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Posts tagged ‘fairy tales’

Enchanted

enchanted

by: Alethea Kontis

Blog note: I won a contest over at Ensis Reads, formally Don’t Read! I got this wicked awesome traveling coffee mug (LOVE IT!), and I am going to do a full post with pictures this weekend!

This is the first book in The Woodcutter Sisters series, a book based on the family of Jack and Seven Woodcutter, and featuring modern retellings of European fairy tales – quite a few of them feature in each book.

The woodcutter sisters are seven sisters born to a woodcutter and his wife (naturally).  Each of the girls is named after a different day of the week.  Sunday, our heroine, is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter – I do love that in this world, that is equally powerful as the seventh son of a seventh son.  Sunday befriends a frog in the woods and thus starts an adventure to change the life of her and her sisters forever.  And yes, this book is based mostly on The Frog Prince, one of my favorite fairy tales.

As a protagonist, I liked Sunday a lot.  She was thoughtful and somewhat dreamy, but she still did things and was very much an active participant in the story.  The frog prince, Rumbold, is also a good character – very flawed but likable.  He spends a lot of time in the story learning to be a man, without having it be the central theme of the story.  I very much appreciate that – I feel like too often a main male character growing into manhood automatically becomes the center of the story.  Here, though, it is an important part without overpowering the story. I didn’t necessarily think he was romantic or dashing or any of the things I like my romantic heroes to be – but I did think he was an interesting character and a good fit for Sunday.

The plot was good, though the pacing was a little weird.  There was a bit too much going on, even though it’s a fairy long YA novel.  It was partly because Kontis was fairly obviously trying to set up plotlines for all the continuing book in the series, plus introduce other characters which have already had their adventures, like her sister Thursday.  (That was pretty irritating.  Thursday runs off to sea and becomes a pirate captain.  I want to read that story!) Three of Sunday’s siblings have already found their ever after; one of them finds it as a minor side plot in this story.  The writing was quite good, but there was simply too much going on.  I feel like Kontis could have worried less about making sure we understand everything that’s happened or is happening to this family and worried more about tightening up the plot.

The book, however, was engaging and I definitely stayed up late to finish it! A great sign.  Unfortunately, it also wasn’t that memorable.  While I definitely want to read other books in the series, I did have trouble recalling what happened in this book while writing this review. I think part of that is so much happened that my brain kinda gave up on it.

The characters were, as a whole, engaging and interesting but Kontis ran into the same problem with them as she did with the plot; namely, there were too many that she was trying to give too much attention to.  That means some of the characters, like Wednesday, became “tells” and not “shows.”  Sunday tells us a lot about Wednesday but the reader never gets to see her behaving in her odd Wednesday ways, so her particular storyline isn’t very convincing or engaging, even though she’s central to what happens in the story.  On the other hand, I completely fell in love with Saturday and cannot wait to read her book.  The characters that Kontis fully fleshes out are done extremely well and absolutely perfect for a YA novel.

The flaws didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story but I do think a strong red pen could’ve turned this story from a book I really liked to a book I’d rave about.  That makes me a little sad, to be completely truthful, though I’m happy I read it anyway.

If you’re into YA novels with a strong fairy tale influence or if you like ordinary teenage characters who have extraordinary adventures, you should definitely pick this one up! If you don’t like the feeling of being plunged into the middle of a series (I know it’s billed as the first, but it doesn’t feel like it), or if you like your fairy tale retellings with a darker or socially relevant edge, than alack! this may not the book for you.

The Fairest of Them All

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by: Carolyn Turgeon

First of all, hello from Boston! I’m all moved in to a new apartment and not quite unpacked.  So my blog will resume it’s normal sporadic updates – yay!

I picked up my first book from Boston, Fairest of Them All, while stopping by the university (where I work) bookstore for a fleece jacket, because it’s fairly chilly in my lab.

I needed a book to escape into and this book was perfect for my purposes.  It’s a retelling of both “Rapunzel” and “Snow White”, from Rapunzel’s point of view (first person).  The blurb revolves around the prince and Rapunzel’s relationship; this is a false synopsis.

The prince is, at best, a secondary character and really pales in comparison to Rapunzel and even Snow White.  His character is quickly sketched instead of complex and developed and he mostly serves as a plot device rather than a character in his own right. This works perfectly for the story, however. I love that the fairy tale gets re-imagined completely around Rapunzel, instead of true love.  Rapunzel is, indeed, the active character in the story and it is her and Mother Gothel’s actions that drive and create the plot, rather than Rapunzel’s fate being determined by a witch and a prince.

Rapunzel herself is a fascinating character. I don’t know that I like her – she seems devoid of morals and certainly lacks ethics.  Indeed, though she certainly can be empathetic, due to her particular brand of magic, she seems unable to see how her actions will harm others; she is only able to feel how her actions have harmed others. She is oddly self-aware, though not introspective; she understands she does not have a “great heart” and is not prone towards morality.

Ever since “Tangled” came out and did such a brilliant job of depicting an emotionally abusive relationship between Mother Gothel and Rapunzel, I’ve been fascinated by that relationship.  There are so many directions it could be taken in. Turgeon takes an unexpected approach and because Rapunzel is not self-reflective, leaves much of the interpretation open to the reader. I wish there had been more exploration of that relationship.

Mother Gothel’s moral ambiguity through the story is also very nicely done.  There’s such a disconnect between how she presents herself to Rapunzel and how the rest of the world views her that it really is impossible to see if she’s misunderstood because of a growing movement against magic or if she truly is evil.  Or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

I would have liked a little more character development on Rapunzel’s part on the back third of the story and I do feel it ends right as she truly begins to grow up. In terms of plot, the ending makes sense; in terms of character, it almost leaves you hanging.

The plot itself is quick and nicely paced – perhaps a little too busy at the end, but at that point I was so caught up in the story that I didn’t notice until I’d finished.  The writing is good – a tiny bit on the simpler side, which fits in well with the fairy tale aspect.

I wish Turgeon had spent more time on social critiques of the “fairest of them all” aspect.  She does such an excellent job of setting up rich material for a stark, scathing look at the importance of female beauty in society – but she never really goes anywhere with it. Very sad.  I also hate that both the blurb and the synopsis before the book club questions seem to think this is the story of a prince and a princess and the most important relationship is between Rapunzel and the prince.  In reality, that is the least important relationship and it is annoying that someone(s) seemed to think that the male character of course had to be the most important secondary character in the story.

If you like reimagined fairy tales, feminist takes, or morally ambiguous main characters, you should definitely give this book a try.  If you don’t like instances of rape (though not rape scenes), not-good main characters, or prefer beautiful, complex writing, than perhaps this, alas, is not the book for you.