The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker by E. D. Baker

Fairy Tale MatchmakerINFORMATION

Goodreads: The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker
Series: Fairy-Tale Matchmaker #1
Source: Gift
Published: October 7, 2014


Cory Feathering has tried her best to be a Tooth Fairy, the way her mother wants.  But after another terrible night with a low tooth yield and a near encounter with a dog, Cory decides to quit!  Unsure what her true calling is, she begins a series of odd jobs around town.  But the Tooth Fairy Guild does not allow resignations and soon Cory finds herself the victim of a series of escalating crimes.


E. D. Baker writes a light-hearted fantasy that manages to feel low-stakes even as its protagonist Cory Feathering faces a series of crimes from vandalism to kidnapping after she attempts to leave her job at the Tooth Fairy Guild.  She lives in a world populated by fairy tale characters, so as she searches for her new calling, she travels from Miss Muffet’s spider-filled home to the houses of the Three Little Pigs, and even finds herself babysitting Humpty Dumpty and the children of the Old Woman Who Lived a Shoe.  The delight of recognizing old faces in domestic situations makes the book fun and humorous, despite the main narrative of thuggery.  Still, it seems strange that this book was written as a middle-grade.

The political implications of this book should be complicated.  The guilds are clearly corrupt and frequently band together to harass, kidnap, and otherwise injure their former members.  This seems both to be well-known and to be a surprise, for whatever obscure reasons.  Meanwhile, the police force is also clearly corrupt and allows the guilds to do whatever they want; when Cory becomes the victim of a heinous crime the police force can no longer ignore, they refuse to investigate it on the grounds that they have no power over the guilds–but this is glossed over at the end of the book with an unbelievable “Oh dear!  If only we had known we would have stopped it!”  attitude.  The judge in the city also allows the guilds to do whatever they want–but Cory also “fixes” this at the end by telling him that the guilds are no more than gangs.  As if he must not have known!  A lot is going here, but it becomes over-simplified because it’s in a middle-grade book, and apparently we need an easy solution to make everyone feel better about their judicial system at the end.  (There’s also a literal deus ex machina that I won’t delve into, so as not to spoil anyone.)

The concept itself of job hunting also seems unusual for a middle-grade novel.  Yes, Barbie, for example, is a toy with a career who is meant to inspire children to dream big, but somehow the concept of a career…girl? does not quite work here.  Cory must be around eighteen or nineteen if we assume she has recently graduated from high school and has been interning and then training as a tooth fairy.  She has a swinging band that plays in what seem to be exclusive clubs and she works to set up her friends and other career women with eligible men; one of the first things we learn about every new character is their job, from model to successful entrepreneur, so clearly these characters are meant to be adults.  But most of them don’t act it!

Cory, for example, talks and acts like a teenager–a young one.  When replying to a help-wanted ad, she writes simply “Who are you?” to one agency.  When reporting crimes she writes unhelpful notes like “A tooth has been thrown through our window!  Come quick!” or even simply “More vandalism.”  She has the independence of an adult, but the attitude of a child.  Perhaps this is not so unusual in an eighteen-year-old, one who is still living with her mother but saving up to move out, one who has not yet settled on a career.  But the childish tone juxtaposed with the world of famous writers and successful businessmen sits oddly in the book.

Aside from these quibbles, however, the book is an enjoyable middle-grade.  It’s light and predictable, but that’s what one expects from E. D. Baker’s stories.  It’s a nice book–the kind you read at night when you’re tired and don’t want anything too taxing, but do want something fun and amusing.

3 starsKrysta 64

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell


Goodreads: Mechanica
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: August 25, 2015

Official Summary

Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in her own home.

But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself. Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there—and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules—be the key to escaping her dreary existence? With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last.

Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined Cinderella retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince . . . but realizes she doesn’t want a fairy tale happy ending after all.


Mechanica puts a charming steampunk spin on the classic tale of “Cinderella.”  Nicolette Lampton feels trapped by her cruel stepmother until she discovers her mother’s hidden basement workshop and begins tinkering to make inventions of her own.  She hopes with hard work she’ll be able to buy herself a new life and maybe even become as skilled as her mother.  After all, there’s not just a royal ball coming up; there’s also an Exhibition!

Mechanica gives readers a “Cinderella” character who really knows what to do with her work ethic.  Instead of feeling downtrodden by her abusive family , she feels she’s simply biding her time until good things can come her way.  While I wish  the family dynamics would have been explored more–I think there’s a lot to say about abuse in many fairy tales that many authors simply overlook–I did admire Nicolette and her drive.

Besides the somewhat flat step-family, most of the other characters are similarly well-developed and reveal multiple facets of their personalities throughout the novel.  There’s also a (mechanical) animal companion, and I fall for those every time in books.  Sign me up for a cute horse with intelligence and unconditional love!

The official summary broadly hints how the end of the book will go, so I won’t consider a few more hints much of spoilers.  I’ve seen other readers imply it doesn’t go how they wanted, but I didn’t have an issue with it.  I also didn’t have a problem with the apparent insta-love earlier in the novel; Cornwell clearly indicates that it’s supposed to be read as infatuation.  She’s playing with fairy tale tropes, much the way Frozen does with the insta-love between Anna and Hans.  As for insta-friendship, I don’t find that hard to believe at all.  Half of being someone’s friend is deciding you want to be.

Overall, I just found Mechanica a really enjoyable read.  It will be  appreciated by anyone who adores retold fairy tales as a I do.
4 stars Briana

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

School for Good and EvilINFORMATION

Goodreads: The School for Good and Evil
Series: The School for Good and Evil #1
Source: Gift
Published: 2013


Every four years, two children disappear from the village of Galvadon, whisked away in the night by the School Master.  The villagers believe the children attend the School for Good and Evil, where one child learns to become a fairy tale hero and the other a fairy tale villain.  Sophie longs for the day the School Master comes to take her away to attend the School for Good, where she will wear beautiful gowns and meet her own prince.  She assumes Agatha, the weird girl who lives by the graveyard, will become a witch.  But when the School Master comes for the children, he drops Agatha in the School for Good and Sophie in the School for Evil.  How can Sophie correct this mistake and end up where she truly belongs?


A School for Good and Evil plays with the tropes of fairy tales, introducing readers to a world where children are marked as “good” or “evil” and sent to school to learn the skills and attributes appropriate to their category.  Informed that they are chosen for the state of their souls, the children naturally wonder if no one truly has a choice.  Readers will wonder even more, for it is obvious from the start that the School for Good is full of vain, petty, catty, and dishonest individuals.  The School for Evil, meanwhile, is certainly full of hideous children who speak of their desire for vengeance–but some of them are more loyal friends than the princes and princesses in the School for Good!  Where are the lines drawn between the two–and who decides?

Complicating this set-up is Sophie, who fervently believes she belongs in Good because she is beautiful.  Yes, Sophie is vain, stuck-up, shallow, and incredibly selfish.  She uses people to get what she wants.  But does that make her evil?  The book juxtaposes her with Agatha, who ostensibly (according to Sophie) was placed in the wrong school because she likes black, seldom smiles, and likes morbid things.  But one cannot really question her placement.  Agatha is obviously an honest, loyal person who would sacrifice herself for others.  Yet her virtue is shaded by her willingness to cheat, break the rules, and lie to try to save Sophie and get the two of them home.

The book does not address all these issues as directly as I would like, but it does raise them, and it gives the book depth even as readers can delight in all thing fairy-tale that Chainani inserts for fun–he seems enjoy coming up with magical creatures and spells to fill his world.  Issues of gender roles are also raised, as Agatha chafes against the Etiquette and Animal Speaking classes she must take while the boys learn sword fighting. No wonder princesses need to be rescued, she thinks–no one teaches them how to defend herself.  And then she muses that the villains of all people seem to make no such gendered distinctions!  (I think this is not to say that only villains eschew gender roles as the text repeatedly plays with these roles and shows Agatha as a subject with agency who is willing to fight and get dirty for what she thinks is right. She even gives orders to the princes, much to their dismay.)

Some of the messages in the end seem a little mixed–is Sophie evil or just a product of her environment?  Is Tedros a worthy prince or really kind of pompous and insecure?  Are any of the Good characters really that good?  We don’t see them do much right and when they do do things, it seems to be for glory and vanity–but aside from some exasperated remarks from the professors, no one questions this and the balance of the world between Good and Evil remains intact, so…the school placements are correct?  Or does it even matter who is placed where as long as the numbers work out?

I’m hoping the sequels will delve more into this questions of morality and the questions of gender. I think the books can work more with both, especially interrogating the way fairy tales do tend to rely on gendered stereotypes.  Will the characters accept or subvert them and why?  What are the possible repercussions of each? Maybe the sequels will disappoint and again address issues only obliquely, but I am invested enough in this world to give the sequels a try.4 stars

Krysta 64

Kin by Lili St. Crow


Goodreads: Kin
Series: Tales of Beauty and Madness #3
Source: Gift
Published: February 25, 2015

Official Summary

In the kin world, girls Ruby de Varre’s age are expected to play nice, get betrothed, and start a family—especially if they’re rootkin, and the fate of the clan is riding on them. But after a childhood of running wild in the woods, it’s hard to turn completely around and be demure. Even if your Gran is expecting it.

Then Conrad, handsome and charming, from a clan across the Waste, comes to New Haven to seal alliance between their two families. The sparks fly immediately. Conrad is smart, dominant, and downright gorgeous. Yet as Ruby gets to know him more, she starts to realize something’s…off.

Then, the murders start. A killer stalks the city streets, and just when Ruby starts to suspect the unimaginable, she becomes the next target. Now Ruby’s about to find out that Conrad’s secrets go deeper than she ever could have guessed—and it’s up to Ruby to save her Gran, her clan, and maybe even herself….


Note: Kin is a companion book to Nameless and Wayfarer. You do not need to read them in any particular order to follow the story, though past events are briefly referenced.

Kin is a solid conclusion to the Tales of Beauty and Madness series.  Readers finally get into the head of wild, impetuous Ruby and see she has problems and insecurities of her own that she has been hiding beneath her brazen exterior. Though the story is perhaps a little less imaginative than the previous two, it is also less convoluted.  Kin is a great send-off for anyone who has come to love the series and just wants one more tale.

The Tales of Madness and Beauty have consistently suffered from irritatingly ambiguous world-building; I’m not the only reader who couldn’t quite wrap my head around the history of the world and the rules of the magic.  While the atmosphere is at least familiar by Kin, if still confusing, St. Crow adds a new dimension by finally explaining Ruby’s family.  Readers have understood she is “Kin” before now, but here we learn more about what that actually means—and for some reason St. Crow manages to go a lot more into detail on this system of magic than she does with the others.  While Nameless and Wayfarer always felt a little slippery to me, I found I could get a nice grip on Kin, and it was refreshing.

Unfortunately, the plot of Kin was also a lot clearer, but not in a good way.  Readers may be surprised to see that the book jacket gives away the answer to the mystery in the story, but it’s really not a spoiler.  The text itself goes out of its way to point out the villain to the readers, consistently pointing out that something should have been a warning to Ruby or she would realize later what a bad sign it was (as if Conrad’s abusive behavior isn’t enough of a bad sign to readers without such authorial intervention).  I enjoyed reading Kin anyway, but it’s unusual for a book to be so upfront about what its own plot is and what the resolution is going to be before the actions even begins.  Perhaps St. Crow felt the fact that Conrad is the villain was so obvious, she might as well embrace it instead of even playing at suspense.

While Kin isn’t quite the madcap, confusing ride that Nameless and Wayfarer were, it’s still a lot of fun.  Readers finally learn the secrets of the Kin and get introduced to characters who are only alluded to previously, such as Ruby’s grandmother.  (There are even a couple of cute Kin boys!)  In fact, I found it kind of nice to end such a strange series on this more tempered tone.  Everything wraps up fairly neatly, and I’ve gotten about as much of the world and the characters as I want.  (Though I’d probably be first in line to buy if St. Crow wanted to do a companion series about some new characters.  Can we go over the Waste???)

4 starsBriana

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff (ARC Review)


Goodreads: Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood
Series: None
Source: Netgalley
Publication Date: April 12, 2016

Official Summary

Red is not afraid of the big bad wolf. She’s not afraid of anything . . . except magic.
But when Red’s granny falls ill, it seems that only magic can save her, and fearless Red is forced to confront her one weakness.

With the help of a blond, porridge-sampling nuisance called Goldie, Red goes on a quest to cure Granny. Her journey takes her through dwarves’ caverns to a haunted well and a beast’s castle. All the while, Red and Goldie are followed by a wolf and a huntsman—two mortal enemies who seek the girls’ help to defeat each other. And one of them just might have the magical solution Red is looking for. . . .


As a true fan of middle grade fantasy and fairy tale retellings, I was so excited for this book. I particularly enjoy new takes on “Little Red Riding Hood,” as there’s so much complexity to be explored in the characters of the wolf and the huntsman.  Unfortunately, I was let down by this particular retelling.  The plot is spazzy and episodic, Red is a grump, and the whole thing is so moralizing the allure of the adventure fades away.

The story opens with some promising middle grade charm, as Shurtliff sets up the backstory: Red has had bad experience with her magic and is afraid to use it, but otherwise she loves exploring the magical forest where her grandmother lives.  Quirk quickly gives way to chaos, however, as Shurtliff introduces one magical species after another, all with their own wild histories and crazy rules.  Dwarves, water sprites, magic animals, witches, and more get a turn all in quick succession.  Some readers might find it fun; I found it all random and overwhelming.

Plot-wise, Red needs to go on an adventure to help her ailing (dying) grandmother.  However, the tale morphs into a didactic text on accepting death as Red meets various characters who either have had their own quests for immortality go wrong or otherwise give sage advice and solemn monologues about how everything has its time and everyone must die.  I don’t mind a lesson or two in middle grade (though I find them unnecessary), but I truly began to think this was a tale I should save in case I ever encounter a child who needed a book to guide them on how to accept the imminent death of a loved one.  The story could hardly have hit me harder over the head with its moral.

Even a secondary lesson is thrown in, as grouchy Red must learn to control her temper and her selfishness and be kind to others.  Perhaps readers who have already met Red in Rump (I haven’t read it), will be interested to see her character fully fleshed out. Since I had no expectations, I was surprised to find an initially grumpy child who wasn’t particularly fun to hang around with, even as a fictional character.  Watching her become more polite as she progressed in her journey was fun, but I could have done without the preachy speeches on kindness.

Overall, this book simply isn’t what I was expecting and isn’t the type of middle grade I enjoy.  Its strong moralizing tone takes much of the enjoyment out of  the quest, and I think it underestimates how much children can learn from books without being directly told what the message is.  I don’t think I’ll be looking into Shurtliff’s other books, even though Krysta gave Rump a solid review.
2 starsBriana

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas


Goodreads: A Court of Thorns and Roses
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #1
Source: Giveaway
Published: May 5, 2015

Official Summary

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it… or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.


I wasn’t a huge fan of Maas’s debut, Throne of Glass, but this was in large part because I thought the book still read like something the author had started writing at the age of sixteen, even after extensive revisions before publication.  With this in mind, I decided to give Maas’s new series a chance; after all, fans everywhere are obsessively swooning over the book, and Maas has garnered a lot more writing experience finishing the Throne of Glass series..

As an amalgamation of “Beauty and the Beast” and Faerie lore, A Court of Thorns and Roses isn’t offering something spectacularly original. but it’s still wildly fun and engrossing to read.  The main draw is really the romance–steamy, enthralling, and tantalizingly forbidden.  That is to say, I’m not sure anyone is here for the plot, which for a long while features protagonist Feyre living it up in her captor’s mansion, doing little while pretending she’s a badass (an unconvincing characterization, in my opinion, which I did my best to ignore).  The true attraction are the unfathomably handsome and off-limits Faeries, who do their best to provoke Feyre and reader’s hearts into submission.

However, the plot excels in one particular point.  I always hate the part of “Beauty and the Beast” retellings where Beauty goes away and bad things happen to the Beast and “Oh, no, will she go back to save him?”  We know she’s going back to save him, and it can seem like a tired and unnecessary plot tangent in uninspired retellings.  Maas makes it work, though.  This isn’t a pit stop in her plot; it’s when the plot really gets going and Feyre begins to show more of her character.  I enjoyed this section more than I would ever have anticipated.

The downside to this section of the book, however, is that love interest Tamlin entirely disappears while Feyre takes center stage.  Readers are then introduced to a different male character very much in depth, who quickly becomes far more interesting than Tamlin.  When Beauty and the Beast are finally reunited…I found myself not really caring.  I wanted the other guy.  It looks as if I’ll be getting my wish in the second book to see more of the new guy, but that doesn’t satisfy me.  I can’t help docking stars from a book that drops its own love interest and makes the ending super anti-climatic, no matter how much I liked the rest of the book.

4 stars Briana

Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas

Ash and BrambleInformation

Goodreads: Ash and Bramble
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: September 15, 2015

Official Summary

No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.


I can envision the birth of Ash and Bramble.  Prineas sat down and thought, What if you don’t want to be in a fairy tale?  What if it’s more exciting to write your own story instead of following the pattern of everyone else’s?  The result: a gutsy YA novel that capitalizes on the popularity of fairy tale retellings even as it tries to argue they’re boring and overrated.

I kind of loved it.

The prose, I admit, is a huge turn-off and something I actively strove to ignore throughout the novel.  All of the book is in present tense, which I hate, and uses short, choppy sentences, which I despise.  Worse, however, is the lack of consistency in points of view.  Protagonist Pin’s chapters are all in first-person, while love interest Shoe’s chapters are in third person.  I never understood the reason for the switch; I don’t know if there was an artistic reasons.  I only know it drove me mad.

If one can tolerate the writing style, however, there is a very interesting story buried beneath.  Large swaths of it will be predictable—like which man is going to win in the love triangle—but others are quite unexpected.  The whole point is that Pin wants to break away from a perfect, contrived life as a Cinderella with a happily-ever-after, so she tries to do the unpredictable.

The multiple layers of the story mean that sometimes the pacing is off.  The book starts in media res, except the readers don’t actually know what happened before the action started because none of the characters really know either.  From there it’s a quick sprint to get from the opening scenes to the part where the Cinderella story is supposed to play out to the part where Pin has to decide if she even wants her Cinderella story.  The result is a bit chunk-like, even though the book tries to head this off by dividing itself into parts and signaling something new is about to start.  However, the plot and the characters are interesting enough that I tried to ignore my discomfort with this, as well.

Though Pin is supposedly the star of the novel, and the other characters spend a lot of time observing how unique, how unexpected, how like a flame in darkness she is, I was more captivated by the side characters.  Shoe is definitely a fascinating, complex character, and I was glad he got his own sort-of POV chapters.  I also enjoyed reading about all the other characters who had been caught up in the dangers of their world, who were kind of broken but persevered.  Even the last character in the love triangle was multi-faceted.  Pin just feels contrived compared to them, especially when she goes stereotypical YA protagonist and suddenly discovers she possesses a bunch of kickass skills that will help her in her fight.

In many ways, I fought with Ash and Bramble more than I really enjoyed it.  Half of it pulled me to liking it while the other half pushed me away.  However, I found it interesting, and I think it will appeal to anyone who normally enjoys new takes on fairy tales.

3 stars Briana

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente


Goodreads: Six-Gun Snow White
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2013


Once upon a time a silver baron forced a Crow woman to marry him and bear him a daughter.  But that daughter’s skin betrayed her heritage and when her mother died, her stepmother in cruelty called her Snow White–a constant reminder of the type of beauty and the kind of life she can never have.  Snow White , however, can pull a trigger faster than any man in the West, and she hopes that will be enough for her to take her freedom.


Catherynne Valente, author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, must have once visited Fairyland herself.  Her prose is an enchantment  inviting readers into a world where reality and magic blend together, enticing them always to journey farther in until it’s too late–the story has grasped hold of their hearts and there is no going back.  She weaves yet another masterful spell in Six-Gun Snow White, utterly transforming the tale into something new and beautiful, but also unbearably dark.

A dark edge to her fairy tales may in fact be one of Valente’s trademarks.  Even in her middle-grade series she introduces twisted souls and the hard loss of Faerie to those who have spent their allotted time. Her adult novels go even farther, however, filling the stories with so much pain that one sometimes wonders if there is any magic left at all.  I often suspect that it is Valente’s prose more than her content that provides the magic–her words have a sense of rightness to them, whether they are sharp-edged and beautiful or even humorous.  For instance, one of my favorite quotes from this book reads, “Mr. H traveled to the Montana Territory on a horse so new and fine her tail squeaked.”  But always the darkness lurks beneath and I’m not always sure that this is my kind of fairy tale.

Darkness, of course, has always been a part of Faerie.  I believe in Valente’s worlds while she is spinning her tale.  But Deathless and Six-Gun Snow White both lost me at the end, where the story drops off into that lukewarm despair characteristic of many a piece of literary fiction.  The characters just continue on in resignation.  Fairy tales, it seems to me, should end with a bang, either in hope or despair.  This vague continuance of misery just doesn’t feel right.

Still, Valente’s prose draws me in, as so her richly developed worlds.  I love in particular how she matches her prose to these worlds.  Not many authors experiment so freely with their style and it’s always a treat to see how Valente will challenge herself next.  Even though her endings disappoint me, I’m ready to go with her on a new adventure at any time.

*This post is participating in Witch Week at The Emerald City!

Krysta 64

Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis (ARC Review)

Spinning StarlightInformation

Goodreads: Spinning Starlight
Series: None
Source: Netgalley
Published: October 6, 2015


Spinning Starlight is an imaginative, compelling retelling of “The Wild Swans” that seamlessly integrates technology into the traditional tale.

Liddi Jantzen is the heiress to the most influential tech company in the Seven Points; she only wishes she were as clever at inventing tech as her older brothers are, so she can earn the role.  But when all of her brothers go missing at the same time, trapped in the conduits between the seven planets, it is up to her–the girl with the “checked genes”–to find a way to save them.  The final catch: the person who imprisoned them placed a vocal imprint in Liddi’s throat and if she speaks about the plan to anyone, her whole family will die.

In addition to telling a fast-paced, captivating story about a girls’ race to save her brother, and maybe even the whole galaxy, Lewis manages to pack a lot of personality and character development into Liddi, even when she isn’t allowed to use her voice.  Tech obviously plays a large role in allowing Liddi alternate means of communication, nicely showing off the ways in which technology can help improve lives, but Liddi is also very active in wrenching back control of her own story and her own voice.  Readers will love this savvy and kind-hearted heroine.

The brothers, even though there are a lot of them and they’re often kind of busy being trapped and all that, are also all roundly development.  By making them seem as real and important as the characters who get most of the page time, Lewis makes sure her readers are as invested in the mission to save them as Liddi is.  It is also clear why Liddi would be willing to risk so much for the family that had always been there for her.

The cool, futuristic setting adds a fresh face to the fairy tale Spinning Starlight is based on.  Lewis clearly has put a lot of thought into the tech and the general mechanics of how her science fiction world work.  She grounds it, however, by including some of the traditional elements science fiction often lacks; each planet has a clear history and culture, and even as people are surrounded by technology they often harken back to their past and their old religions.

Spinning Starlight is a breathtakingly original take on a heartwarming story about the importance of family and believing in yourself.  Recommended.Briana

Deathless by Catherynne Valente


Goodreads: Deathless
Series:Deathless #1
Source: Library
Published: 2011


Over the years Marya Morevna has watched three birds turn into three husbands, one for each of her sisters.  Now she waits for her own bird to rescue her from the cramped living quarters and the constant hunger that have become her existence.  But Marya has not prepared herself to receive the attentions of Kocshei the Deathless.  Can she rewrite the story Koschei has played out so many times or will she become just another plaything for the Tsar of Life to throw away?


In this expansive novel Catherynne Valente utterly transforms the Russian tale “The Death of Koschei the Deathless” from a standard story of a captive girl rescued by her lover to a sweeping saga of love, death, and war, all centered, not on a helpless maiden but on a hardened warrior woman.  A world of magic blends seamlessly with the Russia of the early 1900s, making readers believe in the fantastic, but also revealing the stark truth that magic cannot save a person from reality.

Valente’s story, much like her protagonist, begins innocently.  Marya Morevna witnesses a bird transform into a husband, one for each of her sisters, three times.  (Three, as readers of fairy tales know, is a magical number.)  These handsome suitors bring with them the promise of happily-ever-after–wealth, food, security.  At first Marya does not appreciate such promises.  She revels only in the magic, the delightful knowledge of having seen the curtain between two worlds torn away.  Her longing for what magic can provide for her, rather than her simple delight in the magic itself, is the beginning of her transformation.

For Marya Morevna in this story proves no weak maiden waiting for rescue from her beloved husband Ivan.  Instead she is a girl possessed of a fiery spirit longing for change and adventure, a girl who will find herself changed into a woman by war.  For the unbearable truth of this novel is that magic changes nothing.  Jealousy, hunger, pain, war, and death all coexist with magic.  Even the party slogans that characterize life in the Soviet Union have found their way into the mythical land of Buyan, and that the creatures there form committees to file complains, practice their interrogation skills, and threaten to inform on each other.  Life in Buyan with the Tsar of Life will prove nearly as painful to Marya as life in Leningrad.

Of course, in Koschei Marya believes that she has found something that makes the pain worthwhile.  Her love for him keeps her fighting his war even while she believes she can go back to a more innocent life if she left.  Yet her reasoning never resonated with me.  Koschei, after all, has spirited away countless girls.  His sister crudely informs Marya that being “deathless” does not mean Koschei has no physical desires.  And he continues to pursue other partners to fulfill those desires once he marries Marya.  Their open marriage read to me as being one of lust, not of love.  They never meet each other without tearing at one another and speaking of their passion.  They never have a conversation about what the other means to them, never indicate that they appreciate each other for qualities other than the physical.  Marya thinks she loves Koschei, but the two never acted in a way that convinced me that either loved the other at all.  And that made the story fall flat.

For how can I feel for Marya being torn between two worlds if all that keeps her in Buyan is a sleeping partner? On the other hand, how was I supposed to wish Marya to go off with Ivan to lead a more innocent life (as if innocence still existed then with the war!) if she is already married?  How can I feel her pain about either Ivan or Koschei when she does not seem to love either of them, but only what they represent, what they can provide?  This book is in many ways a romance, but, for me, the most powerful parts dealt with suffering and the loss of innocence, and not with love at all.  In this book, marriage is, as the characters repeatedly say, nothing more than a fight for domination.  The kind of love that seeks the good of the other person seems not to be present at all.  And if love is not present, how can romance be?

In the end, I could not love Deathless as I wanted to.  It proves too uneven a book, uncertain about its center.  It wants to be about love, but says more about death and war.  It takes an interesting look at magic by postulating that magic really changes nothing, but at times abandons that thought to focus on a romance that made no sense to me.  I still cannot decide.  Is the book trying to say that love can make even suffering bearable, that love is still worthwhile?  Or is it just a depressing look at the unending misery that is life, no matter how one tries to escape?

Krysta 64