Review – How to Fracture a Fairy Tale, by Jane Yolen

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How to Fracture a Fairy Tale
by Jane Yolen

Genre: Short Stories, Retellings

Length: 240 Pages

Release date: November 5, 2018

Publisher: Tachyon Publications

Synopsis:

Fantasy legend Jane Yolen (The Emerald Circus, The Devil’s Arithmetic) delights with this effortlessly wide-ranging offering of fractured fairy tales. Yolen fractures the classics to reveal their crystalline secrets, holding them to the light and presenting them entirely transformed; where a spinner of straw into gold becomes a money-changer and the big bad wolf retires to a nursing home. Rediscover the fables you once knew, rewritten and refined for the world we now live in―or a much better version of it.

rating

three

My thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.

I have mixed feelings about this anthology, making it difficult to give it an overall rating that feels accurate. There were a few stories that I really enjoyed, but a few too many that never sufficiently grabbed my interest. I love fractured fairy tales, and think I was looking for more drastic changes from the original source material in some cases. What’s the point of writing a retelling without turning the whole story upside-down and making us think about it in a totally new light?

One thing that I loved about this collection was the sheer variety of stories and cultures represented. This anthology includes dragons, princesses, a vampire, and even time travel; you will find stories that feel like they could have been plucked out of a Brothers Grimm book as well as much more modern tales. The Jewish themes seemed to be the most prominent throughout the anthology, but Yolen has reworked tales from Europe, Asia, and more.

Here is a small sampling of the sources of inspiration for some of Yolen’s stories:

  • The Bridge’s Complaint – Billy Goats Gruff, Norwegian
  • One Ox, Two Ox, Three Ox, and the Dragon King – Chinese dragon stories
  • Brother Hart – Brothers Grimm story (Little Brother Little Sister)
  • Sun/Flight – Icarus, Greek Mythology
  • The Foxwife – figure from Japanese folklore
  • The Faery Flag – Scottish folklore
  • One Old Man, With Seals – Greek mythology
  • The Undine – inspired by Little Mermaid and various French stories
  • Sister Death – Jewish myth
  • The Woman Who Loved a Bear – Native American myth

The stories vary quite a bit in tone; many of them use somewhat antiquated language, while the occasional tale reads like something a friend is telling you over coffee. These differences helped to break up the anthology and keep it from feeling overly uniform or repetitive. The variety assures that there will be something in this collection for just about everyone. Whether you’re looking for something totally re-imagined, something with a classical feel, something whimsical, or something dark, you’ll find it somewhere in these pages.

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Review – My Lady Jane

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My Lady Jane
by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy

Length: 491 Pages

Release date: June 7, 2016

Synopsis: 

Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…

Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…

Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?

rating

four

This is a ridiculously fun novel, emphasis on the “ridiculous.” It’s an “alternate history” of England, where the driving conflict is between the Eðians (shapeshifting humans who can turn into animals) and the verities (who oppose the Eðians on religious grounds and denounce them as unnatural savages.) The novel is intensely humor-driven, with a splash of romance. If the humor doesn’t work for you, the novel as a whole will not, as it’s very much in your face for the majority of the story.

Our protagonist, the Lady Jane Grey (based on a real historical figure, like many of the major players in the book) is married off to Lord Gifford, who happens to be, much to her surprise… a horse. The two are married for political convenience at their first meeting, and there isn’t the slightest spark of affection between the two at the start. Jane is (understandably, I should think) upset at being married off to a horse without her knowledge; Gifford is similarly disappointed in the match, as Jane seems far more concerned about spending time with her books than with anything or anyone else. Their verbal sparring provides a good deal of the humor for the early portion of the book.

“No horse jokes,” he said.
“My lord, I apologize for the horse joke. If you put down the book—unharmed!—I will give you a carrot.”
He brandished the book at her. “Was that a horse joke?”
“Neigh.”
“Was that a horse joke?”

The characters are largely caricatures without a lot of depth, although that feels intentional. The novel as a whole has the feel of a humorous play. We aren’t meant to empathize with these characters (for the most part, anyway) so much as we are meant to laugh at them. Jane’s sole personality trait seems to be her undying love of books. Gifford spends half his time as a horse, so that doesn’t exactly give us a lot of time to explore his emotional depths. King Edward is defined primarily by his ambivalent feelings towards the throne and his desperate need to kiss a girl. The villains are a bit Disney villain-esque.

All in all, this is a fast-paced and intensely fun adventure, but it may make serious historians weep with the liberties with authors have taken with British history.

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Review – Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor


Muse of Nightmares
by Laini Taylor

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Length: 528 Pages

Release date: October 2, 2018

Synopsis: 

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this gorgeous sequel to the New York Timesbestseller, Strange the Dreamer.

rating

five

“Once upon a time there was a silence that dreamed of becoming a song, and then I found you, and now everything is music.” 

Reading a highly anticipated sequel is a somewhat scary prospect, in a way. Will it live up to the first book or will it ruin the series for you? Laini Taylor delivers a worthy followup to Strange the Dreamer with Muse of Nightmares. Taylor has the rare talent of crafting a story which hinges on some extremely dark themes (including but not limited to rape, slavery, and the murder of children) without the overall tale feeling overwhelmingly dark. Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares are both imbued with a magical sense of light and hope.

Taylor introduces two new major characters in Muse of Nightmares, Kora and Nova, which makes the story feel fresh. It’s difficult to say much about this aspect of the story without getting into spoilers, but suffice it to say that the two are sisters with a deep, unbreakable bond. Like many characters in the world of Strange the Dreamer, their lives were thrown into turmoil by Skathis.

Arguably the most interesting character in this installment is Minya, however. Strange the Dreamer left us with a somewhat one dimensional image of the vengeance-driven little girl. This book introduces more nuance to her character and explores how the responsibilities of caring for the other godspawn as a child herself and in the wake of a hugely traumatic event has warped her emotions. Strange the Dreamer shows Minya has wrathful, perhaps irredeemable; Muse of Nightmares asks us to sympathize with her. Minya has some of the best character development in the duology in this book.

As in Strange the Dreamer, the world building in this novel is enchanting and immersive. The last page will leave you wishing to spend more time in this magical universe of Taylor’s creation.

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Review – Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik


Spinning Silver
by Naomi Novik

Genre: Fantasy, Retellings

Length: 480 Pages

Release date: July 10, 2018

Synopsis: 

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

rating

three

“But I had not known that I was strong enough to do any of those things until they were over and I had done them. I had to do the work first, not knowing.” 

Spinning Silver is a creative and enchanting re-imagining of the Rumpelstiltskin story. I really wanted to enjoy this book as much as it seems everyone else does; I definitely understand the appeal, but there were some things that simply didn’t work for me. Primarily, Novik is wrestling with what felt like too many POV characters; not all of these perspectives felt necessary. Miryem (the moneylender’s daughter), Wanda (a girl hired by Miryem’s family to work off her father’s debt), and Irina (the daughter of a duke) are the primary POV characters. Once Novik veers away from these perspectives, the story seems less engaging.

The number of perspectives also had the effect of bogging down the pace. (Listen, I love long fantasy novels. Brandon Sanderson has never let me down, and that man churns out pages like he’s single-handedly trying to kill the rainforest. Those novels never feel long to me, despite often being over 1,000 pages. Spinning Silver felt long to me, despite being under 500.)

That being said, there was a lot to like about this book as well. First and foremost, Spinning Silver features numerous strong female characters, with agency and nuance. Miryem was arguably the best developed and most sympathetic of the three. She takes on the duty of collecting her father’s debts of her own accord, because her father can’t or won’t do so. To prevent her family from starving, she feels she must make herself cold and somewhat unfeeling; she cannot accept excuses from her father’s debtors, or suddenly everyone will have excuses, and Miryem won’t have money to buy food to help her sick mother get well again. This is only the beginning of her troubles, and as the story progresses, she finds herself victim to the mysterious Staryk King, who rules the fey-like race that wreaks havoc of Miryem’s world.

Novik’s mythology is interesting; she draws on the folklore around Rumpelstiltskin for inspiration, but she weaves a whole new world around it. The result is a pretty balanced mixture of the comfortable and the strange. Spinning Silver may be an excellent choice for fans of The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss of American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

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Review – The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

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The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Length: 512 Pages

Release date: July 3, 2012

Publisher: Anchor

Synopsis: 

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway – a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love – a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

rating

four

Secrets have power. And that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with even one other person, will change them. Writing them down is worse, because who can tell how many eyes might see them inscribed on paper, no matter how careful you might be with it. So it’s really best to keep your secrets when you have them, for their own good, as well as yours.

I’d rate The Night Circus 3.5 stars, which I’ve rounded up to four here. The reviews on GoodReads seem to be very divided, and while I enjoyed it, I can see why. The plot was a tad bit thin. The romance wasn’t terribly developed; it was a case of insta-love which was semi-acknowledged, while being hand-waved away within the narrative. Well, of course they fell in love, they’ve had this magical bond their whole lives even though they barely know one another. Just go with it, reader! It’s true love! 

Despite the flaws, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Morgenstern’s writing is absolutely gorgeous and remarkably atmospheric, pulling the reader in to the magical and musical world of the circus. The actual story breaks periodically, with passages told in second person point of view, always a risky move in a novel. Morgenstern places the readers into the circus and talks us through our exploration of various attractions. As the main characters are all intricately involved in the workings of the circus, I thought these passages worked really well to make the reader almost as emotionally invested in the fate of the circus as the characters would be.

There is a huge cast of characters in this novel, to the point where it can be almost disorientating at times. (For a point of reference, I generally read several novels at a time, so I’m quite used to holding a large cast of characters in my mind without any problems. I found myself occasionally having moments of “Wait, who was that guy again?” throughout The Night Circus.) That being said, many of these characters were incredibly well developed and emotionally engaging. Celia in particular was a very sympathetic and interesting character, with a somewhat tragic childhood and an enduring strength of character.

The Night Circus is part fantasy, part love story. More than anything, it’s an intensely atmospheric adventure for the reader, with the whimsical circus becoming a character in its own right.

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Strange the Dreamer – Review

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

four
Lazlo Strange is a foundling with no family, a junior librarian, but most of all, a dreamer. He believes in magic and ghosts, and that every fairy tale has a grain of truth. His greatest obsession is the lost city of Weep, cut off from the rest of the word 200 years ago. Until now.

What mysterious problem has caused the people of Weep to search for outside help? And how will Lazlo, junior librarian with a dream, convince them to let him come along?

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I adored this book. I think the only thing that keeps me from giving it a solid 5 stars is that certain plot elements felt a bit more predictable than I’d like, but the story was so much fun that it made it difficult to mind.

Strange the Dreamer deals with a lot of dark topics (death, child abuse, and rape to name a few), but Taylor’s writing style is so lovely and the world she has built so captivating that the overall experience of reading this book never feels overly gloomy. There is always just enough light and hope to drown out the darkness.

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The characters are one of this story’s biggest strengths. Everything about Lazlo is endearing, and his obsession with Weep is contagious. Sarai’s helplessness and insecurity are heartwrenching, and I spent most of the story filled with a sense of protectiveness for her. The secondary characters feel fleshed-out enough to be interesting; Taylor has given enough thought to backgrounds for antagonists that they ring true. They feel like people doing what they feel they need to do, not one-dimensional villains who are evil for the sake of evil. That level of nuance lends so much authenticity to the story.

This book was beautiful. Any fan of fantasy who hasn’t read it yet is missing out on a treat.

The sequel, The Muse of Nightmares, is set to be released October 2018.

Thank you for reading! Please share your thoughts on this book in the comments.