Elle Katherine White – Heartstone

Despite utterly disliking Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I found silly, unfunny, and unoriginal, I had high hopes for this new take on the Jane Austen classic, featuring mythical creatures and a dragon rider Darcy. As a retelling, it wasn’t great, but at the end, the author’s original ideas took center stage and turned this into a quite pleasant reading experience.

heartstoneHEARTSTONE
by Elle Katherine White

Published by: Harper Voyager, 2017
Ebook: 352 pages
Standalone
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: I’d never seen an angry hobgoblin before.

Continue reading

Ian Doescher – William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

I resisted this a long time, suspecting it may be just as cheap a rip-off as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was (never managed to finish that book…), but a friend convinced me that this is not merely a script of the movies made to rhyme but actually a bit more clever than that. While I don’t think this is a masterpiece of literature, it was truly fun to read and it’s a beautiful physical book to have on my shelf.

verily-a-new-hope

William Shakespeare’s STAR WARS:
VERILY, A NEW HOPE
by Ian Doescher

Published by:
Hardback: 174 pages
Series: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars #4
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: It is a period of civil war.

MAY THE VERSE BE WITH YOU!
Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ‘Tis a tale told by fretful Droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying… pretty much everything.
Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

divider1

I am really glad I bought this book. It came in a lovely slipcase including the other two books in the trilogy (they may be numbered 4 through 6 but who’s the publisher kidding?) and it looks fantastic on my shelf. Apart from the obvious good looks of this book, the content offered some interesting surprises as well.

The story is the one we all know and love. Princess Leia hiding the secret Death Star plans in R2-D2, who is trying to get them to Obi-Wan. Luke Skywalker picks up R2 and C-3PO and gets dragged into this big adventure involving a dark-clad man with a breathing problem, furry co-pilots and a damn sexy Han Solo. There is nothing new here, story wise, so don’t expect any extra scenes or background goodies – although there was a quite funny comment about who shot first (Han did! It’s always been Han!).

So what makes this book worthy of your time is mostly the fun of discovering famous quotes Shakespeare-ified. Whether it’s “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” or Han’s nicknames for Leia, seeing them in wrapped in iambic pentameter actually made me giggle. However, it was Luke that got to me in this book more than he ever did in the movies. I was genuinely surprised by how well his yearning for adventure came through. In the movie, I always thought of Luke as somewhat of a brat, you know, a whiny teenager who wants to leave home to lead his own life, never mind family responsibilities. But in Doescher’s version, Luke’s speeches actually touched me and conveyed in how much pain he is because he’s stuck on Tatooine (which, okay, I get it, it’s a pretty shitty planet).

There are also a few little gimmicks that made the book worthwhile. R2 may still speak droid (“bleep” and so on) but there are a few asides to us, the audience, in English. It’s nothing you didn’t already expect R2 to think but it’s nice to have the little guy actually get to talk in our language for once and voice his annoyance at his companion droid. Chewie is still Chewie and all we get from him is his famous growing/howling noise.

Even if this book weren’t as entertaining as it ended up being, I would have been happy about it just for the illustrations. Like the cover design, they show the characters in immediately recognisable shape, except wearing old-timey garb. Vader especially cracked me up, dressed in his suit (complete with breathing apparatus) plus super fabulous fur coat and puffy sleeves. Seriously, just look at this:

There are many more fantastic illustrations, some of which made me laugh (the Cantina band), others which were more of a nod to Shakespeare than Star Wars (Luke holding a Stormtrooper helmet much like Hamlet’s Yorick skull), and others still that I’m not spoiling for you. Let’s just say, Jabba makes an appearance in all his Shakespearean glory.

The one thing – and this was to be expected – that simply can’t be done properly in this medium, is the space battles. Whenever description is needed, the choir enters to set the stage for us. In the case of the final battle at the Death Star, the author even acknowledges that it’s impossible to reproduce this scene on a stage (or in a written play), so we just have to put a bit more effort into our readerly imagination. That’s totally okay and there was no way it could have been done differently, but of course it also made that last battle feel much less epic. When all you have to go on is the rebel’s comm messages, some randomly shouting “I’m hit” and others coming to their companions’ rescue, that’s just not very exciting if you don’t see the fight. But it was the only real shortcoming of this version of Star Wars, for which I will gladly forgive the author.

I’m sure a lot of work went into these books and they’re not just the money-grabbing merchandise that they first appear to be. There’s not much to discover here that’s new but if you like Star Wars, you’ll probably get some enjoyment out of this. I quite liked it.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Pretty good

divider1

Okay, I can’t resist. Have another picture:

verily-a-new-hope-illustrations

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Christina Henry – Alice

I love Alice in Wonderland. Seeing its familiar characters used in different ways sounded really good. The only adaptation/retelling I’ve read so far was the less-than-stellar Looking Glass Wars. Christina Henry started out her horror version of Alice’s crazy adventures really well, only to lose steam along the way.

aliceALICE
by Christina Henry

Published by: Penguin, 2015
Ebook: 304 pages
Series: Alice #1
My rating: 5,5/10

First sentence: If she moved her head all the way up against the wall and tilted it to the left she could just see the edge of the moon through the bars.

In a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside.
In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood…
Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.
Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful.
And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.

divider1

Alice lives in a mental asylum with only her neighbour Hatcher for company, whom she talks to through a little mouse hole in the wall. When the asylum burns down, however, and the two escape into the city, their memories of a life prior to being locked up come back and reveal all the horrors of who they really are.

Christina Henry has a lot of talent for building up tension. Alice and Hatcher are both suffering amnesia in the beginning of the book, but snippets come back to them, leaving the reader intrigued (and shocked!) about their past. Alice’s story is not that hard to guess but its initial horror almost drowns in the filthy pit of evil that is the Old City and the inhabitants we meet along the journey to come.

This version of Wonderland – or this secondary world based on Wonderland – is separated into  New City and  Old City. New City is where rich people live, where Alice grew up and was declared insane and locked away. Old City is the dirty underbelly, where – and here’s a big, gigantic problem with this book – every single man is a rapist, murderer, thief, cannibal, torturer or some other terrible thing. Seriously, not a single person is just a normal human being. As for the ones who don’t get a chance to be evil, they are victims of the very men desribed above. In fact, Christina Henry’s focus (obsession?) on rape and torture goes so far that any shock value these scenes should have had, flies right out the window. Whenever Alice and Hatcher reach a new place, I came to expect it to be (A) littered with bodies, or (B) full of naked girls being raped or bought or sold or kept as slaves. Also – it’s only ever girls. Nobody trades with young men, apparently.

So yeah, I get it, this is meant to be a dark story. But the amount of blood, gore, and disgusting torture devices was just too much. If there is nothing to contrast the horror, and no time spent on showing some variety in the Old City’s inhabitants, then I’m left with the impression that it was put in there as gratuitous shock-material. None of it, however, holds any power because it is so obviously put in there only to be shocking. The plot would have worked much better if some of the evil gang lords of Old City weren’t so very evil, and so very obvious about it. They are not characters, they are stand-ins. Little bosses before you reach the end boss. With the one exception of Cheshire, all the baddies Alice and Hatcher have to defeat are so evil that our heroes don’t have to have any qualms or remorse about brutally murdering them. Why bother with questions of morality when everything is so wonderfully black and white. I do have to say that Cheshire was a ray of light in that you can’t ever be sure if he is good or evil, on Alice’s side or on that of some underground boss – or simply working for his own gain. He’s one of the reasons I kept on reading.

The second reason is Hatcher. As you may guess from the name, this is the Mad Hatter, named Hatcher because of his favored weapon. He was a multi-layered character with a sad past, fighting with bouts of insanity, battling against his hunger for killing. In Hatcher, Christina Henry actually shows off some of her talent. Unfortunately, she didn’t grant Alice that favor…

Another problem with this book was the pacing. It starts out so good! Thrown into the dark, I wanted to find out how this Wonderland works, who is who, where characters were hiding or what new role they have taken on. Christina Henry scatters her references beautifully, some very obvious, others more hidden, and it was a joy to discover them.  But what kept me reading was the threat of the Jabberwocky as well as an interest in Hatcher and his memories. There is so much build-up to every single revelation or boss fight (I’m just calling it that now) – and then the author just lets us down.

Alice and Hatcher travel a lot and their journeys from place A to place B take quite a while. The good thing is, this time is spent showing us more of their characters (mostly Hatcher), the bad thing is – if you make me read 50 pages of travelogue (interrupted by attempted rape and consecutive murder), then at least make the big fight worthwile. But every single time they reach a destination, they face their current opponent and you’d expect an intricately choreographed fight scene – or at least a clever bit of magic – then everything is over before you know it. Unspectacular, uninteresting, unoriginal.

Which all leads back to Alice being Alice. The fact that all the female characters in this book are either sex slaves, caged up, tortured, or dead, is bad enough. But the protagonist is the most passive creature in this story. Alice is dragged along by Hatcher (who is much more interesting, simply by merit of doing stuff), follows other people, does as she is told, and when she finally does act, it is by accident. Only in two scenes – I counted – does she do anything pro-active. And these scenes, you guessed it, take about three sentences to be over. Whoop-dee-do!

And then there comes the final, climactic moment of catharsis – when Alice gets to face her own torturer – and she STILL doesn’t do anything. After that, it’s time to meet the end boss and, hopefully defeat him. That’s the whole point of this story, after all. But the climax is no climax at all, the final fight isn’t a fight (not even a struggle), and the ending is as predictable as uninteresting.

I am really sad that a book that started out with so much potential drifted off into gratuitous grimdark territory, losing sight of its story and just going for gore and blood. I may give Christina Henry a second chance with the next book in this series but if that’s a mess as well, my patience is over. The only reason I finished this one is because Hatcher was an excellent character and the references to Alice in Wonderland were actually very well done.

MY RATING: 5,5/10 – Meh! Great beginning turned very sour.

divider1

Second opinions:

Sarah Pinborough – Beauty

Goodbye, fairy tale retellings. Hello, crazy meltingpot of awesome! Ostentatiously, this is Sarah Pinborough’s take on Sleeping Beauty, but in actuality it’s  a mix of all sorts of fairytales. Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Rumpelstiltskin, and Rapunzel are just the ones I picked up on. Still, I can’t complain. My lust for fairy tales has been satisfied and I am ready to move on to space ships again.

beauty pinboroughBEAUTY
by Sarah Pinborough

Published by: Gollancz, 2013
Hardcover: 208 pages
Series: Tales from the Kingdoms #3
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: It was a warm spring and the king and queen took their breakfast on the balcomy outside their private apartments, enjoying the fresh air without the burden of any sort of protocol.

Beauty is a beautifully illustrated retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story which takes all the elements of the classic fairytale that we love (the handsome prince, the ancient curse, the sleeping girl and, of course, the haunting castle) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires. It’s fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of ONCE UPON A TIME, GRIMM, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and more.

divider1
Dear book blurb writers. Now hold on just a second! Comparing Pinborough’s books to Once Upon a Time or – worse! – Snow White and the Huntsman (yeah, I tortured myself with that shit) is a huge insult. Once Upon A Time is fluffy and silly and caters to the Disney-generation for season one, then turns to crap in season two. Snow White and the Huntsman, apart from the atrocious acting on the part of whatsherface-twilight-girl, is a badly-told, boring story that has next to nothing in common with the original. There. Rant over.

In Pinborough’s version of Sleeping Beauty, we return to that despicable prince from the previous two books but we also travel back in time (see, I don’t even need a TARDIS to do it). Before he fell in love with the poisoned Snow White, the prince was restless and his parents decided he needed an adventure. Legends from the neighbouring kingdom have reached the palace. The capital is surrounded completely by a dense forest and nobody has entered the city in almost a hundred years. So prince and huntsman/bodyguard trek over to said kingdom and pick up a girl in a red cloak on the way. Petra just wanted to bring some food to her granny’s house, but secretly, she is entranced by the howling of the wolves that roam the forest nearby.

Long story short, the trio arrives at the citybeauty2, everybody’s asleep, the prince kisses Beauty and off we go. This is where it starts getting awesome. Because as familiar as the set-up sounds, the curse, the kingdom, Beauty herself, and the reasons for her enchantment are nothing like what you’d expect. The first two books were pretty sexy, this one adds a layer of creepiness to it all. There is one scene in particular that includes quite graphic descriptions of an orgy. I read this on a train ride and never have I been so grateful that people don’t know what it is I’m consuming when I read. All they see is a girl reading a book.

As much as I still love Pinborough’s portrayal of characters, her language and ideas, I do have some gripes with number 3 in the Tales from the Kingdoms. I enjoy messed-up fairy tales and crossovers, but there was really no reason for Red Riding Hood or the wolf to show up. They didn’t add to the story, they felt stuck in for the sake of another fairy tale. Rumpelstilstkin was a nice addition and he fits so neatly into this story, I’m surprised nobody else has come up with it yet. Sarah Pinborough also sets up some ideas for future novellas in the series (Fingers crossed! I definitely want more.). But for a 200-page book, it dragged along a bit, especially in the beginning. There were frequent shifts in perspective between the huntsman (sigh), the prince (ugh), and Petra (Red Riding Hood). For such a short story, one POV character or two are really enough.

So this was my least favorite in the series but still one of the better retellings I’ve read. See? It’s so simple. Don’t make your fairy tale retellings into mushy, tame, YA romances. Take all the darkness and the grit and the sex and the blood from actual fairy tales, put a feminist spin on them, make the lovely prince a bumbling idiot, and you have a fantastic modern fairy story.

If the author does decide to write more stories in the same vein, sign me up. After all, we still haven’t read about Rapunzel or the Goose Girl or – gasp – Bluebeard! I’ll read a Sarah Pinborough Bluebeard any day.

divider1

Sarah Pinborough – Charm

So yeah… I admit I picked up Pinborough’s novellas because they are blissfully short and I wanted to reach my Goodreads reading challenge goal for the year. Call me a cheat, I don’t even care. These stories are awesome and I’m eating them up. I should also warn you: I have done my very best to express myself through words only here, but there comes a point when I find myself needing gifs to help me along. Because reasons!

charmCHARM
by Sarah Pinborough

Published by: Gollancz, 2013
Hardcover: 224 pages
Series: Tales from the Kingdoms #2
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Winter had come early.

Charm is a beautifully illustrated re-telling of the Cinderella story which takes all the much-loved elements of the classic fairytale (the handsome prince, the fairy godmother, the enchanted mouse, the beautiful girl and, of course, the iconic balls) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires. This is fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of ONCE UPON A TIME, GRIMM, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and more. This edition contains 15 original pen and ink illustrations by Les Edwards

divider1
Wishes do come true. As Cinderella wished to go the the ball, fall in love with the prince, and live as his princess in the castle, so did I wish that these fairy tale novellas were connected through more than just their Grimm originals. And they are! Remember that Huntsman from Poison? Or the despicable prince? They’re back.

Charm begins exactly the way you would expect a Cinderella retelling to begin. Cinderella is the poor, common girl doing all the housework while her step-mother and sisters galivant around in pretty dresses. But from the very beginning, this Cinderella felt like a real young woman. She is prone to self-pity (which doesn’t exactly make her likable, but all the more relatable) and she has desires like everybody else. Just because you are degraded to a scullery maid doesn’t mean you wouldn’t like to have sex with handsome men, right?

hot in here

That said, this story was quite a bit sexier than its predecessor. Cinderella knows exactly what she wants and while she can’t have the prince ravish her in real life, she is an expert in dreaming about him and helping herself… ahem. This isn’t 50 shades of fairy tales (thank the gods!) but there are a handful of scenes that managed to make me blush a little.

Officially, this is a new version of Cinderella, but it is interconnected with so many other fairy tales. That witch in the gingerbread house? Still eating children. Cinderella’s buddy, Buttons? He’s actually Robin Hood. But never mind any of the cameos. This book – like Poison – was all about the Huntsman for me. If I have one weakness when it comes to stories, it’s couples that OBVIOUSLY want to do it but spend all of their time fighting. Call it a kink or whatever, I just can’t resist it. The bickering, the shouting, the slap slap kiss… yep, sign me up, please.

catch-and-release-slap-o
Let me try and regain some semblance of control.
What fairy tales have always done (never mind which version you heard, it’s true for all of them) is tell stories of awful things happening to women and children. Sarah Pinborough still has awful things happen to women and children, but she gives all her characters a personality and, with it, a choice. Cinderella is pigheaded and naive and oblivious to the pain she inflicts on others. She wants to marry the prince because she fell in love with his picture. When she realises that he neither can nor wants to give her what she wants (emotionally and sexually), that irritating brute of a huntsman suddenly doesn’t seem like such a bad choice anymore. And the one thing that sets these novellas apart from other fairy tale retellings? That silly girl actually goes after what she wants!

It’s so refreshing to read about an empowered female. Disney ruined my entire generation with their princesses and how true love just falls into their laps – sometimes literally. Sarah Pinborough’s characters are different. With the possible exception of the prince, everybody is fairly certain of their own needs, and most characters aren’t ashamed to go out and do something about it. And thank you a thousand times for saying it’s okay for a girl to sleep with her friend even if she’s not in love with him!

Now the rambling about sex and relationships is out of the way, let me tell you about the ending. I won’t spoil it (though I desperately want to) but Sarah Pinborough manages to deliver a happily ever after of sorts, despite all the gloom and disappointment I have come to expect. Snow White’s story is resolved in a surprising, yet totally satisfying way. There I was, reading the last pages with my gloomy face on, when suddenly THINGS HAPPEN and characters realize certain truths about themselves, and when I closed the book, gloomy face had turned into silly happy face.

doctor who happy

Seeing as I’m already halfway through the third book, you’ll be hearing about Beauty fairly soon. It promises more of the Huntsman, the prince, some Red Riding Hood and Rumpelstiltskin, all mixed in with Sleeping Beauty.

So yes. Read these.

divider1

Sarah Pinborough – Poison

I completely slid into this book without meaning to. I was browsing my shelves and picked this up because – honestly, look at that cover! Okay, I thought, I’ll just read the first page. Yeah right… It amuses me how reading challenges work on your mind, sometimes. All year, I’ve been looking for new women SFF writers to read. I’ve finished that Worlds Without End challenge a while ago (even read more than the challenge “required”) but my book buying has changed during this year and going for a book written by a female author I’d never read before has become a habit.

poisonPOISON
by Sarah Pinborough

Published by: Gollancz, 2013
Hardcover: 202 pages
Series: Tales from the Kingdoms #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: “She’s too old for that nickname,” the queen said.

A beautiful, sexy, contemporary retelling of the classic Snow White fairy tale, illustrated by Les Edwards.
Poison is a beautifully illustrated retelling of the Snow White story which takes all the elements of the classic fairy tale that we love (the handsome prince, the jealous queen, the beautiful girl and, of course, the poisoning) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires. It’s fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Snow White and the Huntsman and more.

divider1
I don’t know what it is about Snow White that’s always bothered me. It has never been my favorite fairytale (The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen… now those I can get behind), maybe because I never really understood the evil queen. Not being the most beautiful creature in the kingdom seems a petty reason for such drastic measures. Then again, the quest for beauty is a very real thing in all our lives. We are taught from childhood that being beautiful is important, it makes life easier for you, people will like you more when you’re conventionally pretty. Maybe that’s what has always made me so uncomfortable when reading this particular fairy tale.

This is the first book by Sarah Pinborough I’ve read. It won’t be the last. Her version of Snow White sticks pretty closely to the Grimm Brothers’ tale, but she does give the evil queen some redeeming qualities. More importantly, she gives the naturally flat characters of the fairy tale personality. Snow White is gorgeous, of course, but she’s also free spirited, likes to drink and dance and play tricks on people. She’s like the girl next door, hanging out with the guys (dwarves, in this case), and just happens to be stunningly beautiful.

The queen is in many ways her opposite, and in others, just a lost soul. Her marriage is one of convenience, of duty. Where Snow White is earthy, dark-haired, and full-figured, Lilith the queen is icy blonde, ethereal and waifish. At first, she is jealous of Snow White not just because she is more beautiful (after all, Lilith may just be a lot of people’s type) but because she is  beloved by everyone she meets. Her easygoing nature, her open mind, the happiness that oozes out of her every fiber, that’s what makes Snow White so irrisistible. The queen wants some of that. And if she can’t have it, she’ll take being feared by her people over being loved.

Men would do a lot for beauty, that’s what Lilith learned in that time. Beauty had a magic all of its own.

This version of the fairy tale deviates in only a few, but key elements. The Huntsman gets a little bit of back story and a personality that made me value him immensely as a character. He is no mere pawn in the queen’s game, he has an agenda of his own, he has rules he lives by, and he is also a man with urges like anyone else. You see what I’m getting at. This is sold as a fairy tale for adults (even though fairy tales have never been only for children) because it contains some sexy time.

I was positively surprised by the depiction of the prince. Being in a coma and marrying the first pretty guy that comes your way has always seemed ridiculous. Sarah Pinborough shows us just how insane it is. The prince, an arrogant boy, really, who only wants beautiful and precious things to own, who wants to be master over his wife, is shocked when he finds out that she has a mind of her own. I loathed him from the get go.

He was married. He would unite the kingdoms. His father would have steel in the land and keep his enemies at bay, and he and Snow White would live happily ever after and produce fit and healthy heirs. Not too soon, he hoped. He’d seen how quickly women’s bodies changed after childbirth and he wanted to enjoy his wife’s for as long as possible before they settled into domesticity and he went back to relieving himself with a mistress.

But what really made this book stand out as a fairy tale retelling was the language. This is a very short book at barely 200 pages, and in order to achieve some impact with it, every sentence has to be in place, has to elicit some emotional reaction. They did. Whether it’s descriptions of Snow White, Lilith’s desperate thoughts, even the sex scenes, they created an atmosphere that immerses you in the story and makes you forget the world around you.

This is the first book in a series (three volumes are out so far) and it is obvious that the author intended to connect them somehow. The Huntsman, for example, owns a pair of diamond slippers (we never get to hear their story), the prince has just come back from an adventure that left him with a scar but we never learn what happened exactly. The queen’s great-grandmother lives in a house made of candy… ring a bell? Or three? I loved the hints at other fairy tales and I can’t wait to discover whether the next volume, Charm, continues in this vein.

A few words need to be said about the ending. You will not find the type of happily ever after you’ve come to know from fairy tales. This is a dark story, one where bad things happen to good people, where things are left unresolved. As a standalone, it was brilliant, but as I’m writing this, I catch myself hoping to find out what happened next to Snow White, the Huntsman, the dwarves and the prince in the next instalment. Even if I don’t, Sarah Pinborough has a new fan.

divider1

Jodi Lynn Anderson – Tiger Lily

I feel like such an idiot. I’ve been reading this book for the past few days and now is the first time I notice that the flower on the cover is actually a girl in a dress… there you have it, internet. Sometimes, I’m just a bit dumb. But instead of covers, let’s talk stories – this one was far from what I expected. But it worked in its own way and even left me with a bit of a book hangover.

tiger lilyTIGER LILY
by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Published by: Harper Collins, 2012
ebook: 292 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: She stands on the cliff, near the old crumbling stone house.

Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feather in her hair. . . .
Fifteen-year-old Tiger Lily doesn’t believe in love stories or happy endings. Then she meets the alluring teenage Peter Pan in the forbidden woods of Neverland and immediately falls under his spell.
Peter is unlike anyone she’s ever known. Impetuous and brave, he both scares and enthralls her. As the leader of the Lost Boys, the most fearsome of Neverland’s inhabitants, Peter is an unthinkable match for Tiger Lily. Soon, she is risking everything—her family, her future—to be with him. When she is faced with marriage to a terrible man in her own tribe, she must choose between the life she’s always known and running away to an uncertain future with Peter.
With enemies threatening to tear them apart, the lovers seem doomed. But it’s the arrival of Wendy Darling, an English girl who’s everything Tiger Lily is not, that leads Tiger Lily to discover that the most dangerous enemies can live inside even the most loyal and loving heart.

divider1
Neverland is a wonderful place. Not just for visiting and revisiting the original Peter Pan, but also because it offers endless possibilities for new stories. Jodi Lynn Anderson chose a much-neglected character as her protagonist. Tiger Lily never did get much attention, neither in the Disney movie, nor any other adaptations I’ve seen (there was this one anime show I watched as a kid and I remember she did show up on a regular basis… can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, exactly.). Tiger Lily may be the focus of this story but its narrator is another familiar creature from Neverland – Tinkerbell, the fairy.

Here is where things should have started to put me off. Tinkerbell is a very simple character – as J.M. Barrie explains, fairies are so small that there is only room in them for one emotion at any given time. And Tink tends to fill up with jealousy, or adoration for Peter. Anderson’s Tink, on the other hand, is a complex person. She can hold several, even opposing, feelings within herself, and her love for Peter does not keep her from loving Tiger Lily as well – even as she watches them fall in love and has to reconcile herself with the fact that Peter will never look at her the way he does at Tiger Lily. In fact, although she is nothing like the original character I know and love, Tink was at least as interesting as Tiger Lily and quietly grew on me over the course of the novel.

But Tink isn’t the only one that seems like she has nothing to do with Barrie’s original creation. Both Peter and Hook get doused with a proper dose of reality. I won’t give anything away, let’s just say I was very surprised to find that the only things magical in this story are fairies and mermaids. There is nothing of Barrie’s playfulness in Anderson’s language or plot. Instead, the author focuses on the melancholy themes that come with the territory. Tiger Lily is supposed to marry Giant, a brutish man of her tribe, when she meets Peter Pan. It takes a while but they end up falling in love and Tiger Lily is torn between two worlds. Except that isn’t true – there are even more problems weighing on that one girl’s mind. The pirates are out to kill Peter, and one of the Englishmen that sometimes come to Neverland is trying to convert her entire village to Christianity.

Through these problems, several themes come up that could have been explored more. But then it would have been a very different book. For example, we get a proper psychopath in Reginal Smee, and I wouldn’t have minded reading an entire book about him. Or Phillip, the Englishman that Tiger Lily saves after his ship wrecked on Neverland’s shores, who is a symbol for colonialism and tries to lead the “savage” Sky Eater tribe on their path to Heaven. I’m not sure if I really would have enjoyed seeing all these sub-plots fleshed out more. The author did a pretty good job in making her readers think, but doesn’t stray from her focal point – a young girl’s coming-of-age.

tiger lily quote¹For a quiet little book like this, I have surprisingly much to say. There were so many things that I should have hated but didn’t: Tink being the way she is, Wendy being described as a silly, pampered idiot (although I guess, Tink does have a point there), and Hook being so very un-Hook-ish. But within the setting of this story, it all worked out. This isn’t an adventure story, it isn’t about children fighting pirates, and facing danger, and chasing after the Neverbird. This is a story about people, relationships, and how fragile they are.

Jodi Lynn Anderson manages one amazing feat that so few young adult books do. She creates characters that are vivid but feel like we never truly know them. We see them through Tink’s eyes and although she can pick up on people’s feelings and thoughts, we never get the whole picture. Tiger Lily always remains somewhat of a mystery – and this is where every reader’s imagination gets a chance to fill in the blanks. I’ve mentioned all the major players on this fantasy island, but I must talk about Anderson’s own inventions. Tiger Lily’s father, Tik Tok, was a wonderful addition to the cast. He is the tribe’s shaman who likes to wear women’s clothing and shows infinite patience for his daughter and tribe members. Pine Sap, teased for being unmanly and bad at hunting, is Tiger Lily’s only true friend and one of the few who just love her the way she is. Even Moon Eye, who could be cause for jealousy, is nothing but lovable and shows some amazing and unexpected depth.

There isn’t much dialogue in the book but even without saying much, these characters came to life through Tink’s descriptions, the things she notices and tells us, and the things she omits. Looking back now, I can’t help but feel all warm and fuzzy inside at the thought of Pine Sap and Moon Eye. I don’t have a lot to say about the prose. Sure, descriptions and introspection take center stage over dialogue and action, but again – and don’t ask me how – it just works. This is not what I would call a page turner and yet I finished the book in just a few sittings.

Apart from the characters, a lot of other things deviate from what you may know about Peter Pan. Tiger Lily tells the story of a young girl from the Sky Eater tribe, a story that started well before Wendy ever showed up. But Wendy does appear and we all know how that story goes… only in this case we don’t. For Tiger Lily and Tink, there is no fairy tale ending. But even though it was sad, verging on depressing, the ending was just as appropriate and fitting as was the rest of the story.

So yeah… I’ll never let go of my love for the original tale but, as retellings, spin-offs, prequels or sequels go, this is one of the better ones. If you want a quiet book that is nonetheless a quick read, and if you like explorign alternate versions of Peter Pan, pick this one up.

MY RATING: 7/10  –  Very good

divider1

Juliet Marillier – Daughter of the Forest

If you like fairy tales or retellings, there is a good chance you’ve heard of Misty the Book Rat. She has thing for everything fairy tale-esque and hosts an annual Fairy Tale Fortnight – two weeks of reading fairy tales, retellings, or anything else to do with fairy tales. This year, I was lucky enough to be chosen as an active participant (rather than just read a retelling for myself). I highly recommend you check out Misty’s youtube channel. She’s one of those people who inspire passion for a book you’ve never even heard of before.

daughter of the forest1DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST
by Juliet Marillier

Published in: Tor, 1999
ISBN: 0765343436
Paperback:
Series: Sevenwaters #1

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Three children lay on the rocks at the water’s edge.

Lovely Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by her six brothers who love and protect her. Sorcha is the light in their lives, they are determined that she know only contentment.
But Sorcha’s joy is shattered when her father is bewitched by his new wife, an evil enchantress who binds her brothers with a terrible spell, a spell which only Sorcha can lift – by staying silent. If she speaks before she completes the quest set to her by the Fair Folk and their queen, the Lady of the Forest, she will lose her brothers forever.
When Sorcha is kidnapped by the enemies of Sevenwaters and taken to a foreign land, she is torn between the desire to save her beloved brothers, and a love that comes only once. Sorcha despairs at ever being able to complete her task, but the magic of the Fair Folk knows no boundaries, and love is the strongest magic of them all…

divider

Mythology in all its shapes and forms intrigues me. As do fairy tales. A combination of the two usually guarantees that I will go out and buy a book, and almost none came as highly recommended as Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series. A retelling of The Six Swans set in Ireland and involving a romance as well as the horrible task our heroine has to complete in order to save her brothers – there is so much potential there, I simply couldn not resist. The execution of the tale was well done but didn’t sweep me off my feet.

Sorcha tells her story in detail. Very much detail. To say this is a slow book would be an understatement. That said, I quite like slow books. I love how they focus on characters instead of action, how deep they let us get into the protagonist’s head. But despite the first person narrative, there was always some distance between me and Sorcha. Maybe it was the flowery language or the very drawn-out scenes but it was never one of those books for me that I could crawl into and dissapear in for a while. One scene especially made me cringe, not just because it was a terrible experience for Sorcha but because I felt that the scene was simply added for shock value and to give Sorcha more personality. Her wild spirit and determination to save her brothers no matter what, would have been quite enough.

As the protagonist struggles to break the curse, she has to remain completely mute. On the one hand, that is an intriguing idea, on the other hand, it is difficult to keep a story moving when the heroine never speaks. She has to let her actions speak for her. But Sorcha’s actions are just as predefined as is her silence. She collects starwort, spins it into thread, weaves the thread into fabric and sews shirts. Of course, she has to collect food and clean herself, but in reality, her everyday life is just not very interesting to read about. Then again, it wasn’t boring, either, especially in the second half. Juliet Marillier walks a fine line between thrilling and boring and somehow manages to just make it good enough to keep reading.

daughter of the forest posterAt a certain point, another level of conflict is added when Sorcha has to deal with the Britons, the sworn enemies of her own people. The Briton characters were my favorites in the entire book. I never really warmed to most of Sorcha’s brothers and Sorcha herself didn’t really grow any more interesting than she was at the very beginning, for all the ordeals she has to suffer through. Simon, Red, even Sir Richard, or Margery, managed to leap off the page and make me care. Whether it was because I wanted them to be happy and help Sorcha in her task, or whether it was because they were absolutely despicable, they were real to me and evoked real emotion. And yes, there were definitely butterflies and silly girl giggles involved when it came to a certain character.

One thing the author does magnificently well is the fact that I was never really sure if Sorcha would manage to break the curse. This is a fairy tale and as such should end in a happily ever after. But the stakes were so high and Sorcha was faced with more and more difficulties along the way, that for a long time, I was conviced this would end badly. The ending could not have been better. I won’t spoil it, but let me say that it is neither happily ever after nor is it completely bad. That bittersweet part in between struck a chord with me and was one of my favorite bits of the book.

In the end, I wasn’t impressed enough to continue with the series right away. I will, eventually. This is a recommendation, despite some misgivings, because while I was never so in love that I hugged the book to my chest and danced around the living room (yeah, that happens sometimes), it was also not bad. I am somewhat torn about how to rate this because I believe the quality of the writing should be rated higher than this. However, my rating is based on a scale of my personal enjoyment and I don’t really see myself re-reading this novel.

THE GOOD: Great beginning, great last third, some fantastic characters and a beautiful, very subtle romance.
THE BAD: A protagonist who is never more than somewhat interesting, a very drawn-out middle part, and not enough mythology for my taste.
THE VERDICT: A great retelling of The Six Swans, full of atmosphere, conflict, and an incredibly enduring girl. The beginning and the end were wonderful and despite some slow and one unnecessary bit, I recommend it to people who like character-intense books and, of course, fairy tales.

RATING: 7/10 – Very good

divider

The Sevenwaters Series:

  1. Daughter of the Forestsevenwaters trilogy
  2. Son of the Shadows
  3. Child of the Prophecy
  4. Heir to Sevenwaters
  5. Seer of Sevenwaters
  6. Flame of Sevenwaters

Andrea Jones – Hook & Jill

Peter Pan has been one of my favorite books since I first read it in school. I had known (and disliked) the overly sweetened Disney version before I ever picked up the book and maybe it is because of this that the book touched me the way it did. I can’t get enough of this children’s adventure story, nestled within which lies  a dark tragedy of a boy. Retellings, sequels, prequels, and spin-offs have been on my radar ever since. And because I’m currently reading The Annotated Peter Pan by Maria Tatar, I felt like looking at Neverland from a different perspective.

hook and jillHOOK & JILL
by Andrea Jones

Published by: Reginetta Press, 2009
ISBN: 0982371497
ebook: 293 pages
Series: Hook & Jill #1

My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: When she woke, she was the woman in the bed on the ship in the sea, and she used to be Wendy Darling, who dreamt in the bed in the nursery of Number 14.

In this startling new vision of a cultural classic, Wendy intends to live happily ever after with Peter Pan. But Time, like this tale, behaves in a most unsettling way. As Wendy mothers the Lost Boys in Neverland, they thrive on adventure. She struggles to keep her boys safe from the Island’s many hazards, but she finds a more subtle threat encroaching from an unexpected quarter… The children are growing up, and only Peter knows the punishment.
Yet in the inky edges of the Island, the tales Wendy tells to the Lost Boys come true. Captain Hook is real, and even the Wonderful Boy can’t defend his Wendy against this menace. Hook is a master manipulator, devising vengeance for his maiming. Insidious and seductive, Hook has his reasons for tempting Wendy to grow up. Revenge is only the first.

divider

I love Peter Pan. James Barrie’s original children’s story is perfection to me but I am not at all averse to reinterpretations, retellings or darker versions of Neverland. Régis Loisel’s comic book series Peter Pan is one of my favorite stories ever, and this Andrea Jones series promised to deliver something similar. Wendy grows up – which of course is against Peter’s rules – and becomes partial to Captain Hook. The title and the blurb both led me to expect a sort of dark romance between the well-mannered yet ruthless pirate captain and the innocent girl. That’s pretty much what I got, but I still can’t decide whether I loved or hated the book.

The first thing I noticed was the language. I will not make presumptions about what the author intended, I can only state how I perceived her writing. The style came over as if she was trying very hard to sound poetic. It ended up clunky, at times even pretentious, and out of character. Because there is not much plot so speak of, the focus lies on the characters and their development. Wendy secretly wants to have a romance, her very own love story, with Peter Pan – a thing, of course, that he can and will never give her, because that is on the threshold to grown-up territory. Wendy’s inner turmoil was intriguing to read, even though the style got in the way of itself a bit. As the story progresses, we get to see other characters’ viewpoints, most intriguing among them Hook. It was for him that I kept reading. Andrea Jones’ Hook is menacing, sinister, and sexy all at the same time. I found myself wanting Wendy to go to him.

hook and jillWhich leads me to the characters. Their development begins slowly and is well-done. We start out with well-known characters who I personally found believable. Peter is selfish and arrogant and adventurous, Wendy caring and prudent, Tinker Bell moody. Hook’s plotting will eventually draw Wendy over to his side and explore her sexuality as well as her will to make her own decisions.

The reason I am so torn about this is because despite my misgivings about the writing style, I was (for lack of a better word) hooked. I didn’t want to put the book away, I wanted to find out where all this build-up would lead. In the end, the pay-off fell a little short of my expectations. Some of the dialogue, especially towards the end, put me off, some storylines were just dropped (maybe to be picked up again in the next book?), and the last third of the book was full of logical mistakes and strange time and point-of-view jumps that made it both confusing and annoying. For example, Wendy – at one point – points a pistol at somebody’s head and fires. This person (I won’t spoil) falls down and I assumed they were dead. A bullet to the head from about a meter away will do that to you, right? The scene stops there, we follow another character for a couple of pages, and when we return, the person who just got shot gets up like nothing happened. The Neverland is a universe of magic, so I’m fine with people miraculously surviving lethal wounds, but it wasn’t even adressed! Nobody wondered how Wendy’s shot didn’t seem to have any effect, nobody even mentioned it. I went back and re-read that bit, sure I must have missed a paragraph, but no. It’s just never explained or even alluded to.

hook and jillAs this is an alternate Neverland sort of sequel, I didn’t expect things to be the same as in Barrie’s original play. But there were some details that rankled. Peter Pan can only remain an eternal child because he forgets things extremely fast. Even if his body were to never age, if he remembered all his adventures, his Lost Boys and his fairies, he would still mature on the inside. It is precisely his lack of memory that allows him to stay a boy forever. In this book, Peter remembered a surprising amount of details that made for interesting stand-offs in the end but didn’t feel like Peter Pan to me. In fact, and I assume that was the author’s intent, I found myself rooting for Hook instead of Peter.

This is certainly a book full of atmosphere, of character development and of discovering that you want to grow up. When I say growing up, I mean that to include sex. There is a fair bit of sexy time but never graphic, usually alluded to or described metaphorically. If I’m completely honest, I think Andrea Jones would make quite a good vaginal fantasy writer. She kept it classy, however, and while I wouldn’t necessarily give this book to children, I believe the sexy bits could be glossed over easily.

quotes greyThen he woke her, and moving in Time to the rhythm of the sea, they began their dance.

What did I think? I was quickly sucked into this dark, yet recognisable version of Neverland and couldn’t wait to watch Wendy succumb to Hook’s charms. There are many good ideas and fantastic characters in this book, some of whose transformations were pleasantly surprising. That said, I found it to be overlong and unnecessarily drawn out. The ending, while satisfying in a way, lost a lot of atmosphere. I’d recommend this to fans of Peter Pan who want a dark and sexy twist on the beloved story and who don’t mind a slow-moving plot.

The Good: Character depth and development, surprisingly sexy yet subtle scenes, a villain to root for.
The Bad: Sometimes clunky, overly wanna-be poetic writing, logical mistakes, occasionally strange dialogue.
The Verdict: As a hardcore Pan fan, I wouldn’t want to have missed this. Even though I’m not a romance reader, I find myself wanting more Hook & Jill time and less repetition of people’s thoughts and feelings. Still, this is a good novel of an alternate Neverland, peopled by characters who dare to grow up.

Rating: 6,5/10 – Quite good

divider

The Hook & Jill Saga:other oceans

  1. Hook & Jill
  2. Other Oceans

Review: Margo Lanagan – Tender Morsels

I’m participating in the Worlds Without End reading challenge of 2013. Last year, it was all about the Science Fiction Grand Masters, this year it is about Women of Genre Fiction – and I must say, I already picked up a few books that I had planned to read but that probably would have been forgotten for another year or two were it not for this challenge. There are great recommendations on their site (and you can track your progress on all the lists or award winners you’re reading). I am so happy to have discovered Margo Lanagan, an amazing writer that I won’t soon forget.

tender morselsTENDER MORSELS
by Margo Lanagan

Published by: Ember, 2010 (2008)
ISBN: 0375843051
ebook: 464 pages
standalone

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: There are plenty would call her a slut for it.

Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever—magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?

dividerI grew up on fairy tales. They were my very first contact with stories. I used to listen to Grimms’ fairy tales on cassette (yeah, I’m old enough for that) and I knew them all by heart – and would tell them to my entire family – by the age of four. Snow White and Rose Red was never my favorite but I still associate strong memories and vivid pictures with the tale. Margo Lanagan put quite a twisted spin on the old story and completely blew me away.

The story opens on a dark scene. Liga, a girl of only 13 years, lives with her father, a dominant and moody man, who controls her entire life. It takes about two pages to figure out what is actually going on in that little hut where he keeps his daughter, away from the village. While never saying it out loud, we get the idea that Liga is being raped by her father on a regular basis. When we meet her, she is already broken, body and soul, and there seems no way out of her vicious cycle. This dark opening was as surprising as it was fascinating. It made me severely uncomfortable and yet left me in awe for the writer’s talent for evoking emotion.

Not all is bad in Liga’s life. After years of terror and ordeal, she has two daughters and can finally make a calm life for herself. Branza, the shy and serene one, and Urdda, excited and curious, grow up happy and loving each other and their mother dearly. In their happy little haven, everything is well, until the threshold to the real world starts to blur and bears start appearing. The girls befriend the bears but at least Urdda longs to find that other place where her animal friend has come from.

art by Jody Hewgill

art by Jody Hewgill

This is a tale of three amazing women, their suffering and how they each eventually heal. Darkness permeates the entire book and while the beginning was certainly among the most terrifying and disturbing things I have ever read, there is always some beauty to it. Margo Lanagan’s language is clear and sinister and evocative. She retells the old and well-known fairytale and keeps many of its key moments intact. At the same time, she breathes new life into it. Liga, Branza, and Urdda’s life in the forest may be a quiet part but it is never boring.

I love when authors who write for young people trust their readers to be smart. Margo Lanagan doesn’t always spell everything out for you, but her characters and powerful imagery stand for themselves. She also doesn’t shrink back from exploring darker themes in a YA novel. A young girl’s budding sexuality, rape, allusions to beastiality, and more rape – it is not a happy book when you start reading. But it turns into a beautiful tale if you stick with it. And the ending was as melancholy as it was perfect.

THE GOOD: A dark twist on an old fairytale, told in beautiful language and with three fantastic women to root for.
THE BAD: The slower middle-part may not be for everyone, as I’m sure many people will object to (or not want to stomach) the darker scenes.
THE VERDICT: This is what I’ve always hoped for in a fairy tale retelling. Strong, many-layered protagonists, magic around every corner, and a price to pay for every spell.

RATING: 9/10  Nearly perfect