale, and that is what makes it so wonderful. Rosie is anything but the weak-willed, doomed princess who is so often present in this tale. Katriona is far from the silly fairies of Disney fame. The two of them transform the story from a classic into something new, and a bit exciting.

One of the more interesting themes in this book is family, and how everything is about love, rather than blood. Katriona loves Rosie as her own, wanting nothing more than to keep Rosie forever, instead of having to give her back to the royal family, or lose her to the curse. Rosie feels loved, and accepted, but just a little different, a little outside of her family. And the royal family, as distant as they are, clearly love Rosie, too. Peony and Rosie are closer than sisters, the sort of friends who are together through everything.

There are many supporting characters who play a major role in either world-building, or plot-moving. There are very few characters who do not make multiple appearances, and every single character serves a purpose, which can be difficult when writing about an entire kingdom.

I find myself re-reading Spindle’s End periodically, enjoying it in a slightly different way each time. There are a few surprises, the first time, a few details you may have missed in the second read, a few more in the third, and each time, it becomes a richer experience as you get the chance to savor favorite scenes. It’s an enduring favorite, which of course gets a 5/5.

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Book of a Thousand Days

Hale, Shannon. Book of a Thousand Days (2007). 304 Pages. Bloomsbury. $17.95

The Synopsis:

Unlucky Dashti was hopeful when she learned that she would be lady’s maid to the beautiful Lady Saren. Unfortunately for Dashti, her first day of work resulted in her imprisonment in a tower with Lady Saren– they will be there for seven years, or until Saren agrees to marry Lord Khasar. As a contrast to the dark, cruel Lord Khasar, there is Khan Tegus– a man Saren has pledged herself to.

Dashti is resourceful and practical, and has every intention of getting them out of the tower alive, which would be easier if Lady Saren would help. Neither girl has any idea of what awaits them at the end of their time in the tower, and as their food dwindles, they begin to wonder if they will even last that long.

First Lines:

Day 1

My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years.

Lady Saren is sitting on the floor, staring at the wall, and hasn’t moved even to scratch for an hour or more. Poor thing. It’s a shame I don’t have fresh yak dung or anything strong-smelling to scare the misery out of her.

Thoughts:

Based off of Grimm’s “Maid Maleen,” and set in a Mongolia-esque country, Book of a Thousand Days is Dashti’s story, told in journal form. Dashti is a survivor, and against all odds, she has the determination and character to persevere, which is what makes her interesting. Coupled with that determination, however, is a sense of worthlessness; Dashti honestly feels that she has no value beyond her role as Saren’s servant, and it makes her frustrating, at times.

The world is interesting, Dashti’s voice unique, the entire concept brilliantly executed. Saren can be more than a little frustrating at times, as can Dashti’s self-deprecation, when it is clear that she is worth much more than she knows.

Book of a Thousand Days scores a 4.5/5, because it’s brilliant, but the girls could be frustrating.

I really loved this book, however, and it made me want to pick up Tanith Lee’s Claidi books again.

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A Curse Dark as Gold

Bunce, Elizabeth C. A Curse Dark as Gold (2009). 392 Pages. Scholastic. $9.99

The Synopsis:

The Stirwaters Woolen Mill has been the center of Shearing (a small English town, pre-Industrial era) for nearly a hundred years, and it has always had bad luck. So have the Millers– the family has owned it since it was built, and never once has a son lived to inherit. The townsfolk whisper of a curse, but strong, practical, determined Charlotte Miller refuses to believe in nonsense.

Perhaps it is a good thing that Charlotte is so practical, because after her father’s death, she inherits nothing but debt and problems. Before his death, her father borrowed £2,000 from Uplands Mercantile, and they are collecting upon the debt immediately. The Stirwaters Mill is the center of the town’s economy, and if it closes the entire town loses their livelihoods. Desperate to keep that from happening, Charlotte will do anything to save her family’s mill, so when a mysterious stranger offers her a chance to save the mill (at a small price), Charlotte accepts.

Of course, Charlotte will soon learn that the bank is the least of her problems…

First Lines:

When my father died, I thought the world would come to an end. Standing in the churchyard in my borrowed mourning black, I was dimly aware of my sister Rose beside me, the other mourners huddled round the grave. Great dark clouds gathered over the river, and I knew them for what they were: The End, poised to unleash some terrible wrath and sweep us all right out of the Valley. I let go my hold on Rosie’s arm, for I was ready to be swept away.

Thoughts:

There are times when books build slowly, bit by bit, adding in the pieces and building the story. Before you know it, you’re enthralled. Charlotte is a strong lead, one whose logic you can follow (even if you don’t agree with it) and whose dedication to her home and family is paramount in her life. She is a bit too pigheaded at times (which can be frustrating to the reader) but it is part of her character. She is surrounded by friends and family, townfolk who have their own stories (which are expanded upon as appropriate) and every character seems to serve a purpose.

Because the story is loosely based on “Rumpelstiltskin,” major plot points are predictable, but that does not detract from the story. The fact that Charlotte is her own person, with such a strong personality means that you’re not entirely sure how they’ll get from point A to point B.

I am not an impatient reader. I am willing to give the author time to build their universe (perhaps a trait from reading the works of Robin McKinley, which frequently start slow and build up steam as they move along) and I truly appreciate the way it all comes together. Of the complaints that I came across in bad reviews (on goodreads) was pacing– quite a few people thought it was too slow. If you prefer books that drop you right into the action, this is not the book for you. If you do not mind giving it a bit of time to build up to the main story, then by all means, do pick up a copy.

I loved this book, despite not loving Rumpelstiltskin. It is far from my favorite fairy tale, but I think this particular interpretation is a significant improvement over the original. This book gets a 5/5.

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The funny thing about this particular book is that I got it on a book binge, and it’s been sitting here waiting to be read for a few days. Then I read about StarCrossed somewhere, and was looking for that, but when the local Borders didn’t have it, I decided to read a book that I already had at home, which is when I figured out that I already had one book by Elizabeth Bunce. My mom and I had a bit of a laugh over that one. (The pair of us have a bad habit of re-buying books, or buying a billion books by one author before we figure out that we’ve been doing it. For example, we have three or four copies of several Kay Hooper and Lynsay Sands books.)

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Goose Chase

Kindl, Patrice. Goose Chase (2010 ed). 214 Pages. Sandpiper. $5.99

Not exactly the cover I read...

Alexandria Aurora Fortunato is a sassy narrator who tells her story with panache. It opens strong, and keeps up the pace and wit throughout. She starts in the middle, works her way back to the beginning, and then finally gets to the end.

The King killed my canary today.

Now, I know full well that the customary way to begin such a tale as mine is: “Once upon a time, when wishes still came true, there lives a poor orphan Goose Girl,” or some such fiddle-faddle. But what do I care for custom? ‘Tis my own story I am telling and I will tell it as I please. And as I find myself plunged into it right up to the neck, I see no reason why you should not be also. (1)

The book was re-released recently with a new cover (right), though I think I prefer the old cover a bit more. Anyway, our narrator and heroine is Alexandria Aurora Fortunato who is, when we first meet her, locked in a tower. A King and a Prince await her decision as to which of them she will marry. Unwilling to choose, and unable to accept the consequences of her decision either way, she stalls for time by insisting that she be allowed to make her own solid gold wedding dress. She will not marry either until it is complete.

Alexandria gains quite a bit of time when her geese manage to save her from the tower and fly her far away, but it is almost worse in the wilderness than the tower. Sure, she no longer has to deal with the issues surrounding her choice between the Prince or the King, but she’s been grabbed by a group of ogresses, and she’s not entirely sure how to escape. Her enchanted hair certainly isn’t helping her case.

Then, just when Alexandria begins to think that things simply cannot get any worse, the Prince is captured by the ogresses. Somehow, Alexandria has to save both their skins, because there is quite a bit more adventure ahead of them.

The climax is hardly surprising, and the ending is completely expected, if you’re familiar with “The Wild Swans,” though it is not the same story, exactly.

In Conclusion:

With surprisingly strong prose, and a vocabulary which feels a bit dense, even for the junior-high readers it targets, this novel can even be enjoyed by adults. Alexandria is a solid narrator, and a good character who draws you in, and keeps you interested in her story. There are a few things which don’t seem to sync up; The Prince starts out dumb, but without explanation seems to get smarter when it’s convenient, which is rather frustrating. As a whole though, it’s a solid story which I enjoyed reading. It gets a 4/5.

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Beastly

Flinn, Alex. Beastly (2007). 336 Pages. HarperTeen. $16.99

I got Beastly from the library*, though I can’t for the life of me remember why I even thought of checking it out. It was a pretty good story, and though there were some moments which felt cheesy, I didn’t find it hard to suspend reality and get into the book.**

In an exclusive school full of the ultra-rich children of New York millionaires, Kyle Kingsbury is the top. His father (a newscaster) is one of the richest of the rich,*** he’s the most handsome boy in school, and he’s about to become Prince of the “Spring Dance,” which is not prom. I’m not sure why it’s not prom, because it should be, but whatever. Kyle is a jerk who gets away with anything because of his good looks.

In a moment of ultimate jerkitude, Kyle asks an unpopular goth girl to go to the dance, intending to stand her up. He has a date– the hot, slutty, dumb girl– and she’s in on the joke. Of course, Kendra (the unpopular goth girl) is more than she seems. Angered by his callousness, she curses him to become a beast. Not an animal, like a lion or a bear, but a Beast. He has two years to find his true love, and get a kiss, or he will be a beast forever.

Kyle’s father is hellbent on restoring his son to his former beauty. They visit doctor after doctor, meeting anyone who has even the slightest chance of finding a cure. When that fails, Kyle’s father loses interest in his son, and sends him to a Brooklyn brownstone with Magda the maid. Kyle begins his transformation here, when he calls his father and demands a tutor, and internet access.

Time passes, and Kyle grows closer to Will– his blind tutor– and Magda (the maid). Kyle and Will create a back yard greenhouse in which they grow roses, and things seem peaceful (though hopeless) until a drug addict breaks in. Kyle scares the man senseless, and threatens to take video footage of the break-in to the police unless he hands over his daughter. A few days later, Lind(a?, y?)**** is delivered to his door.

The progression from there is not exactly surprising. Kyle grows to care for Linda, and his plans go from trying to convince her to not hate him, to genuinely wanting to make her happy. The two seem like good friends, and they have fun together being nearly-normal teenagers. It is Beauty and the Beast, so it does follow the standard path of her leaving for her father, him nearly dying because of it, and them getting a happily-ever-after, but the setting was not all that was changed, so it manages to still be a little surprising.

Stylistically, there is one thing which bothers me; the chat sessions. Interspersed throughout the transitions in the novel are support-group “chats” for transformed teens. They didn’t add anything, and were rather annoying. I don’t care about the “little mermaid” in Denmark (or Norway, or wherever she is) or the frog prince. They were an unnecessary distraction, and did not even manage to be funny. The novel would have been better without them. Despite that, or perhaps in spite of, this novel managed to be surprisingly good.

In Conclusion:

With strong writing, and excellent narrative, this story manages to survive the transplant from “Once upon a time” to 21st century New York City without falling apart. The characters are great, and getting the story from Kyle’s perspective helps make the transformation from spoiled prince to good person very interesting, and strong. The book gets a 5/5, and I’ll have to buy a copy, since I picked this up from the library.

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*I need to rant about what I found when I opened this book. There are a lot of different types of security tape for libraries. I know, I’ve put a lot of them in a lot of books. I spent a lot of time dealing with mag strips, which we installed in different spots depending upon the binding. For hard-covers, we put it in the spine. (Stretch your book out, so the gap appears between the block and the cover, we used a metal rod to put it in there.) For paperbacks, we sandwiched it between a few unimportant pages, as close to the spine as possible, so it did not interfere with reading. Well, for this particular library book, they failed miserably at that. It’s on page 1, and it’s hanging out.

** I always picture me hanging up a pair of suspenders and jumping into a book when I say “suspend reality” or “suspend disbelief.” I suppose that makes me a bit weird, but there are much worse fates, I think.

*** Are prime time news reporters really that rich?

**** She is originally introduced as Linda (when we first get her name on p. 77), but is later called Lindy (by her father, on p. 152). The two names are used interchangeably throughout, and the girl doesn’t seem to care which one she is called. This bothered me a lot, and I really could not figure out whether her name was Linda or Lindy. It’s  not like one is a reasonable nickname for the other, either.

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As I was browsing Ye Olde Internets, I found out that Beastly got produced as a movie, due Spring 2011. It looks… interesting.

This is a part of the Local Library Reading Challenge.

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The Book of Enchantments (Anthology)

Wrede, Patricia C. The Book of Enchantments (1996). 234 Pages. Magic Carpet Books. $5.95

Shortly after I read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles the first time around, I came across a little red book with a picture of a snake-thing on it. I thought it was weird, but I was on a short-story anthology kick, and I knew I liked the author. (I apparently also like the editor- Jane Yolen, though I didn’t know that at the time.) Unfortunately, like most of Ms. Wrede’s other books, it has been republished in the last decade with a lousy little-kid cover. The cover aside, it’s a good book. There are ten stories in this book, and I must admit, I liked some better than others.

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Sirena

Napoli, Donna Jo. Sirena (2000). 210 Pages. Scholastic. $4.99

As Greece gathers their troops to go to war with Troy, the mermaids of the Mediterranean Sea sing their siren-songs to attract men. Sirena is one of these mermaids, doomed to the death of a mortal unless she can “love”* a man. While the other mermaids thoughtlessly lure men to their deaths, Sirena sees the inherent flaws; they kill many men, they are hated, and they are costing lives for the sake of their own.

After an especially brutal scene where men beat a mermaid to death- and bash in her head and ribcage- and scream at the “whores” before they die, Sirena realizes that something might be wrong about this situation. (Gee, ya think?) She ventures out on her own- which is strange, because mermaids are social creatures – since none of the others seem to care that they are murderers.

She finds herself sharing an island with a man** who has been abandoned by his comrades. Of course, we can all see where this is going; she takes care of him, keeps him alive, and eventually gains her immortality through him. The two are “married”, and live in a strange sort of harmony. He spends his time on land, exploring the deserted island, missing humanity. She spends her time in the sea, dreaming about a different future.

Eventually, Sirena must make an important decision, one which will change both of their lives forever.

The story overlaps with The Illiad, a story which I love. The setting is also pretty good- the Mediterranean is a great backdrop for a fantastic*** tale. However, I am frustrated by the volume of mythology- it seems overwhelming at times- and how it sometimes seems forced. I dislike the point of view- first person present- and do not feel that it helps the story, third person limited would have been more comfortable to read.

The Quick Version:

I feel like this story would have sat better with me if the ending had been different. I like happy endings, or at least the sort where it’s clear that they will eventually be happy. This is not one of those endings. Occasionally, I feel like I’m drowning in mythology, and I’ve got a pretty solid grip on it. It gets roughly a 2.5 out of 5, because I’m a stickler for endings- they are the part which sticks with you the most, after all.

If you actually want to read it, you can get it on Amazon or through Swaptree.

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*By “love”, this book really means to have sex with. And when they have sex, it is vague- how do a man and a fish copulate?

** Philoctetes, for those of you who are mythology-savvy.

*** In the sense of “fantasy-like” rather than “very good”

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Toads and Diamonds

Tomlinson, Heather. Toads and Diamonds (2010). 278 Pages. Henry Holt and Co. $16.99

The cover is what grabbed my attention. The color is so vibrant and lovely that I couldn’t help noticing it. Then I looked at the image itself, and then I noticed which story it was. I’ve always been interested in the Toads and Diamonds tale, but it’s so rarely re-written that I’ve honestly never seen it before. It was brilliantly done, and I loved it. No point in dragging it out; this book gets a 5 of 5.

Diribani and Tana are the main characters, step-sisters who love each other very much. Tana’s mother cares for both her daughter and her step-daughter. However, Diribani’s father (a very successful gem merchant) is recently deceased, leaving his family penniless and in turmoil. The three women live in a tiny house in a small town, struggling to get by.

The story starts with Diribani going to the well to fetch water to make dinner for her family. When she arrives, she meets the goddess Naghali, where her longing for beauty is granted, and she gains the ability to speak flowers and gems. Tana then has to go to the well because Diribani broke their water vessel due to shock. She also meets the goddess, but under slightly different circumstances. Tana longs for a way to protect her family, and is gifted with the ability to speak snakes and frogs.

This doesn’t stay secret for long, and the girls are separated; Tana is to be given a home outside the city limits where she can speak snakes without bothering anyone, and Diribani goes with the prince, who will protect her from the avaricious governor of their region. Of course, both girls feel that they have some destiny, something which they are meant to achieve, but neither of them knows quite what.

The setting is somewhere between the Mughal Empire and a magical universe, and the conflict between two religions which are based in reality is a dramatic background. The meat-eating monotheistic ruling class is in direct conflict with the polytheistic, vegetarian Hindu-esque middle and lower classes. The conflict between the two is not resolved in this book, but this was also not the point, so it is to be expected that it continues.

The Quick Version:

With a unique setting, a great twist on an old plot, and great pacing, this book is solid. Add to that some lovely prose, and you’ve got a winner. The pseudo-Indian characters with the Anglo story create a fascinating novel. Because the book is made up, you are not expected to know anything about Hinduism, the Mughal Empire, or Islam, though if you know of them, it is clear the book was well researched. Because it was so very enjoyable, this book got a 5 of 5 rating.

I know you’ll want to read it. Find it on Amazon or trade for it through Swaptree.

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The Prince of the Pond

Napoli, Donna Jo. The Prince of the Pond: Otherwise known as The Fawg Pin (1994). 151 Pages. Puffin. $5.99

Cover: The Prince of the PondOne day a prince is turned into a frog by an evil witch. Some undisclosed time later, a princess kisses him, and turns him back into a prince. But what happened to the prince in between? This story follows those in between times, as “Pin” finds love, creates a family, and teaches human traits to his frog-wife “Jade.” Due to a speech impediment because of his extra-long tongue, he calls himself “Pin” instead of Prince, and is a “Fawg,” not a Frog. This becomes important as he defeats a turtle, a water snake, and the Hag who turned him into a frog in the first place.

The ending is bittersweet; he feels like he loves Jade, and the feeling is mutual, but he does not behave that way. He changes the lives of every amphibian and reptile he meets, but he does not seem to care. His frog “family” remains in the pond when the prince is kissed. I found myself questioning the true level of emotional attachment in the last chapter.

This book is an entertaining read targeted at elementary schoolers. There is a lot in here about frog development- science in simple terms, designed to help kids learn about frogs while reading about the frog prince. At times, it feels a bit forced- what sort of frog knows about frog development instead of taking it for granted? However, it is a good chance to fit some science into an enjoyable book.

The Quick Version:

The book is beautifully illustrated, and easy to read. The story is familiar, but is retold uniquely enough to feel special. It scores a 4 of 5.

Want to read it? Trade for it on Swaptree or Buy it on Amazon

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