Goodreads: Princess of the Silver Woods
Series: Princess #3
A decade has passed since Petunia and her sisters defeated the King Under Stone with the help of a young soldier. The bonds keeping the evil king’s sons imprisoned, however, are breaking. Oliver, a dispossessed noble and sometime bandit, wants desperately to protect Petunia from harm. But webs of magic and treachery lie all around and even true love may not prove strong enough to break them. A retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” (with a dash of Robin Hood).
I read the final book in the Princess trilogy years after the first two, which may have been a mistake as it seems written primarily to appeal to fans. Jessica Day George crams all the old faces into the work, including the old villains, so that it seems almost like a repeat of Princess of the Midnight Ball, except that the characters are less defined, presumably because readers are supposed to remember them. I didn’t, which meant that I had to rely on the new elements (new setting, new love interest, new fairy tale) to keep me engaged. Unfortunately, the number of characters the book attempts to balance means that Petunia and Oliver, the supposed protagonists, do not receive as much attention as they ought. The book simply tries to do too much—set up a romance, reunite old characters, defeat an ancient evil, and restore a dispossessed noble to his property—and fails to do any of it adequately.
The first couple chapters attempt nobly to present Petunia, the youngest princess, as a protagonist in her own right. According to the timeline given in the book, she was only six or seven during the events of Princess of the Midnight Ball, so George has a lot of room with which to work. She relies on the usual characteristics given to younger siblings—an annoyance that everyone consistently overlooks her in favor of her older sisters, a resentment against hand-me-down clothes. She takes that to make Petunia a spunky little thing (her height is constantly referred to in the beginning as a defining characteristic, then suddenly dropped from the story altogether) anxious to prove her daring and wit. It works, until her sisters appear.
Once all twelve sisters reunite, George clearly has trouble balancing them. Like most books featuring the twelve princesses, this one relies on giving defining characteristics to three or four, then randomly mentioning the others in contexts like “Hyacinth walked into the room” just so readers know the author hasn’t forgotten them. One might suppose that George would at least continue to spotlight Petunia—a focus on her would not be amiss in what is her book. However, Petunia is quickly swamped by the stampede of characters—not only sisters but also lovers and husbands and loyal men and old allies. When she does appear, she is sometimes indistinguishable from her sister Poppy, whose main trait is also boldness. I often had to reread passages to figure out whether Poppy or Petunia had been speaking.
Oliver also fails to distinguish himself as a character in his own right. His character seems to change based on the necessities of the plot. I have no idea whether I could rightly describe him as brave or daring or honest (he isn’t, but he wants to be?); mostly he comes across as “nice”. His role in the story has a fluid-like quality, so even that fails to define him—he emerges variously as the wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood,” the woodcutter, and even Robin Hood.
George regrettably does not incorporate elements from “Little Red Riding Hood” or from Robin Hood in a particularly original way and the links are tenuous at best. Petunia wears a red cloak (and is rather obsessive about it), the thieves in the forest call themselves “wolves,” and at one point Oliver cuts some wood. Oliver bears a resemblance to Robin Hood in that he has lost his rightful property and now leads some men in the forest. Often these elements do not emerge in a believable way—Oliver’s story about his decision to rob travelers in order to sustain an earldom simply does not make sense, though a not insignificant portion of the book attempts to make it sound plausible.
The final chapters of the book are possibly the strongest. The action picks up, the sisters show some great character development in terms of facing their enemy (except for Lily, who apparently used to be really brave and a terrific shot, but now mostly sobs), and even the villains seem more human this time. The ending is a trifle neat, but I expected that from a fairy tale retelling.
I enjoyed Princess of the Silver Woods as another foray into the world of Princess of the Midnight Ball. It was good to see familiar faces again and to see how the princesses have grown. The decision to stop with three books, however, proved wise.
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- What: An event to read fairy tales and retellings, with minichallenges almost every day and a Twitter chat on Sept. 6.
- Where: Debz Bookshelf (Click for details.)
- When: Sept. 1- Sept. 7
My To-Read List
This is open to change, particularly if I get to the library where I can get other fairy tales, but here are some books I am considering reading for the event.
Goodreads: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdome
Series: The League of Princes #1
Published: May 1, 2012
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You’ve never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change.
Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, the princes stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it’s up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.
Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is a completely original take on the world of fairy tales, the truth about what happens after “happily ever after.” It’s a must-have for middle grade readers who enjoy their fantasy adventures mixed with the humor of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Witty black-and-white drawings by Todd Harris add to the fun.
With a wild cast of characters, a rollicking plot, and a great sense of humor, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom exemplifies so much of what I love about middle grade fiction. Healy, a superb writer with a fertile imagination, puts telling a good story foremost. The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is the type of book that is difficult to put down because it is just so interesting and unexpected.
The protagonists are four Prince Charmings: the guys from “Sleeping Beauty,” “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” and “Rapunzel.” They are not, however, quite what readers will expect. When the story opens, only one of the bunch is particularly admirable—Prince Liam, from “Sleeping Beauty.” Handsome, heroic, romantic, and dedicated to the good of his kingdom, he is the type of prince many countries dream of. The other Princes Charming? Not so much. Prince Frederick is so much of a pampered dandy he never risks doing anything interesting, Prince Gustav comes across as an ineffectual brute, and Prince Duncan, though eccentrically charming is, well, eccentric. These guys are not heroes. But the great thing is: by the end of the story, they are. All four Princes Charming develop their strengths and learn to work together in order perform great deeds, and watching them learn is magical.
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom also features strong female characters, in both the villain and heroine varieties. The spunky Cinderella will be a favorite with many readers, as she sets out to experience the adventures she could never have while living with her stepmother. Meanwhile, the witch from “Rapunzel” is deliciously evil as the main antagonist, and Sleeping Beauty turns out to have quite the attitude. Hopefully more is forthcoming from these ladies in the sequel.
Although populated by diverse, strong personalities, the overall voice of the book is quirky—the voice of a narrator telling you all the crazy and ridiculous things about fairy tales you never knew, and relishing every moment of the job. He butts in once in a while, so excited that he nearly gives away events that are going to happen chapters later—before he catches himself and sticks to tantalizing hints. He also delights in messing with readers by titling all 31 chapters things like, “Prince Charming Hugs Trees” and “Prince Charming Needs a Bath,” realizing there is no way to tell which Prince Charming is being referenced.
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is the ideal middle grade read. It is clever and developed enough to appeal to readers of all ages, but is also flat out fun. Perfect for fantasy fans and those who enjoy books The Nicholas Benedict Society or The Grimm Chronicles. Recommended.
First line: “Prince Charming is afraid of old ladies. Didn’t know that, did you?”
Discuss! Who is your favorite Prince Charming, either from traditional fairy tales, or from The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom?
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Goodreads: The Rumpelstiltskin Problem
If you ask Vivian Vande Velde her feelings about “Rumpelstiltskin,” she would tell you the story does not make a lot of sense. If you read her preface to The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, you would probably begin to agree. Vande Velde summarizes the original tale step by step, outlining along the way where characters either do something without any explanation or do something that is explained, but illogically so. Why, indeed, would Rumpelstiltskin accept gold jewelry as payment for turning straw into gold? Apparently he can acquire all the precious metal he could ever want.
Vande Velde attempts to explain the characters’ actions in six original retellings of “Rumpelstiltskin.”
Each of the stories in this collection is fun, a little wild and weird. Vande Velde definitely reveals a quirky streak in this book, and her lighthearted tone is common to all six stories, even as the plots and characters change. All open with a line about how far in the past the story occurred, usually before something random like before sliced bread was sold in supermarkets. Some of the tales are bit more dismal than others, but they never get so depressing that Vande Velde cannot poke a little fun at herself or the characters.
Interestingly enough, although Vande Velde’s retellings are supposed to make more sense than the original story, her characters do often merit a bit of mockery. Vande Velde’s stories are all internally consistent, and her characters always offer explanations for their actions—but their decisions are sometimes still a little crazy. For instance, in one version the miller is poor and is convinced he can tell the king his daughter can turn straw into gold if he gives her three gold coins, and then he and his daughter will simply take the money and run before she is given any straw. Vande Velde gives the miller a reason for telling the king a preposterous lie, but his plan is still ridiculous.
Vande Velde also gives each character a chance to be the villain: the king, the miller, the miller’s daughter, and Rumpelstiltskin. While this does allow for variety in the retellings, it also means it is easy to catch on to the pattern, for readers to guess who will be the villain next. Of course no one expects fairy tale retellings to be overly surprising (especially ones that are only short stories, not novels), but it is a bit disappointing to be able to predict a large part of what will be “new” about a retelling you have not even started to read.
The main problem with this book: After about two tales, the reader probably wants to be done with “Rumpelstiltskin.” The stories may be different, but in the end they all have the same basic plot. This will be a challenge for readers who like to read straight through a book and be finished, rather than patiently read a section or two and replace it on the shelf for another day.
Nonetheless, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem is an imaginative and slightly quirky book, perfect for readers who want to see “Rumpelstiltskin” in a new light.
Goodreads: The Sweetest Spell
Emmeline Thistle is an outcast, even among the impoverished “dirt-scratchers” who farm a desolate corner of the kingdom. Her curled foot has marked her as weak since birth, but, more than anything else, she frightens people with her unusual relationship with cows. Emmeline speaks to them, and they seem drawn to her like magnets. Accusations of black magic haunt her daily. However, when unforeseen events drive the girl into the world beyond her village, she is faced with challenges that have never before been part of her life. Because while she does not have black magic, she does discover brown magic. Chocolate magic. And suddenly the feared and despised Emmeline Thistle is the most wanted girl in the kingdom.
I have wanted to read The Sweetest Spell since the first time I heard of it. Few novels feature cows as their true heroines and possess plots driven by the magical production of chocolate. But that is exactly what this book is. Throw in a milkman love interest, a hot-air-ballooning prince, and charming village customs like the husband market – in which girls bid on potential future spouses – and you have a book like no other. The story is cow-themed originality woven among romance, suspense, rewritten history, and political maneuvering.
While the only “magic” in the book involves bovines and dairy products, it has the quality of a fairy tale, YA novel style, of course. The setting is an alternate Europe, in a medieval-type time period. The plot is fairly straight-forward, though with enough action going on to keep it intriguing. And the characters, like those in fairy tales, are fairly simple to understand. They’re either kind, greedy, or conceited. Selfors does show us relatable motivations behind the unlikeable characters’ actions, however, and allows some of them to be dynamic. It keeps them human, and left me truly disliking few characters in the end.
This book kept me wondering what would happen next – not necessarily for the big things, but for the small ones. I kept thinking “I cannot believe this is happening,” but embraced it and kept reading, happily lost in the world Selfors created.
Anyone who loves cows, chocolate, or original fairy tales should definitely give this book a try.
Denise, today’s guest reviewer, is a librarian and avid reader. This is one of several guest posts she has contributed to the blog.
Goodreads: The World Above: A Retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk”
Series: Once Upon a Time
Summary: Jack and his sister Gen have never known their father – have never seen the place their ancestors called home. In fact, Gen is not quite sure she believes it even exists – and besides, she rather likes the World Below, despite the hard times facing her family with crops failing left and right. But her belief is shaken when Jack trades their family’s cow for a bunch of speckled beans and, instead of scolding him for his stupidity, her mother cries with joy. Suddenly, practical Gen has adventure thrust upon her, as she and Jack plan to take back a throne, rightfully theirs, and set foot for the first time in the land of their parents – the World Above.
Review: My feelings about this book are complicated, to say the least, so bear with me. I enjoyed it very much, but I haven’t been able to shake a feeling of disappointment, even after having read it a couple of times now.
First off, if you couldn’t tell from the summary, this book attempts to retell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. That’s how it has been marketed too: a retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” I like the Once Upon a Time series – I’ve read most of the retellings in it, and when I learned of this one, I must admit I was curious. How do you retell “Jack and the Beanstalk?” All fairy tales are relatively simplistic, and far be it from me to insist that a tale be too simplistic to be able to retell – but I had never really thought of Jack’s story as one up for retelling. I think this was the first retelling of the story I’d even heard of. This interest is probably what set me up for my first disappointment. Oh, the makings of the “Jack and the Beanstalk” are certainly there – we have Jack, we have a bean stalk. We have the magical items – the goose that lays golden eggs, the ever replenishing sack of gold coins, the harp that sings – and Jack even steals [most of] these things from a giant, sort of [if being given two of the three by a giant counts as stealing]. Jack is still curious and that curiosity is at least part of the reason he goes up the beanstalk in the first place. But then we have the fact that Jack is not from the world as ‘we’ know it, he has another motivation to go up the beanstalk: to go home and overthrow a usurper, and he has a twin sister, not curious but practical, with the wits to make him successful. He is not stupid for taking the beans for the cow in this book – it is the best thing that he could have done. He befriends giants and is successful and all of this sounds like the makings of a pretty good retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” in my opinion. And yet, on this level, I find myself rather disappointed with Dokey’s work. Why? Have you yet asked yourself why a retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” is being reviewed during a “Robin Hood” read-along?
By the second half of the book, “Robin Hood” takes over… which is confusing to say the least. Potentially even misleading. Sure, perhaps readers should be able to see it coming — the World Above is very green, after all, and throne usurpers are a common “Robin Hood” trope – albeit usually of the throne of a king. (But perhaps we are expected to take a ducal throne in the World Above to be the same level as a kingly one in the World Below: there was no mention of a higher authority. But I digress.) We have greenness, and usurpers, and the usurper’s name is Guy! Guy de Trabant, presumably instead of Guy of Gisborne – and Gisborne is usually not the first arch nemesis people think of, when they think about “Robin Hood.” Maybe the author was just trying to be subtle. Once you get Robin Hood on the scene though, she is not subtle at all, and it makes me wonder how much Dokey was trying to create a retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” in the first place, given how well the background she creates for Jack and Gen lends itself to the Robin Hood tradition. When I first read it, it felt more like Dokey had hit a creative road bump in trying to retell the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story – like she had lifted a tale from the “Robin Hood” tradition, because she didn’t know where else to go or how to finish out the story she had started in an interesting way… Perhaps the story would be more successful if I had considered it a retelling of “Robin Hood” that happens to incorporate “Jack and the Beanstalk” as opposed to the other way around.
But, I mean – Robin Hood! As much as I didn’t like his story being used in this way, I must admit I greatly enjoyed the “Robin Hood” bits for the sake of their being “Robin Hood” bits. On the most basic level, he is the Robin Hood everyone knows – stealing from the rich, giving to the poor – excelling in archery and besting everyone in archery contests to save some poor fellow (read: Jack)’s life. It isn’t complicated to see who his Marian will be by the end of the story either. (A fact that makes me question even more the purpose of her addition to the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story in the first place…). And his story is changed, mostly on a basic level – no Little John here, just an older fellow named Steel – in fact, no allusions to anyone in his little band, though he does have a band at least. Dokey, on some level, seems to think the best way to change Hood’s story is to change a few names, though I believe the fellow that is second to him in archery kept his first name, from at least one of the earlier tales. Granted: she is not telling the whole story of “Robin Hood.” That was not her purpose in this book. But for someone so good at altering previously told tales, this incorporation of Robin Hood was as much a disappointment for me, as it was a pleasure. The biggest change she made was the reason for Robin’s outlawing and the way he becomes an outlaw no longer, both of which only partially made sense, largely because no time is spent really fleshing out the character of Guy de Trabant – yet he is the character who is the most dynamic over the course of the story. So I don’t really feel like this book fully works as a retelling of Robin Hood incorporating “Jack and the Beanstalk either,” though I’m sure Dokey could retell Hood’s story better if she made that the goal of one of her retellings.
Really, I feel like someone needed to ask Dokey one crucial question before she finished this book: Whose story is this? Is she trying to retell “Jack and the Beanstalk” or “Robin Hood?” If she was trying to do both, I think this story would have been better off making that clear from the beginning. As it was, the two tales aren’t brought together very well. The way she tries to mesh the plots can work, I think – but her characters aren’t developed enough to make them work – especially in the “Robin Hood” storyline. And yet – I did enjoy the book, the second time just as much as I did the first – if not more, because I knew what was coming and could view it as an attempt to merge the two tales better. Maybe I am just that much of a sucker for a “Robin Hood” tale. But I do see a lot of potential in the story that Dokey tells. I just wish someone had marketed the book better, because the “surprise” Robin Hood really doesn’t work – or that someone had pushed Dokey to make it work a little better if she wanted to keep that element of surprise.
Source: Received from author
Summary: A collection of three short stories in verse: “8,” a retelling of “Snow White;” “The Plight and Plot of Princess Penny,” a retelling of “The Princess and the Frog;” and “Jack’d,” a retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk”.
Note: Although TaleSpins brings together all three of Mullin’s retold fairy tales, this review focuses on the latest installment, “Jack’d.” For reviews of the first two stories in the collection, click on the links above.
Review: “Jack’d” offers a modern update of the classic fairytale “Jack and the Beanstalk” by placing the giant—that is, a successful surgeon—in a high rise building and his titular nemesis in a more disadvantaged environment. Contemporary concerns with the distribution of wealth seem obliquely referenced as readers contrast the lavish lifestyle of the giant, a man who owns so much stuff he does not at first realize someone has stolen some of it, with Jack, a boy who resorts to theft in an effort to support his ailing mother. However, the focus does not remain long on the financial situation. The story attempts to recapture a bit of the darker tone of some of the older fairy tales by adding a bit of supernatural flair.
A lack of explanations for some of the events contained within the story may please some as lending a bit of mystery to the plot. Others, however, may find themselves wishing for just a bit more information. Who exactly are these characters the giant encounters and what exactly do they want? Although they offer clues, their honesty remains in doubt and thus so do their stories. ”Jack’d” thus offers, in some ways, less closure than “8″ or “Princess Penny.” Reader reaction will depend largely on personal preference.
“Jack’d” is perhaps most notable for a more experimental style than the previous two stories. While all propose to reveal the “truth” about a well-known tale, the third in the series adopts an edgier, darker tone and flirts more ideas like death, sacrifice, and right and wrong. As a fan of neater endings and airtight explanations, I would have liked to see all of these themes developed a bit more in the context of the story. However, I did enjoy seeing a version of “Jack and the Beanstalk” that truly strove for the original by incorporating magic with the modern day.
Goodreads: Strands of Bronze and Gold
Series: Strands of Bronze and Gold #1
Official Summary: The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .
When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.
Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.
Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.
Review: Strands of Bronze and Gold offers a compelling unique story for fans of retold fairy tales. It tackles “Bluebeard,” not one of the standard stories on the retold fairy tale circuit, and packages it in the nineteenth century American South. History and fairy tales are a wonderful combination, often providing opportunities for unique voices and settings. Strands of Bronze and Gold is no exception. Though Sophie does not often leave her godfather’s house, she provides readers with an inside look into the luxurious life of the Southern gentry, accentuated by the fact that she, a native of Boston, is an outsider in this rich and quiet world, too.
Sophie could be either immediately endearing or annoying, according to readers’ perspectives. She rambles from the moment she meets her godfather, explaining she is not normally so chatty but simply overwhelmed by her new surroundings. Her chattering never stops, however, even as she must be growing used to her new home, even when she meets other new people. Considering Sophie is often alone in the mansion, shut away from interactions with anyone other than her godfather, her talking may be both a coping mechanism for herself and for the readers, who barely meet any other characters, as well. In the end, however, her ramblings often make her seem rather silly.
Of course, some level of silliness is a prerequisite for the protagonist of this story. She has to walk a line between being foolish enough to become entangled in her godfather’s trap and smart enough to have some chance of getting out of it—and to keep readers for giving her up as a hopeless cause. Sophie manages this pretty well, even commenting once to the effect of, “I’ve always wondered how characters in stories could foolishly get themselves in such troubles. Now I know.”
The plot Sophie enters is at some times obvious and at others deliciously creepy. Her godfather’s obsession with her, due to his age, is one of level of disturbing. Sophie’s supernatural encounters with the dead are another. The story of the ghosts could have been more fleshed out, but mostly it seems intended as an eerie backdrop for the readers and a convenient warning mechanism for Sophie—one to which she often fails to pay any heed.
The story’s greatest strength lies in Sophie’s self-reflection. As she spends increasing time in her godfather’s world, she begins to realize she is losing her sense of self. She is abandoning her values because someone else has told her they do not matter, or because there is no one around to see whether she is behaving appropriately or not. Sophie realizes morality and identity are what she does even when no one is watching. Such moments of Sophie’s thoughts and self-evaluation are sprinkled throughout the book and can encourage readers to think more about their own ideas on principles and identity.
The book’s obsession with morality also leads to its greatest weakness, however. The book is set in the 1800s in the American South. Meaning slavery. Meaning Sophie is the cliché character who stands firm against this atrocity even as all the other characters accept it. The desire behind this characterization is understandable, even commendable. It would be difficult for modern readers to completely back a character who unequivocally approves of or even encourages slavery—but they could accept someone whose views more nuanced, caught between the passion of a cruel overseer and the zeal of a Underground Railroad conductor. Authors do a disservice to historical fiction and historical figures by vilifying characters who promote anything modern society opposes–whether slavery, segregation, anti-feminisim, etc.—and ensuring their protagonists are all outspoken advocates of modern values. Today’s readers basically agree slavery is wrong. We do not need fictional characters self-righteously throwing the fact in our faces. We can handle more complexity in characterization. We will not all turn on Sophie if, instead of raring to free all the slaves she can find, she admits her views on slavery are a little more confused.
Interestingly, the other characters do tend to be more nuanced. The house’s servants and slaves are somewhat one-dimensional, background characters who exist to drive the plot or Sophie’s own characterization. Her godfather, however, is quite complex, experiencing a wide range of moods and desires. A character Sophie meets in secrecy also has more complicated views of the world and of right and wrong.
Strands of Bronze and Gold is a fresh addition to the retold fairy tale market. It has its flaws, mostly in under-development of plotlines and minor characters, but the originality of its subject matter and its tendency to ask weighty questions of both characters and readers make it a worthwhile read for those who appreciate retold fairy tales, imaginative historical fiction, or a little darkness in their YA .
Published: March 2013