FTF Book Review: Alethea Kontis – Hero

After Enchanted did to me what its title promised (if more with the Woodcutter family than with the romance) I couldn’t keep my hands off the second book in the series.

heroHERO
by Alethea Kontis

Published by: Harcourt Books, 2013
Hardcover: 304 pages
Series: The Woodcutter Sisters #2
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: “Oh, hooray! It’s you!” The airy voice burbled like the brook, but there were no women in Peregrine’s traveling party save the one he currently pursued, the bright-eyed temptress who haunted his every thought.

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Fairy Tales Retold

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Synopsis

Rough and tumble Saturday Woodcutter thinks she’s the only one of her sisters without any magic — until the day she accidentally conjures an ocean in the backyard. With her sword in tow, Saturday sets sail on a pirate ship, only to find herself kidnapped and whisked off to the top of the world. Is Saturday powerful enough to kill the mountain witch who holds her captive and save the world from sure destruction? And, as she wonders grumpily, “Did romance have to be part of the adventure?” As in Enchanted, readers will revel in the fragments of fairy tales that embellish this action-packed story of adventure and, yes, romance.

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Review

Saturday Woodcutter is the “normal” one – or so she thinks. Why she would get that idea, after magically changing her axe into a sword, is anyone’s guess. Now that her youngest sister is married to the prince and has left home, she is the last of the sisters to remain home with their mother, father and brothers. As in the first novel, Trix – the litte adopted changeling – stole my heart with everything he did. Alethea Kontis has often spoken of a novella in the making, chronicling the events that Trix encounters while Saturday is off hero-ing.

It is when Thursday arrives on her pirate ship that Saturday embarks on her hero’s journey. And that’s when it gets really interesting. Just like the first novel in the Woodcutter series, the story is told from two perspectives: Saturday’s and Peregrine’s.

Now Peregrine is a character to my liking. He has been cursed by a young witch to take her place and work for her mother, so she herself can roam the kingdoms and have fun. This means that Peregrine is changed from a duke into someone who looks like a young girl (although he keeps his penis, as he tells us early on). However, he is now stuck in an androgynous body pretending to be a girl which takes some getting used to.

hero cover detail

There was this one moment when the characters themselves realise that here are a cross-dressing duke (Peregrine) who is thought to be the witch’s daughter, and a short-haired, muscly, tall girl (Saturday) who gets confused for her legendary brother Jack and I cannot tell you how awesome that scene was. Peregrine wears skirts and looks rather feminine, thanks to the curse. Saturday, chopping wood all day and generally enjoying fighting lessons over the traditionally feminine pastimes, has a stronger build that makes it easy to think she may be a boy.

I loved how Alethea Kontis incorporated this exploration of gender roles into her otherwise lighthearted novel. In their respective POV chapters, however, we do get to see that both are suffering in their own way by the expectations of others and how their own physical appearance strays from “the norm”. But Peregrine and Saturday take each other the way they are. No matter Saturday’s muscular build, no matter Peregrine’s wearing skirts and dresses. That is not what defines them as people and it doesn’t mean they are not beautiful.

However – hair and clothing aside – when these two collide, disaster is imminent. But so is incredible fun, hilarity, and tons and tons of bickering. Have I mentioned how much I love bickering couples? When they can’t decide whether to kiss or punch each other, that’s exactly when I fall into the story and want to punch them myself. And then make them kiss.
Their romance is more humerous and also more difficult than that of Sunday and her frog prince. Peregrine may be cursed to work for the witch but he is betrothed to a young girl who’s waiting for him at home. And Saturday’s general aversion to romance does its own part.

The plot was a little weaker than in Enchanted, which may be due to the fact that it focuses so heavily on only two people and one setting. Saturday is removed from the rest of her family for most of the novel. And while she is saving the world, helped by Peregrine, his ever-changing manticore friend, and the occasional surprising creature, the driving force behind the story is, for a long while, the romance. Like in Enchanted, I thoroughly enjoyed finding out about Peregrine’s past, how he came to be trapped with the witch at the Top of the World. And just like in Enchanted I was rather surprised at how easily Saturday fell in love. It takes longer than three days but then, Saturday was much less inclined towards romance than her younger sister Sunday. So I’m not sure the romantic aspect holds up. And yet again, I find myself excusing these flaws because the books are so damn enjoyable.

I alhero pb coverso liked that the author chose to retell (part of) a lesser known fairy tale. If you know the Norwegian fairy tale in question – “The Master Maid” – certain scenes will be even more amusing, as Saturday struggles with the household chores given by the evil witch. I did not know the tale prior to reading this and I’m always happy when people introduce me to new fairy and folk tales. The second fairy tale used for Hero is “Petronella” (another one I had to look up first) which was written in the 1970s as a feminist antidote to classical fairy tale princesses. The two lesser known tales go surprisingly well together and I for my part have already ordered a used copy of The Practical Princess and other Liberating Fairy Tales by Jay Williams which contains the abovementioned “Petronella”.

Hero may not have hit home as hard as its predecessor but the consequences of Saturday’s actions leave a lot of room for the upcoming books. I cannot wait to find out what Friday has been up to during the events of Hero. In Dearest, Friday is part of a retelling of “The Six Swans” which not only suits her character but also makes me insanely excited for the book to finally come out. Is it 2015 yet?

RATING: 7/10  –  Very good

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The Woodcutter Sisters:

  1. Enchanted
  2. Hero
  3. Dearest

woodcutter sisters series

Websites of Interest:

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