Sunday, August 12, 2012
Review: The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors
The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors
Amazon | Goodreads
Retelling: The Ugly Duckling, 416 pages
Expected publication: August 21st 2012 by Walker & Company
When I covered this for Fairy Tale Fortnight, I only did a silly little review-teaser that consisted of my weird, random notes on the book, since publication was still quite a ways off. But now publication is right around the corner, so it's time for me to actually give you an idea of whether you'll like this quirky little book. First off, I have to mention it's a retelling of The Ugly Ducking, so points for that. And it's certainly...non-traditional, and requires quite a bit of WSOD. But if you're willing to go with the weirdness, the story is actually quite charming.
I think the characters are what make it so easy to connect to this story. You like them, so you go with it. Emmeline is a fantastic ugly duckling heroine; she's plucky and stalwart and even though she continually finds herself at a disadvantage, she fights to make things right and to keep her spirits up. She's very loyal and smart, and I couldn't help but like her. And as silly as the whole "she has a connection to cows" thing sounds, I actually loved that. It was so unexpected and quirky, but actually perfectly suited to fairy tales (I mean, how many tales have MCs who can talk to some kind of animal? Lots and lots, they've just never been cows, which makes it seem silly at first, but actually ends up being warm and sweet.) Owen Oak, the man from the "good" side of the kingdom, who is set up as Emmeline's love (very quickly, but not wholly unrealistically), made me a bit leery in the beginning, but it wasn't long before I was rooting for him just as I did for Emmeline.
And - unexpectedly - I liked the treatment of the villains. I like villains who are either somewhat rootforable (you can understand their motivations, or they show doubts, or they grow - anything that makes them dynamic), but with fairy tales you don't often get dynamic villains. Instead, you tend to get the mustache-twirling blackguards that you know will be defeated, because that is their purpose. And the way a couple of people were set up in this book, I figured that's what would be the case here. But eventually new sides of these characters are revealed that makes them a bit more understandable, and at least lest detestable, if not rootforable. (Able. I just wanted to say it again.) Though I guess it turns out they were actually only pre-villains, because the main Big Bad - she's not so dimensional...
I think the world is what requires the biggest suspension of disbelief. The magic of churning milk (plain milk) into chocolate, well...that requires you to ignore logic and real-world facts, pretend there's not a cocoa tree in this world (or even necessary), etc. Though the idea that chocolate is the most prized thing in the kingdom isn't hard to believe. I have a feeling that most people who read fairy tales aren't going to be too put off by this, but I'll admit that, as much of a fairy tale lover as I am, I did struggle with this - it kept threatening to break me out of my suspension, and that's not a good thing. It never did, but it threatened, so those less disposed to be forgiving of fairy tales will probably be put off by some of the shaky logic of the world. That said, I think the other aspects of the world-building make up for it. I love the political aspects, and the forced segregation of society to the point that Emmeline didn't even realize there was more to the world, or people unlike her. The world of the "dirt-scratchers" was a really good contrast to the rest of the country (which is loosely England-like), and I really liked that there were bigger issues at play than just Emmeline's story.
All said, I think those who are willing to go with it will find a really enjoyable story in The Sweetest Spell. Unfortunately, I worry that the really bizarre cover synopsis will keep a lot of people who would enjoy it, from even picking it up to begin with.