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Friday, November 6, 2009

Fairy Tale Week: Mini Reviews

Alright, I asked you all on Sunday which fairy tale retelling you'd like me to review today. The answers were really mixed, and I still couldn't make up my mind, so I decided I would do a few quick mini reviews.
The synopses of the books comes from Goodreads, except the synopsis for A Curse Dark as Gold, which comes from Amazon; the rest of the thoughts are mine.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, retelling The Goose Girl
She was born with her eyes closed and a word on her tongue, a word she could not taste.
Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt's guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani's journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her. Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny.

This took me some time to get into, and at 400 pages, I was worried I would be reading forever something I didn't love. But I had read Shannon Hale before, and knew I wanted to see this through because I generally like her, but I didn't feel connected to the story or Isi until she got to the city and became a goose girl. I ended up being really engaged, and I intend to continue on with the series, but I have reservations: I found some things predictable, but it was so in the way that fairy tales are, so this wasn't as much of an issue as it could have been. Also, I sometimes felt that the writing was a bit heavy-handed, if that makes sense. And as I said, it takes some getting into. But in spite of all this, I would still recommend it. There comes a point where the characters come alive and seem to come into their own, and that is enjoyable.
Point: Borrow it and read it, or buy it if you find it on sale.

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, retelling Rumpelstiltskin
After her father’s death, Charlotte and her younger sister, Rosie, take over the family business, a mill shadowed by a curse that goes back generations. Charlotte gives little credence to superstition, but when they can’t pay the mortgage on the mill, Rosie conjures up Jack Spinner, an odd little man who promises them that he will spin a roomful of straw into gold—for a price. Despite an uncle who apparently wants to help the girls and a suitor who will do anything he can for Charlotte, her secret agreement with Spinner creates a vortex that threatens to destroy everything she holds dear. Set in England during the early days of the Industrial Revolution, the novel combines elements of fantasy and historical fiction with a love story between two strong-minded individuals.

I was very excited for this one. I have always been fascinated by Rumpelstiltskin, and I haven't read a lot of retellings concerning him (with the notable and excellent exception of the short story"The Price" by Patricia Briggs, from Silver Birch, Blood Moon). I had heard great things about this, and I had waited on it for quite a while, so I was fairly ravenous by the time I got it. I'm not going to lie, this is a slow burn, and it will turn some readers off. It's not a very flashy story, or all that fast paced, and Bunce does make some rookie mistakes in the tension of the story. That being said, I felt that the characters and the world were complex and engaging, and even when I wanted to shake the main characters, it was in that good way that you sometimes feel. I think moving the story to the Industrial Revolution was brilliant, and lends an eerily modern quality. I felt a little let down by the ending, which was a bit predictable and cliche, but I still really enjoyed the story and will certainly read more from Bunce in the future.
Point: Read it curled up in bed with tea or cocoa on cold winter nights.

Deerskin by Robin McKinley, retelling Donkeyskin
As Princess Lissar reaches womanhood, it is clear to all the kingdom that in her breathtaking beauty she is the mirror image of her mother, the queen. But this seeming blessing forces her to flee for safety from her father's wrath. With her loyal dog Ash at her side, Lissar will unlock a door to a world of magic, where she will find the key to her survival-and an adventure beyond her wildest dreams.

I was eager to read this. Donkeyskin is one of my favorite fairy tales, and certainly my favorite Perrault tale (just goes to show how sick I am), and I love Robin McKinley, in spite of her liberal view of grammar and story telling. And there were parts of this that I felt lived up to my expectation. But if I hadn't been reading this for a challenge where I needed to complete it, I probably would have taken it back to the library. I felt so disconnected from Lissar, and from the story in general. There was way too much exposition, and too much "hedging" -- I constantly found myself saying "get to the point already." Of course, it needed editing like most of McKinley's work; there were lots of weird tense shifts and sentence structure issues. I questioned some of the choices McKinley made, too. I felt some things could have been more effective if done differenly. It did pick up at about 150 pages in (after this weird, questionable deus ex machina moment), and I did like the story more from then on; it wasn't a total waste of time, but it was a let down. That said, I know people who love it, so there you go.
Point: Read it if you have time, but don't be afraid to push it aside or bury it further down the tbr pile.

Singer by Jean Thesman, retelling The Wild Swans/Six Swans
Gwenore's mother is the evil Rhiamon, whose thirst for power transcends any morality. For years, Gwenore has lived in terrified captivity, not understanding why her mother so loathes her. Then she manages to escape, along with her longtime nursemaid and a mysterious enchanter-priest. First Gwenore is hidden at an abbey where she learns to read and make music. Then she is discovered. Her name and appearance changed, she is moved to the women's healing community of Blessingwood, and is taught medicine and herbwork. But then tragedy strikes again, and she must leave. As Mary Singer, she becomes nursemaid to the children of the magical king of Lir-until the king marries Rhiamon. Singer knows that her mother will try to kill the children. What can she do to save their lives-and her own? Based on the classic Irish folk-tale "The Children of Lir," this swiftly paced fantasy will keep readers turning the pages.

I picked this up for 25¢ at a library book sale, purely on cover appeal. Something about that white hair drew me in. I was curious to see what Thesman would do with a fairly unknown tale, but one that has always made me wonder; it's just so bizarre. I was hooked pretty much off the bat. There was a bit of weirdness at the beginning to wade through, but for the most part, the tension was always good, I liked the characters and the fact that things weren't happy and perfect. There were occasional bits that seemed a little inexpert or clumsy, but I still wanted to read this, rather than looking forward to when it would be over. There was a nice tone, and Gwenore is a strong character. The only real drawback for me was that the ending seemed a little syrupy and fake, but since most people love that, I doubt that will be an issue for many.
Point: Read it. This is an almost unknown little gem (only 52 ratings on Goodreads)

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, retelling The Wild Swans/Six Swans
Young Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Irish Lord Colum of Sevenwaters, a domain well protected from invading Saxons and Britons by dense forest where, legend says, fey Deirdre, the Lady of the Forest, walks the woodland paths at night. Colum is first and foremost a warrior, bent on maintaining his lands against all outsiders. Not all of his sons are so bound to the old ways, and that family friction leads to outright disobedience when Sorcha and her brother Finbar help a Briton captive escape from Colum's dungeon. Soon after, Colum brings home a new wife who ensorcels everyone she can't otherwise manipulate. By her spell Sorcha's brothers are cursed to become swans. Only Sorcha, hiding deep in the forest, can break the spell by painfully weaving shirts of starwort nettle--but then Sorcha is captured by Britons and taken away across the sea. Determined to break the curse despite her captivity, Sorcha continues to work, little expecting that ultimately she will have to chose between saving her brothers and protecting the Briton lord who has defended her throughout her trials. Marillier's writing is deft and heartfelt, bypassing the usual bombast of fantasy fireworks for a rich, magical story of loyalty and love.

This came highly recommended by a friend, and I read it on the heels of Wildwood Dancing, which I loved, so I was looking forward to this. And then I started reading it and wanted to shake the friend and Marillier. The first 30 pages or so of this was just painful to me: there is just way to much information, much of it unnecessary and awkwardly placed. And then it was like something clicked over, and the story picked up tremendously. I ended up being so engrossed by this, completely captivated by the characters and the struggle. The tension was fabulous, and other than a few "convenient" spots that irritated me toward the end, I was sort of panting for more. I have yet to read the rest of the series, and I've heard they may let me down compared to this one, but this book can stand on its own, I think.
Point: Slog through the first bit and read it!

That's it for me for fairy tale week! Hope you enjoyed it. If you come across any great FTs, send them my way. And of course,
live happily ever after.


  1. I really enjoyed both Curse and Goose Girl. Sorry they didn't quite do it for you, but I really enjoyed reading your reviews - you have a great way with words!

  2. No, I liked both. I just have reservations about both when recommending them, just because I saw some things that I know will annoy people, or that annoyed me a bit.

  3. Haven't read any of the books that you reviewd, but they do sound very good. I like happy endings and those are just right!

    Nina :)

  4. I haven't had a chance to read any of the Shannon Hale books even though I've been meaning to. I started to read Deerskin when I was in high school but never finished it. I should try it again. The two books about the swans sound lovely! Thanks for these quick reviews!

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