My first entry for Fairy Tale Frenzy is a book that swept me off my feet. Despite some reservations and caveats, I wholeheartedly enjoyed this fun romp through the land of fairy tales and ate up the second book right after (review coming very soon).
Alethea Kontis does something that I suspect many other YA authors try to do but fail. Write a story that can be read even by small children (no sex, no swearing, almost no violence) but that is still more than enjoyable to adults.
Published by: Harcourt, 2012
Hardback: 320 pages
Series: The Woodcutter Sisters #1
My rating: 7.5/10
First sentence: My name is Sunday Woodcutter, and I am doomed to a happy life.
- The Frog Prince
- and some others that lead into spoiler territory
It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.
When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.
The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past – and hers?
Normally, I would avoid a book with a cover like this. My prejudice against certain Young Adult books – especially the ones involving romance – may not be completely unfounded but it is certainly unfair to a whole range of books. So I jumped over my shadow and picked this up on a whim. I had just read a few stories in my Annotated Classic Fairy Tales and was in just the right mood.
This is ostensibly a retelling of “The Frog Prince” and “Cinderella”, but Alethea Kontis manages to sneak in references to a ton of other fairy tales. Part of the fun was discovering these little easter eggs that, while not adding much to the plot, filled me with glee.
Sunday is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. She and her sisters are named after the days of the week which I found a confusing and silly little gimmick, but hey, it’s better than the billionth Cindy Ella, Daniella, Ella, Rella, and what have you. Each of the sisters has a gift (or a curse?) and we are introduced to them all at the very beginning of the book when Sunday tells a frog about her family. She and this frog named Grumble become friends and, after three days – I repeat: THREE days – apparently that friendship has turned into True Love (capital letters, Shrek-and-Fiona-kiss True Love!). Sunday kisses her frog goodbye every day but has to leave so quickly on the third day that she doesn’t notice him turning back into Prince Rumbold, a man her family despises. Because they have a history.
Which leads me to the first reason I loved this book. Both Sunday and her prince get a back story. While Sunday spills the beans on her family history right in the first chapter, discovering Rumbold’s past and personality is a slower affair and much more satisfying. It’s a lovely change to have fairy tale characters feel like actual people. Rumbold struggles with remembering who he was before his enchantement but his closest friends stay true to him no matter what and make him all the more likable. They also lightened the mood with their banter whenever Rumbold needed it most. I admit I have a very soft spot in my heart for Rumbold’s buddies.
Sunday’s family seems to be entirely made up of fairy tales. Some sisters, and indeed their parents, fall into their roles easily while others are less transparent. Figuring out who is who and how they would fit into which fairy tale just added to the reading pleasure. I also found it refreshing that most of them behaved like teenagers. Sunday may be a good-hearted young woman but she also has moments of selfishness and angst, she doesn’t always know how to handle her feelings, she is a little naive. All of this makes her relatable to anyone who has been through that teenage period of hormones and insanity. Saturday is the sort of trope-heavy kick-ass sister who chops wood with her father and brother, Friday is basically Beth from Little Women, and Wednesday is the quiet, mopey poet who hides away in her tower room all day. But not all is quite as simple as it seems at first glance. Despite fitting the classic fairy tale bill, this family sticks together and their love for each other – although shown in different ways from different family members – was tangible and gave me a wonderful feeling of coming home after a long trip. This feeling of home and warmth and family is what Alethea Kontis does best. I have, in the meantime, read the second novel in the series, and can happily report that the trend continues. If you don’t fall in love with the Woodcutter family, there is no hope for you, my friends.
I had qualms about the romance because it all happens so fast. Once Rumbold is restored to his human form and the king throws three balls in his honor, however, I slowly started believing in it. Sunday and Rumbold’s “second first meeting” was much more romantic and charming than the brief descriptions of their conversations when he was still a frog. Now, Rumbold is already in love with Sunday, so it isn’t too far fetched for him to fall even more in love with her during the balls. But Sunday, believing her frog friend vanished or dead, falling so quickly for a new man strained my suspension of disbelief.
Despite the almost-insta-love (which should be forgiven in a fairy tale, if nowhere else) I couldn’t put the book down. The writing style ranges from simple to beautifully poetic but it always stays engaging. For someone like me, who prefers dark fairy tale retellings, to be so enthralled in a clean story without any swearing, sex, or violence, is all the more surprising. There is a brief scene in the end involving a bit of blood – villains need to be vanquished after all – but other than that, this book is suitable for children and adults of all ages.
I don’t quite know how it happened but I have fallen in love with the Woodcutters, Prince Rumbold and his friends. The second book, Hero, will focus on Saturday, and the third – coming out in 2015 – on Friday. I hope Alethea Kontis will get to tell each sister’s tale and then add a bonus story for their changeling brother Trix. That kid is too great not to get his own novel.
MY RATING: 7.5 – Very good
The Woodcutter Sisters: