Nameless by Lili St. Crow

Goodreads: Nameless 
Series: Tales of Beauty and Madness #1
Source: ARC

NOTE: I would like to apologize for reviewing this so far ahead of the release date, both to readers because they cannot read it yet, and to the author, for building buzz at a perhaps unhelpful time.  However, it is the only fairytale retelling I currently have to read for the read-along.  To make up for this, I will schedule a post on April 4, reminding everyone how awesome I think Nameless is!

Goodreads Summary: A dark and eerie retelling of Snow White from Lili St. Crow,

New York Times bestselling author of the Strange Angels

Sixteen-year-old Camille doesn’t remember her life before she was adopted by the powerful Vultusino family—the missing childhood years that left her scarred and silent. Now she lives a life
of luxury, protected by the supernatural Mafia Vultusinos, specially Nico, her adopted brother.

But Cami knows that she is not really Family. She is a mortal with a past that lies buried in trauma. And it’s not until a mysterious boy approaches her and reveals scars of his own that Cami begins
to uncover the secrets of her past . . . to find out where she comes from and what danger she now finds herself in.

ReviewNameless is the most gripping and original take on “Snow White” that I have read.  The Disney version, with its silly dwarves and cute woodland critters, makes it tempting to approach the tale with something whimsical and light-hearted in mind, even in spite of the more gruesome aspects of the plot.  Or, unless you are Tolkien, the presence of dwarves alone can become problematic.  Serious, solemn dwarves have not been done better, though other authors such as C. S. Lewis have of course written them well.

Lili St. Crow laughs in the face of any complications.  First, she takes the story of “Snow White” and chooses to be inspired by it, rather than simply modernizing it or fleshing it out.  Thus, the family that takes Cami in is not a group of dwarves, silly or serious, or even a fraternity or whatever crazy sort of half-knit group one might suspect to see in a retelling.  Rather, Cami is adopted by the Family—a literal family of beings that are part mafia, part vampiric, and part truly decent people.  Things get serious, and creative, fast in Nameless.

As one might expect from all the hints about Family, there is some great original world-building happening in Nameless.  In the beginning things are a bit hazy, with a plethora of unexplained references to jacks, minotaurs, Family, the Twist, mere-humans, et cetera.  Eventually something of a solid picture begins to form.  And eventually one realizes Nameless is set in an alternative future of our world, which came from an alternative past.  It sounds as if things were the same until sometime around the Industrial Revolution, when something happened that leaked a bit of magic into the world.  Then things went crazy.  It is all laid out for readers interested in connecting our history with the history of the characters.

The one aspect that might be characterized as a weakness is Cami herself.  She is on the whole a fantastic character, well-written and quite admirable in many respects.  She gets into trouble she could easily have avoided, but unlike a number of YA protagonists, this is not simply because she is foolish or thinks she knows better than all her friends and ignores her advice.  Cami chooses with open eyes to walk into danger because she truly thinks it will help.  That conclusion may have come from some poor reasoning, but it still sets Cami apart as a strong young woman.

Before this climactic scene, however, Cami likes to dwell in self-doubt.  She is not really Family.  She does not really belong.  No one really loves her.  I grant this thought-process could have been much worse; there is certainly a line of “annoying self-hating character who blindly believes everyone hates her in spite of constant indisputable evidence” that St. Crow does not cross—but only barely.  Cami also comes across as a little too dependent and even young at times, but, again, St. Crow stopped just short of making this a truly annoying issue.  On the whole, Cami is awesome.

As is the book.  The world has magic, but this is not high fantasy.  Perhaps in some ways it is like magical realism.  Magic is permeating our world, but it is slightly subtle and somewhat normal.  People are magic, but the plot is not.  There is certainly no cheesy enchanted food here; things are much more real. The effect is a slightly creepy, deliciously mystery atmosphere that fits St. Crow’s story perfectly.  And I want more!

(Interestingly, Cami’s best friends have elements of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood about them that are fun to catch.  Will the next books be about them?)

CONTENT NOTE:  There is cursing, but not more than one might hear in an average public high school hallway.  Cami also whips off her shirt at one point, but in context the scene is actually less scandalous than it sounds here.

Publication Date: April 4, 2013  (Penguin—Razorbill)

Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen

Goodreads: Snow in Summer: The Tale of an American Snow White

Summary: A retelling of “Snow White” set in West Virginia, featuring a young girl named Snow in Summer.

Review: Snow in Summer sounds as if it has an interesting premise. As a retelling of “Snow White” in West Virginia, it leads readers to expect a unique, more contemporary twist on the fairytale, perhaps like Suzanne Weyn’s retellings of “The Frog Prince” (Water Song) and “Rumpelstiltskin” (The Crimson Thread). Unfortunately, Snow in Summer is rather dull and barely draws on its setting at all.

If not for the summary, it might be difficult to tell that the book is in fact set in West Virginia. Summer might mention the fact once or twice, and she is clearly living in some mountains where it is much more common to be Protestant than to be Catholic—but none of this adds anything to the story. Summer’s father has a unique connection with the land, which contributes to the plot, but it is fair to say that Yolen could have put him anywhere with enough land to farm on—a fantasy land, a real one, a different country or a different time period—and the book would barely change.

It is important, however, that her father has this land because most of the book is actually about him, at least indirectly. The book is an enormously long set-up explaining his grief over his wife’s death, how he then meet’s Summer’s stepmother, and how the stepmother plots to destroy him so she can take the land for herself. Summer narrates all this, but she is a rather passive character. The parts of the book not about her father tend to be her excuses for why she allowed her stepmother to take advantage of her—basically that she was just so young and did not know any better.

The whole “Snow White” part kicks in only at the very end of the story. Summer encounters the magic mirror a few times, but the attempted murder, little men, death, and marriage occur very quickly all bunched together at the end of the book. It is extremely unsatisfying. And although there is a marriage, there is no romance at all. Several years magically pass without mention in the book between the point where Summer meets her future husband and when she actually marries. (Incidentally, Summer loves fairytales and even mentions “Snow White” at one point; this is very disconcerting to readers, but strangely meaningless to her since she falls for the old woman at the door act anyway.)

Snow in Summer is essentially a lot of set-up and very little substance. Yolen tries to make the tale original with the stepmother’s unique form of magic, but the explanations are so vague it is unclear what exactly this is, and with the setting, but she does not take advantage of it. The book is rather disappointing.

Published: 2011

8: The Previously Untold Story of the Previously Unknown Eighth Dwarf by Michael Mullin

Goodreads: 8: The Previously Untold Story of the Previously Unknown Eighth Dwarf
Source: Received from author

Summary: Creepy lives with the seven dwarves of Snow White fame, but has never quite fit in.  The others find his habits peculiar and even a little disturbing.  Finally they lock him in the basement to get rid of him for good.  There, unknown to everyone, Creepy plays a pivotal role in ensuring that Snow White gets her happily-ever-after.

Review: Mullin begins this original retold fairy tale by reminding readers of its roots: oral tradition passed down through the generations.  He simultaneously connects his audience with the rich history of retellings throughout the years and introduces a new chapter in that history.   He invites the audience to become a part of that history with him by reading his story and reflecting upon what a “true” tale is—is it, as the narrator suggests, what really happened, or is it something else entirely?  Readers will probably detect truth in this tale not because they believe an eighth dwarf really belongs in the story, but because his presence adds a dimension to the story often forgotten in whitewashed versions: darkness exists and can be beaten, but it seldom allows a complete victory.

Even as Mullin proposes to restore to the story of Snow White some of the original darkness, however, he calls to mind childhood versions of fairy tales by writing his in verse.  The rhyming format mirrors nursery songs, giving to the story an air of familiarity even as the author introduces new elements.  Darker themes such as lust and loss intertwine with the innocent recollections of childhood, giving readers the sense that the story has grown with them; once they knew only the whitewashed versions, but now they know the full account.  This feels fitting and true since most know from experience that good and bad often mingle.

The snarky observations made by Creepy from his vantage point in the basement add to the readers’ sense of participation in the tale.  They work almost as asides from the author, saying “You knew all along, or would have if you’d thought about it, that this part of the story lacks some logic.  But we’ll go along with it.”  Such observations lend an air of levity to the retelling, reminding readers that, even with the darkness, this story is meant to be fun.

An amusing retelling of “Snow White,” 8 stands apart from other such attempts with its wit and imagination.  Though a quick read, it achieves surprising depth with its look at the role of fairy tales and the roles of the elements contained.  Mullin paints the character of Creepy with sympathy despite his name, illustrating that good, as well as bad, can be found in unexpected places.  This story will surely appeal to all those who love retold fairy tales.

Published: 2010

Look for Mullin’s follow-up The Plight and Plot of Princess Penny.  The introduction can be found on the author’s Goodreads page.