2020 Retellings Challenge – First Quarter Update

I can’t believe a quarter of the year is already over again. It feels like I just made those reading resolutions, endless lists of new publications to watch out for, and checked out other people’s Best-of-2019 lists.
But since we took our big sunny vacation during winter this year, I actually managed to get a lot of reading done, especially for the wonderful 2020 Retellings Challenge hosted by Tracy at Cornerfolds. It was my first time travelling to a warm place when it’s cold at home and I can highly recommend it. It did wonders for my mood, my tan, and of course my reading time. And sipping on a fresh coconut is at least as cool as having a cup of tea while reading a nice book.

What I’ve read

Just like last year and just like with any reading challenge, my chosen books ranged from brilliant to pretty bad with everything in between. I’m making it a little harder for myself this year by not counting books that would technically fit certain prompts. For example, Winterglass (still fantastic!) was a re-read, so I’m not counting it. Sword of Destiny is technically a collection of short stories where only one of them fulfills the prompt (includes mermaids) and I felt that if I counted that book I would kind of be cheating. I’m still listing them here because they are retellings but I’ll pick other books for the bingo squares.

So far, the absolute standout book I read for this challenge was Descendant of the Crane, although I’m not even sure it’s a retelling of something. It’s set in a Chinese-inspired fantasy kingdom and it uses some mythology elements but whether it counts or not, it was an excellent book! Mirrorstrike, the sequel to Winterglass wasn’t as good as the first book but I’m still very much looking forward to the sequel.
I checked off one of the toughest prompts (a book over 500 pages) with Tessa Gratton’s retelling of Shakespeare’s King LearThe Queens of Innis Lear which was pretty amazing. And I finally read Diana Peterfreund’s sci-fi retelling of Jane Austen’s PersuasionFor Darkness Shows the Stars.
What I like about this challenge is that it forces me to read outside my comfort zone – that was very much the case with Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, which is exactly what the title suggests. It was a great book, although very different from what I normally read. I’m so glad to have picked it up as it’s also the first book translated from Arabic that I’ve ever read.
I also really enjoyed the March group read, A Study in Charlotte, which is about the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. It was different than what I expected but a fun, quick read that made me want to pick up the sequel. And an even quicker read was Keturah and Lord Death, which is kind of Hades and Persephone and kind of 1001 Nights wrapped in a medieval romance. It was really sweet.
An audiobook that started out really well and then sort of meandered on to a mediocre ending was Juliet Marillier’s Beautiful. The only book I read that I would call bad was Kiersten White’s The Guinevere Deception. One bad book and one middling one out of 11 total is a pretty good ratio, I’d say.

My retellings reading plan

As usual, I don’t set myself a specific TBR but I do want to stay on top of this challenge because the Hugo shortlist is about to be announced and that always means reading a lot of works I missed last year. For the Retellings Challenge, I have picked out at least one book for each prompt, just to be prepared, but if I discover something new that fits a prompt, I may just go with that.
I have already started my book for the African myth prompt, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, during my vacation and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s not an easy book to read, though, and it wants to be savored so I may be “currently reading” this one for a while yet. But if it continues the way it started, it may end up on my favorite books of the year list!

  • Marlon James – Black Leopard, Red Wolf (African myth)
  • E. K. Johnston – A Thousand Nights (1001 nights)
  • Alexa Donne – Brightly Burning (set in space)
  • Julia Ember – The Seafarer’s Kiss (features mermaids)
  • Victoria McCombs – The Storyteller’s Daughter (German fairy tale – Rumpelstiltskin)

General Thoughts on the Challenge

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this year’s challenge as much as last year’s because the prompts seemed much more difficult for me. While retellings of fairy tales and Jane Austen are abundant, there isn’t as much to choose from when it comes to Frankenstein or Les Misérables retellings. But with a bit of research and recommendations from other participants, I think this year may turn out to be even more rewarding. Because the prompts challenge me more, I am forced to discover  books I would otherwise not even consider and I’m sure there will be at least one hidden gem among them.

If you’re doing this challenge as well, how is it going for you? Have you discovered a new favorite? Have you been disappointed by an over-hyped book? Let me know in the comments!

Falling in Love With Death: Martine Leavitt – Keturah and Lord Death

This is a fairy tale-esque book I’ve been meaning to read forever. It’s part 1001 Nights, part Hades and Persephone, and part medieval romance. Its simplicity is at the same time what makes it so lovely and also what will probably make it disappear from my memory quite fast.

KETURAH AND LORD DEATH
by Martine Leavitt

Published: Boyds Mill Press, 2006
Ebook: 216 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: “Keturah, tell us a story,” said Naomi, “one of your tales of faërie or magic.”

Keturah, renowned for her storytelling, follows a legendary hart deep into the forest, where she becomes hopelessly lost. Her strength diminishes until, finally, she realizes that death is near—and learns then that death is a young lord, melancholy and stern. She is able to charm Lord Death with a story and gain a reprieve, but he grants her only a day, and within that day she must find true love. A mesmerizing love story, interweaving elements of classic fantasy and high romance.

Keturah lives in a small village that has come into disrepair and wants very little of life. She wants her grandmother to be well, her best friends Beatrice and Gretta to be happy, and a true love for herself. When she gets lost in the wood and almost freezes to death, she meets a tall dark stranger who turns out to be none other than Lord Death himself. Not wanting to die without having experienced love yet, she tells him a story but leaves out the ending, bargaining for another day in which she can prove to Death that she can find her true love and marry him.

So begins the fairy tale of Keturah and Lord Death. Keturah doesn’t mess around but promptly seeks out the village wise woman (read: witch) for a charm to let her know which of the eligible bachelors in town may be Keturah’s own true love. And then go and follow her in her daily business, get to know other characters and see that, to Keturah’s dismay, none of the village boys seems to be her true love, no matter how much she likes them or how much they admire her.

This story is a very simple one but that doesn’t mean it’s easily dismissed. Not only does Keturah have to keep bargaining with Death – by use of unfinished stories – for another day, and another after that, but the way her home town sees her also changes. They accuse her of witchcraft, of having met fairies, of being in league with Death! The only people who always, always stick by Keturah’s side are her grandmother and her two best friends. It seems silly to mention in a tale like this because it really does read like a fairy tale, but the female friendships were truly heartwarming. Beatrice and Gretta not only try their best to help Keturah but even offer up the men they are secretly in love with for her to marry – just so she can escape being taken by Death.

For a book this slim, there’s actually a lot going on. The town expects a visit from the King, there is a threat of plague (how timely…), and a big celebration is coming up, including a cooking contest that Keturah needs to win in order to potentially marry one of the boys in town – men in his family only marry Best Cook because tradition. The fairy tale-like writing style worked pretty well and while not much happens that couldn’t be predicted from the first page, I was never bored.
But it was also the writing style that makes this book a little forgettable. I quite enjoyed it while I read it but it really did feel like reading an old tale that I had read many times before. There were no twists, no real villains, there was just a bunch of essentially good people and beautiful Keturah, who is possibly the best of them all.

The conclusion also doesn’t come as a surprise, and I don’t think it tried to. For us readers, it’s clear from the start who Keturah’s true love is and who she will end up marrying, but watching Keturah herself slowly learn this truth was a lot of fun. Even though I feel bad for the boys who clearly had a crush on her.

If you want a quick read that reminds you of being a child, reading fairy tales in bed, do pick this up. It’s a lovely little story with wonderful characters. And even though I’ll probably forget all their names within the next week, I will remember the feelings this book gave me fondly.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

Modern Gender-Flipped Sherlock Holmes: Brittany Cavallaro – A Study in Charlotte

Again, the 2020 Retellings Challenge is helping me conquer my insurmountable TBR by pushing me to read books that I would otherwise have neglected for another few years. In this case, we have a Sherlock Holmes “retelling” that follows the descendants of Holmes and Watson in an American high school. While this book was definitely not perfect, it actually worked really well and made me want to continue the series.

A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE
by Brittany Cavallaro

Published: Katherine Tegen Books, 2016
Ebook: 341 pages
Series: Charlotte Holmes #1
My rating: 6,5/10

Opening line: The first time I met her was at the tail end of one of those endless weekday nights you could only have at a school like Sherringford.

The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.
From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

It seems pre-destined for Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes to meet and team up. But at the beginning of his school year, Jamie doesn’t think that’s ever going to happen. Because Charlotte Holmes – as brilliant as she might be – is distant and not at all interested in starting a friendship with him. When Jamie beats up a bully protecting Charlotte, her reaction is not thankful maiden but rather stay-out-of-my-business ice queen. When said bully turns up dead a few days later and both Jamie and Charlotte are the prime suspects, however, Charlotte agrees to team up.

This book was in many ways exactly what I expected and in other ways highly surprising. While it is a murder mystery that needs to be solved by Charlotte (with Jamie’s help), what drew me in more was the characters. Jamie is a nice guy who loves the stories about his great-great-great-grandfather and who may want to follow in his footsteps. Charlotte, however, is cold and severe, and she also has a drug problem. While I have read some Sherlock Holmes books, that came out of nowhere for me and turned the entire book a little darker than I had expected. Charlotte’s history with the now dead bully also deserves trigger warnings!

For a long time, Jamie and Charlotte have very little to go on, so they just investigate along with pretty much no useful clues turning up. This could have been boring but with such an intriguing character to discover, I wasn’t bored for a second. Figuring Charlotte out is what made this book fun, if you can call it that, what with people being murdered and all. As the story is told from Jamie’s perspective – keeping up the tradition of Sherlock Holmes tales – we learn to understand Charlotte better and better. The small ways in which she shows kindness, the little things she does that show Jamie she cares… It was lovely to see their friendship grow. And even though Jamie seemed hell-bent on this turning into a romantic relationship, I was happy with the two of them just being friends.

The murder case our two teenaged heroes are trying to solve felt like background decoration for a long time. But of course, at the end, everything is revealed. I’m not a big reader of crime fiction but I know what I like. And this was not it. I like when authors plant the clues in plain sight, but still hidden well enough for me to overlook them. Then, when the ending arrives, I can slap my head and say OF COURSE, it was there all along! But the solution to this particular case could not have been guessed even by the most experienced reader of murder mysteries. Because it hinges on one particular bit of information that is thrown in very late in the book and felt a bit like narrative handwavium.

When I think back on the book now, I admit I enjoyed it a lot. If not for the plot, then for the fantastic characters and their relationships. And I’m not just talking about Jamie and Charlotte here, but also Charlotte’s relationship with her Mycroft-like brother, Jamie’s relationship to his absentee father, and their friendships with other students. It was all really well done, so I feel quite forgiving that the solution to the mystery came a little out of the blue. This is one of those YA books that actually feels like YA, if you know what I mean. I love YA fiction, but I can’t stand when authors or publishers dumb down a book so it is supposedly easier for the target group to consume. I don’t know if that was the case here but it felt like this could have been a much more mature story if it hadn’t been aimed so obviously at a younger audience. Why the forced potential romance? Why the simple language? Again, I had a lot of fun reading it, but I thought there was some wasted potential here as well.

All of that said, this was entertaining enough for me to continue the series one day. I’m not in a hurry, though. Next time, I’ll make sure not to expect a brainy mystery but rather the story of highly interesting, flawed characters trying to find their place in a world that has such high expectations of them. If you like YA books and Sherlock Holmes then you’ll probably enjoy this. If you like YA books that focus more on characters than plot, then definitely go for it.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Quite good

 

What it Says on the Tin: Ahmed Saadawi – Frankenstein in Baghdad

I was thrilled when I saw that the 2020 Retellings Challenge had a bingo square for a retelling of Frankenstein. Not only did I enjoy the original Frankenstein way more than I expected but it’s a very different kind of retelling from the ones I usually read – which, let’s be honest, is mostly fairy tales. Plus, this is a translated book, it is set in Baghdad, and it was shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize. Those are all things of which I read way too few books, so instead of picking one of the YA Frankenstein retellings, I picked this one and I’m glad I did.

FRANKENSTEIN IN BAGHDAD
by Ahmed Saadawi
translated by Jonathan Wright

Published: Penguin, 2018 (2013 in Arabic)
Ebook: 287 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: With regard to the activities of the Tracking and Pursuit Department, which is partially affiliated with the civil administration of the international coalition forces in Iraq, the special committee of inquiry set up under my chairmanship, with representatives of the Iraqi security and intelligence agencies and observers from U.S. military intelligence, has come to the following conclusions:

From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi–a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café–collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive–first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path. A prizewinning novel by “Baghdad’s new literary star” (The New York Times), Frankenstein in Baghdad captures with white-knuckle horror and black humor the surreal reality of contemporary Iraq.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started this book. The very long list of characters at the beginning worried me a little, especially considering that this isn’t a very big book. But there was no need to worry and if you pick up this book, you don’t have to study the character list too closely. Like any good writer, Ahmed Saadawi manages to introduce his cast to the readers with ease, making each character distinct and believable, and I only once had to check back with the character list because I had two similarly-named characters confused.

This is a story told through several viewpoints. First, Saadawi paints a picture of Baghdad that makes what we read in the news feel way more real. Suicide bombers are a weekly occurence, bombs exploding, people dying… these things happen so often that people have come accept them as part of their daily lives. They are still terrible, of course, but nobody breaks into the kind of panic I would expect of myself if that happened in my city. So these first introductory chapters served not only to show us the first characters but also to set up the place for this story. As a fantasy reader, I usually don’t have trouble imagining crazy things, impossible places, or alien species. But to imagine living in a place where you or your loved ones could be killed in an explosion at any time was really tough.

We follow a cast of characters, among them the elderly Elishva who simply can’t deal with the grief of having lost her son during the war and still holds fast to the hope that he will just return one day. Her neighbor, the junkdealer Hadi, is probably the closest character to the original Victor Frankenstein – he collects body parts from the various explosions and stitches them together. Why? He’s not sure himself but after a while, he’s got a whole entire body made up of different people’s parts. Mahmoud is a young journalist with a secret past who admires his boss and discovers the story of Hadi’s creation. There are quite a few other characters that help flesh out the story but they aren’t what I’d call protagonists. And of course there’s the Whatsitsname itself.

Once the Whatsitsname (this book’s Frankenstein’s monster) comes to life, he follows a mission. That mission seems clear enough at first, but after being mistaken by Elishva for her long dead son and after witnessing certain events, the “monster” asks itself many questions about morality, good and bad, about when killing is justified. We don’t get too many chapters from the Whatsitsname’s point of view but the ones we do get are powerful!

While we follow each of the main characters on their own personal journey, they do intertwine every so often, making the story feel like a big whole rather than jumbled up short stories. I was quite taken with the writing style, so props to the translator as well as the author. I can’t quite describe it because it’s not particularly flowery, nor particularly stark, but it was unlike most books I’d read before. The prose flowed nicely so, despite the heavy subject matter, I read this book pretty quickly.

On the one hand, this book is exactly what you’d expect. It is Frankenstein in Baghdad. But you can’t just take a story set in Europe and place it in a different part of the world without changing anything. Where Shelley’s creature deals mostly with abandonment and loneliness, Saadawi’s Whatsitsname has the added burden of being made up of innocent terrorism victims’ parts and wanting to avenge them. So much happens between the lines that I still can’t put into words, but it was fascinating to read.

When all is said and done, I am quite happy to have picked up this book. Sure, it was tough to read at times because of its setting and subject matter, but it gave me a glimpse into a real place in our world, peopled with fictional characters who are as lovable as they are flawed, varied and interesting to follow. From now on, I will be on the lookout for more translated books and more settings I usually neglect.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

Shakespeare, But With Magic: Tessa Gratton – The Queens of Innis Lear

I’ve read some Shakespeare in my life and I have usually enjoyed his plays quite a lot. However, I have never read King Lear (shame on me, I know). I tend to prefer Shakespeare’s tragedies to his comedies – at least when reading them instead of actually watching a play – so I thought, why not try this feminist fantasy retelling without actually knowing the source material? I still intend to read King Lear eventually but I also really liked this experiment of reading a retelling first.

THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR
by Tessa Gratton

Published: Tor, 2018
Hardcover: 575 pages
Audiobook: 26 hours 22 minutes
Standalone
My rating: 7,75/10

Opening line: It begins when a wizard cleavers an island from the mainland, because the king destroyed her temple.

A kingdom at risk, a crown divided, a family drenched in blood.
The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.
The king’s three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Regan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.
Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

This was quite an adventure… This is, first and foremost, the story of three sisters who grew up on the island of Innis Lear, a place filled with magic but also superstition. It used to be that the magical wells were allowed to feed the land and the trees. But King Lear has done away with all that, trusting only in the stars. His youngest daughter Elia has learned to read the stars, make star charts, tell the future from stars, just like her father wants. So it seems clear that, when Lear is about to announce his successor, Elia will be his choice. But things don’t turn out that way and so begins an almost 600-page-long tale of war, love, revenge, grief, magic, and death. It was brilliant!

I loved how Tessa Gratton introduces her readers to all the characters first. There are quite a few but she took enough time to give each of them a personality. The alternating POV chapters help flesh out the characters and make each of them interesting in their own right. Elia was the easiest to like. She’s a good child who cares deeply for her ageing father. All she wants is to live quietly and happily, without ambition. Regan wants a child, more than anything, but so far has only had miscarriages and it weighs on her heavily. Of course she mostly wants a baby for herself and her husband, but she is also thinking about the line of succession. A queen who can’t promise her people an heir may not be queen for long. And Gaela lives for war. She wants battlefields and power, blood and strength, and most of all – her father’s throne. Her plan is to rule as king with her sister as queen.

You can see already that this book turns dark. Like many Shakespeare tragedies, the body count stays pretty low for a while but it might just go through the roof by the end. What starts as mere ambition or, in some characters’ minds, their given birthright, spirals into something quite more. Because in addition to these three amazing women characters, there are some equally amazing men among the cast. First and foremost is Ban the Fox, a Lord’s bastard son who used to be friends with Elia when they were children. When I read about these two, I couldn’t help but hope for a story quite different to the want that awaited me. I would have gladly read a romance book about Elia and Ban. But, alas, we are in a Shakespeare retelling and so I prepared myself for terrible things. Because whether there is love or not, as the succession gets more and more hazy, Elia has to think about alliances much more than love when it comes to picking a potential husband.

My biggest trouble with reviewing this book is that I don’t want to give anything away. You’d think that in 575 pages, there would be some things I could tell you but the thing is, this tale unravels so beautifully, more and more secrets are revealed over time, and the plot thickens constantly, even when not much seems to happen. I’ll give you a few teasers, though. There is a very tense (but fantastic) relationship between Ban and his legitimate half-brother. There is also a mystery surrounding the death of King Lear’s wife. And there are prophecies and tree magic and love and family. I think this is a book that everyone can take something different away from. For me, it was in large part about a young girl growing into her own and finding her place in the world, regardless of her father’s wishes or society’s expectations. And, I admit, I was also rooting for Ban and Elia to get together, never mind marriage alliances.

I should also mention that this is marketed as a feminist Shakespeare retelling and it absolutely is! If by “feminist” you mean it features a diverse cast of different kinds of women who get to be flawed but powerful, soft or assertive, girly or genderfluid. And if you worry that the three protagonists are the only women this tale have to offer, I can reassure you. They may not appear as much as Elia, Regan, and Gaela, but there are other women characters who are just as interesting as the Lear sisters. In flashback chapters, we get to see the girls’ mother, and we meet Ban’s mother as well, who is probably the coolest character in the entire book. I also found it funny how the men in this story keep trying to steer the tale when it’s clearly the women who hold the reigns.

Now that I’ve made this sound like the greatest book ever, let me tell you about the few things I didn’t particularly like. With a book this size, I always expect there to be a certain, slowish build up to the big climax and I really enjoyed it here, because it gave me time to get to know the characters and the various factions vying for the throne of Innis Lear. But when that explosive ending did finally arrive, it felt rushed in comparison. Suddenly, every single chapter had a Big Thing happening, people died, secrets were revealed, and it all just felt like too much at once.
Secondly, I wanted more magic! I know, I know, that’s a ridiculous thing to whine about but this book gives us such nice glimpses into a cool kind of magic (several kinds, in fact) and then it does almost nothing with it. It’s probably because I’m mostly a fantasy reader but I felt there was wasted potential on the magic front. Someone who doesn’t read as much fantasy as me will probably not mind at all.

Lastly, the writing style was amazing. I thought for the longest time that this was a debut novel and I just couldn’t believe it. Turns out that I was totally wrong and Tessa Gratton has published quite a few works before this one. I don’t know if all her books are written so well or if she’s just grown better over time but keeping me entertained and on the edge of my seat for this amount of time is no small feat. This was not a fast read and it wasn’t exactly fun because lots of dark stuff happens, but it was an incredibly rewarding one. And I’ll surely be checking out Tessa Gratton’s new “hand holding a crown” book, Lady Hotspur, which is inspired by Henry IV. Maybe this time, I’ll read the Shakespeare first and see how that goes.

MY RATING: 7,75/10 – Leaning towards excellent

Sci-Fi Jane Austen: Diana Peterfreund – For Darkness Shows the Stars

For the 2020 Retellings Challenge, I finally picked up this Diana Peterfreund book which was on my list last year but I simply didn’t get to it. For some reason (the cover, probably), I thought this would be set in space or on a space ship or something – that was a very false assumption. The science fictional setting, firmly planet-side, was the weakest part of this book but the romance! Boy, did the romance work!

FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS
by Diana Peterfreund

Published: Balzer + Bray, 2012
Ebook: 416 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7,5/10

Opening line: Dear Kai, My name is Elliot, and I am six years old and live in the big house.

It’s been several generations since a genetic experiment gone wrong caused the Reduction, decimating humanity and giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.
Elliot North has always known her place in this world. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family’s estate over love. Since then the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress, and Elliot’s estate is foundering, forcing her to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth–an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliot wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she let him go.
But Elliot soon discovers her old friend carries a secret–one that could change their society . . . or bring it to its knees. And again, she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she’s lost him forever.
Inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

This was such a charming book, told through Elliot North’s eyes and through letters she and her childhood love Kai wrote each other several years ago. Elliot lives on a Luddite estate with her father and sister. Her father spends money left and right without ever thinking about where more money is going to come from or whether other things should be prioritised – say food over a racing track, for example… Elliot’s sister is also lazy and while she has no problem taking credit for running the estate, she doesn’t actually do any of the work. Then again, Elliot may help out on the farm, but the brunt of the work load is done by the Reduced workers, who are essentially slaves. That was my first shock – I didn’t expect to read about a protagonist who belongs to a slave-owning family, no matter what it is called in this fictional future.

The entire world building was a bit rocky for me. Some time ago, humans had perfected the manipulation of genes and bodies so far that they “wanted to become greater than God”, giving themselves night vision, being able to run really fast, jump supernaturally high, etc. A group of people – the Luddites – refused to have any of these alterations done to themselves, believing it was against the will of God and unnatural. Then the Reduction happened which left the Luddites the way they were (humans without special abilities) but gave the enhanced people only children with limited abilities, creating the Reduced. The Reduced are presented as people with limited brain capabilities. They have trouble speaking, sometimes they cannot speak at all, but they are always shown as real people with feelings. I thought the concept of this was very interesting, but I still felt really iffy about them being held as slaves by the Luddites.

Elliot, as our steadfast heroine, is of course the only one who sees the Reduced as people, who makes friends among them, who cares about their wellbeing, but that still doesn’t really change the fact that she sees herself above them, that she owns them! However, recently the Reduced have had children who are not distinguishable from Luddites at all – they can talk, they can learn, but hey, they’re still slaves. Young Elliot befriends just such a Post-Reductionist boy named Kai. Through letters they wrote each other as children and young teenagers, we get to see their relationship evolve from friendship to budding love. Elliot has to learn how it feels to be forced into a life you didn’t choose by listening to her friend Kai. While she may want good things for her friend and the Reduced on her estate, she is still pretty stuck in her mindframe. The world has “always” been this way – the Reduced work for Luddites because it was God’s punishment for tempering with technology and gene manipulation or whatever – and that’s just the way it is.

As this is also a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, you may know what plot points to expect ahead of time. Kai goes away, asking Elliot to come with him. I did love Elliot’s reasons for refusing him – it’s not because he is a Post-Reductionist and it has nothing to do with the difference in their social status – it’s for a very, very good reason which I won’t spoil for you, even though it’s fairly obvious when you read the book. But four years later, Kai returns and calls himself Captain Malakai Wentforth (I love that choice of name!). He is now a successful young man working with other Post-Reductionist that have made exciting discoveries on their sea voyages.

And this is where the strongest aspect of this book starts to shine. The relationship between Elliot and Kai is set up only through their correspondence but when Kai returns and wants nothing to do with Elliot, I felt her pain! The way he ignores her, the way he spends all his time with the young daughter of the North’s neighbouring Luddite family, the way Elliot has to swallow her feelings every single day – it was excruciating to read. But you know, the good kind of excruciating. I don’t really know how Peterfreund did it, but she made me ship these two so hard and put me through all the emotions – and that’s in a book where I knew the ending because it is a retelling!

While I was initially put off by the world building, it does get better and more interesting over time. There is always a lot of tension and discussion about whether technology is bad in general, whether some technology could and should be used to make life easier for humans, or whether humanity should just embrace all the new inventions and discoveries despite of what happened in the past. As the Reduced are now having more and more post-reductionist babies, they argue that they are now immune to suffering from another Reduction. But the Luddites, stuck in the past and overly religious in a way, want nothing to do with that.

Although this is a Jane Austen retelling and I knew mostly what to expect, Diana Peterfreund has a few twists in store. This is where the world she has created really got to shine. She incorporates this devastated future vision into the Austen romance so well that it felt completely natural. I loved the twists and the impact they had on the story. I also particularly enjoyed the ending – not just because of the way the romance goes, but because of all the other elements which I can’t mention here for spoiler reasons. But again, the world that I had struggled to find my way into worked beautifully in combination with Kai and Elliot’s romance.

So with my false expectations for the setting of this book and with me turning from skeptical to fangirl within a matter of a few chapters, this ended up to be an altogether surprising read. The set up and world building – especially the story of how things ended up the way they are at the beginning of this book – could have used a bit more depth, but the characters were fantastic, the story moved at a perfect pace, and the romance is just swoon-worthy. I highly recommend this for fans of Jane Austen, especially those who couldn’t get enough of Captain Wentworth’s letter.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Damn good!

Franz Kafka & Coleridge Cook – The Meowmorphosis

Holy shit, I had forgotten how utterly depressing Kafka was. Even this – at times quite clever – retelling couldn’t lift my spirits. I read The Metamorphosis in German a long time ago and while I remembered the main things that happened to Gregor Samsa after he wakes up as a cockroach/bug, I had forgotten how depressing every single character and every single monologue or dialogue was. Well, Coleridge Cook has reminded me. I can’t say this was a pleasure but I am rather impressed with the author’s skill.

THE MEOWMORPHOSIS
by Frank Kafka and Coleridge Cook

Published by: Quirk Classics, 2011
Paperback: 206 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

First line: One morning, as Gregor Samsa was awking up from anxious dreams, he discovered thathe had been changed into an adorable kitten.

Thus begins The Meowmorphosis—a bold, startling, and fuzzy-wuzzy new edition of Franz Kafka’s classic nightmare tale, from the publishers of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! Meet Gregor Samsa, a humble young man who works as a fabric salesman to support his parents and sister. His life goes strangely awry when he wakes up late for work and finds that, inexplicably, he is now a man-sized baby kitten. His family freaks out: Yes, their son is OMG so cute, but what good is cute when there are bills piling up? And how can he expect them to serve him meals every day? If Gregor is to survive this bizarre, bewhiskered ordeal, he’ll have to achieve what he never could before—escape from his parents’ house. Complete with haunting illustrations and a provocative biographical exposé of Kafka’s own secret feline life, The Meowmorphosis will take you on a journey deep into the tortured soul of the domestic tabby.

If you’ve read or at least heard about these Quirk Classics books, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was just that – the Bennett sisters fighting off zombies and polishing their swords instead of doing embroidery and learning French. It is a silly sort of fun that you have to be in the right mood for. These books are also essentially the original text with only some words or passages replaced so the new “version” makes sense. There’s Android Karenina, Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters, and as I found out only recently, The Meowmorphosis.

Coleridge Cook took Kafka’s Metamorphosis and, instead of having Gregor Samsa wake up as a cockroach (“Ungeziefer” doesn’t actually mean cockroackin German, but it’s a sort of collective word used for small, unwanted creatures, usually bugs), he wakes up as an adorable kitten. But if you think the fact that Gregor has turned into something that our society views as cute and fluffy makes this a happy or fun book, you are so wrong. Kafka’s original was a great book but also super depressing. And what made it so depressing wasn’t even that the protagonist was changed into a huge cockroach, but rather how his family deals with this change.

In this version, Gregor wakes up as a kitten and does what kittens do. He has a fondness for naps, he has to learn how to walk on four paws instead of two legs, he wants milk and fish and also to be left alone. His parents react to this rather fantastic change not with the kind of outrage one would expect (like, what the hell, our sun turned into an animal overnight!!) but they think more of themselves and their future, as they were dependent on Gregor’s job as a traveling salesman. It’s been a while since I read the original text, but if this book is anything like the Austen adaptations, then the text itself remains very much the same, except Gregor is a kitten and not a cockroach.

Where the story does change – and that’s at the same time this book’s strength and what makes it even more depressing – is when Gregor escapes his apartment and explores the town. He soon meets another cat and (because humans don’t understand his speech anymore) tries to talk to it. As it turns out, Gregor isn’t the only sad working man who has turned into a cat overnight. He meets a whole group of cats who used to be men and now roam the streets of Prague in their new feline shape. This bit also incorporates one of Kafka’s other books, The Trial, into the plot. And Gregor talks with some other cats and how they are, in every way, superior to us humans.

But one thing is too obvious to have escaped me, namely, how little inclined they are, compared with us cats, to stick together, how silently and sullenly and with what unspoken hostilities they pass one another by, how only the basest of interests such as food, drink, or breeding can bring them together for a little time in ostensible union – and how often those very interest give rise to violent conflict among them.

The ending of the book is equally sad and disturbing as the original. But I do want to say that Colerdige Cook did a fantastic job writing the original parts in Kafka’s style. There are seriously long monologues about how shit the world is, especially if you’re working a mediocre job that you hate. I’m not personally a fan of Kafka’s writing style but I have great respect for anyone who can imitate it to the point where you don’t know where Kafka ends and Cook begins. The entire book reads as one, without any noticable breaking point.

My favorite part by far – because it was funny rather than depressing – was the little Kafka “biography” at the end which explains that Kafka has been followed by cats much of his life. The suggested reading group questions are even funnier (“Gregor Samsa has some issues, doesn’t he?” and “Frank Kafka had some issues, didn’t he?”). If you like Franz Kafka or even if you don’t like him and want to see one of his tales made slightly ridiculous, then pick this up. As much of a downer as it is, I actually quite enjoyed reading it.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

2019 Retellings Challenge – Third Quarter Update

Holy smokes, where have all these months disappeared to? I could swear it was July a week ago, but here we are, at the beginning of October (speaking of which, I have to find me some witchy reads for Halloween). The summer months have probably been my best reading months in years, if not ever! I participated in the NEWTs Readathon which meant I first had to catch up on the OWLs readathon. Both of these were crazy months where I got a lot of reading done. I’m happy to announce that among the many books I read were also a few retellings.

What I’ve Read

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker was one of the group reads for this readathon and I absolutely loved it! From the very beginning, this quiet tale of a Golem and a Jinni grabbed me. I enjoyed following them as they found their footing in a new world, within new cultures, and as they became friends. But while this is mostly a quiet story with lots of focus on characters, there is quite an epic ending. I cannot recommend this enough. The language is beautiful, the characters are so engaging, and the story itself had me close to tears several times.

Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread was quite a different experience. It may not be a precise retelling of Hansel and Gretel, but it uses many of the fairy tale’s motifs. Gingerbread is the most obvious ones, but there are also breadcrumbs, houses in forests, and friendships that last through the ages. Most of all, it is the story of a mother and daughter, of how the mother grew to be who she is, why the daughter has turned into who she is and how their past connects them as much as their present. The family relations in this tale get surprisingly complex, but once I found my way into this rather strange story, I was enjoying myself a lot. This will not be everybody’s cup of tea. If you like magical realism (randomly talking dolls, anyone?) then definitely try it, though.

I also finally read The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris. It was pretty much exactly what I had hoped for, expect shorter and with less depth. We follow the story of Loki, from his brith as an Asgardian god to his demise – all narrated by himself, in the arrogant, hilarious manner you’d expect. I loved the narration, the silly nicknames he gave the other gods, the tricks he played on them and especially his relationship with Thor. In fact, I loved it so much that I would have liked more of the same. More chapters of Loki’s exploits, his travels with Thor, his trickery and cleverness. But Harris tells a proper story that leads straight to the end of Asgard. From a proper critic’s standpoint I would probably command her for writing a proper beginning and end, but as I read this simply for enjoyment, I felt a little let down by how things ended. Not that it came as a surprise but it was slightly anticlimactic. However, I will very likely pick up the sequel.

I also read The Ice Puzzle by Catherynne M. Valente – a retelling or reimagining of The Snow Queen from the point of view of different cultures. As this is one of Valente’s earlier works, it pretty much has no plot but tons of gorgeous language and beautiful imagery. This novella was like falling into a dream. Things don’t always make sense, you don’t know who all of the characters are, but you just roll with it. And what unfolds is snippets of a Snow Queen, of a young girl trying to save a boy, of mirror shards and pieces of ice stuck in an eye. I didn’t love this as much as I do Valente’s other work, but it was definitely a new kind of retelling for me.

I finally finished The Winternight Trilogy with Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch. This was a great book but unfortunately, I started reading it at a bad time. You have to be in the right mood for this in order to fully appreciate it. I put the book away for several months and when I picked it back up, I was exactly as excited as I should have been from the start. It is the conclusion to Vasya’s story. It brings together the elements from the first and second book beautifully and even mixes a lot of real historical events and people into Vasya’s fictional story. Once I got into the atmosphere  of this book again, I loved every page. The Bear and the Nightingale is still my favorite of the trilogy but this was definitely a worthy ending.

Lisa Goldstein’s The Uncertain Places landed on my TBR pile because it won a Mythopoeic Award – a goldmine for retellings of myths, fairytales, and altogether books that I like. Reading it was a strange experience. While I read it, I was quite engaged, I wanted to know what happened and I wanted the characters to figure out how to break the fairy curse at the heart of this story. But whenever I put the book down, I didn’t really want to pick it back up again. I also felt that the most interesting characters weren’t featured enough. Instead, the story is told from one POV, and he was one of the least interesting people in this book. It was a fun read with many nods to fairy tales and fairies in general, but now that I’ve thought about it for a while, I’d rate it only okay.

My favorite retelling of the last few months and probably the whole year was Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer. It retells East of the Sun and West of the Moon with a few changes and one mind-blowing twist. Instead of a polar bear, Echo, our protagonist, has to live with a white wolf in an enchanted castle. The castle itself feels like a character – there are so many rooms to discover and so much magic hidden inside of it. And it has a library… a magical library. Need I say more? I also loved that this story manages to take the heroine’s really, really stupid decision from the original fairy tale and make it feel sensible. The villain was fantastic, the last third of the book went by in a blur of action and adventure, and because I was rooting so much for Echo, that twist at the end completely wrecked me. I’m not ging to say any more about it, just please pick up this book if you like fairy tale retellings. It is a true gem!

And another highly recommended book, this time for graphic novel fans: Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran – Snow, Glass, Apples. This is Snow White from the stepmother’s perspective, except Snow White isn’t the fairy tale princess we know. Without spoiling, I’ll only say that the roles of villain and heroine are flipped in a very original way. It has all the things you know from the original tale – poisoned apples, mirrors, skin as white as snow – but the way Gaiman turned the story on its head, nothing should work but everything does. All the beats of the original tale fit perfectly into this new version. This is a short comic book but it’s also surprisingly dark. The artwork is gorgeous (if you’re into the style, obviously) and had me so impressed I read the book two times in a row.

Reading plans for the next months

  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Gods of Jade and Shadow
    Although this doesn’t fit into any of the slots left on my bingo card, I have started this story featuring Aztect gods. I have been buying Moreno-García’s book for a while, but this is the first one I’m finally going to pick up.
  • Alexa Donne – Brightly Burning
    This is a Jane Eyre retelling set in space. Since I’ve already read The Lunar Chronicles, my options for this bingo slot are slim, but I quite look forward to this. I haven’t read Jane Eyre in a while so I’m quite interested in how this author deals with the story and makes it work in a futuristic setting.
  • Anna-Marie McLemore – Blanca & Roja
    I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now. A retelling of Snow White and Rose Red plus Swan Lake sounds too good to miss. Since it features sisters – with all the love and rivalry that comes with it – I am even more intrigued. And I’ve also never read anything by McLemore but she keeps being recommended, so it’s about time I found out if I like her writing.

General Thoughts

I did not realise I’d read that many retellings. To be honest, I didn’t focus on this challenge at all during the last three months, so it’s a bit of a surprise to me how many retellings crept into my reading. With The Golem and the Jinni I got my first bingo on the Bingo Card, but I’m still planning to fill the entire card so there are still some books left for me to discover. The prompts are getting harder and harder to fulfill. While I do own some books that fit into the remaining categories, I’m not particularly in the mood for some of them at the moment. We’ll see how it goes but I am more motivated than ever to actually pull off my crazy plan.

In all honesty, at the beginning of the year, I thought my goal of reading books for all the prompts was way too ambitious but I like big goals. 🙂 I would have been fine with a single bingo, but now that I’m this close to finishing the entire card, there’s no way I’m stopping.

How’s your reading going? Are you (still) participating in this challenge? Which books can you recommend for my missing bingo slots – I’d really appreciate your recommendations!

Trickster Tales: Joanna M. Harris – The Gospel of Loki

As someone who loves mythology, I have wanted to read this retelling ever since it was published. But you know how it is. Sometimes it takes a reading challenge to finally give you that push to pick up certain books. I’m glad I did, because although I wasn’t blown away by this story, it did deliver pretty much what I had hoped for. A hilarious narrator, fun tales of gods doing mischief, and a large dose of Norse myths. What’s not to like?

THE GOSPEL OF LOKI
by Joanne M. Harris

Published by: Gollancz, 2014
Paperback: 302 pages
Series: Loki #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence:

The novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods – retold from the point of view of the world’s ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki’s recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself.

From the first moment I opened this book, I knew I would love the narration. The glossary of gods alone shows you just what kind of guy Loki is and whether you will like the style of his story. As he introduces his fellow gods, there is a certain amount of sass, and it is quite obvious whether he likes them or not so much.

The story begins at the very beginning. I mean the beginning of the worlds, explaining how Odin and the gods came to be, how Asgard was created, the big war between Asgardians and Ice Folk/Rock Folk/what-have-you – and of course, also of how Loki, a demon of Chaos, came to be one of the gods in Asgard. I found the beginning a bit slow because I wanted to read about Loki’s escapades, but of course for those to happen, he has to live in Asgard first. But worry not, it’s not a long book so this introductory phase isn’t long either.

Once Loki is established as a god in Asgard, things really get going. He’s not exactly accepted and he does his very best to antagonise his fellow gods. Sometimes, he’s just unlucky, but mostly, he’s just an idiot. What comes next are hilarious tales of Loki, sometimes accompanied by Thor, doing mischief and cleverly getting out of most of his scrapes. I adored the middle part of this novel and would have gladly read another 200 pages of Loki’s trips around the worlds, trying to bring upon the downfall of the other gods.

A large part of this book’s appeal comes from the narration and the writing style in general. You’d expect Norse gods to speak in a medieval-ish tone of voice, hearing them in your head with a Serious English Accent or something. But Joanne M. Harris went another way. These gods talk like modern people, cursing generously, insulting each other in highly original ways, and in generally really funny dialogue. Loki’s first person narration adds the cherry on top. Not only is it humorous, but his personality shines through on every page. Even though he behaves less than honorable on more than one account, you can’t help but love the guy.

The other characters are kind of flat, but hey, they’re gods and they’re stuck in their own skin. They are supposed to be one-dimensional. Thor with his brute strength, but not a lot of brains, Freyja the gorgeous but vain one, Odin, always mysterious and aloof… I wasn’t expecting them to have layers and their dominant personality trait actually made for some great comedy.

The ending, although generously foreshadowed throughout the whole book, was a bit of a let down. Loki tells you right from the start that the world is going to end, that the gods’ reign will come to a close, and he does his best to wiggle his way out of oblivion. Whether it’s him trying to gain a favor from his daughter Hel, goddess of the Underworld, or recruiting his other children, the Fenris wolf and the world serpent Jormungand, he’s always looking for a loophole out of the prophecy that foretells his (and all the other gods’) downfall.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It didn’t have a lot of depth but it was fun, it made Loki into an even more interesting character than he already was based on the Norse myths, and it was a quick read. I will definitely be checking out the sequel, The Testament of Loki, because boy am I curious  what other shenanigans our favorite trickster can get himself into.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

Wonderland Without the Wonder: Colleen Oakes – Queen of Hearts

I love Alice in Wonderland but, strangely, I haven’t read a lot of retellings set in Wonderland. I really enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s Heartless but that’s the only one I can think of. So it was about time to take a trip to Wonderland and see what Colleen Oakes came up with for the Queen of Hearts’ origin story. While the author may have had many ideas, the execution was sadly lacking. In fact, this entire book turned out to be rather a mess.

QUEEN OF HEARTS
by Colleen Oakes

Published by: Harper Teen, 2014
Ebook: 319 pages
Series: Queen of Hearts Saga #1
My rating: 4,5/10

First sentence: “Get up, get up, you’re late!”

Only queens with hearts can bleed.
This is not the story of the Wonderland we know. Alice has not fallen down a rabbit hole. There is no all-knowing cat with a taunting smile. This is a Wonderland where beneath each smile lies a secret, each tart comes with a demand, and only prisoners tell the truth.
Dinah is the princess who will one day reign over Wonderland. She has not yet seen the dark depths of her kingdom; she longs only for her father’s approval and a future with the boy she loves. But when a betrayal breaks her heart and threatens her throne, she is launched into Wonderland’s dangerous political game. Dinah must stay one step ahead of her cunning enemies or she’ll lose not just the crown but her head.
Evil is brewing in Wonderland and maybe, most frighteningly, in Dinah herself.
This is not a story of happily ever after.
This is the story of the Queen of Hearts.

Sometimes when I rate a book badly, it’s because it made me angry. This is not the case here. In fact, this book left me completely emotionless and that’s almost worse. What a convoluted, incoherent jumble of ideas and plot strings, written as if for a 5-year-old, with the flattest, most one-dimensional characters ever. And yet… I don’t even care. Nothing about this book made me care, nothing made me feel anything, the most emotion it got out of me was an eye roll. But let’s start at the beginning.

Dinah is the Princess of Hearts, soon old enough to be coronated and rule alongside her father. Her father, the current King of Hearts, is not really a character, he is just an angry ball of shouting and violence. He has no personality, there is no reason for his behaviour, he simply hates Dinah and screams a lot. But at the start of this book, he brings a new member into the family. His illegitimate daughter Vittiore, half-sister to Dinah. This could have gone in such an interesting direction. Dinah is naturally shocked at the revelation of even having a half-sister, of realising her father betrayed her (now dead) mother with another woman, of having to welcome the result of that betrayal into her family. But let me tell you this: Vittiore doesn’t show up again in that book until almost to the end… So much for that.

Dinah is also in love with one of the servants of the palace, Wardley. They are already best friends, and from what can be gleaned from the writing, they are both in love with each other but haven’t admitted it yet. While I absolutely don’t think every YA book needs a romantic sub-plot, it would have been lovely to get one here. But no, the lovers are already established, even though they are only friends for the moment. The only reason I mention this is because this book has so very little plot that a romance would at least have given me something. Oh well.

The actual plot starts pretty late into the book, what with establishing all these potential sub-plots first that go nowhere, with a secret message that tells Dinah to find a certain woman. This woman, it turns out, is a prisoner in the Black Towers, and this was the only halfway interesting thing in this entire story. Dinah and Wardley have to devise a plan to get into the Black Towers, find this Faina Baker and learn what she knows, and get back out alive. That part would actually have been exciting to read, but this is where the over-simplified writing cuts in.

The author never shows us, always tells. And even when she tries to let her characters and their actions speak for themselves, she hurries to clarify afterward, in case us readers didn’t get it. It made me feel incredibly patronised, like Colleen Oakes doesn’t trust her readers to have some degree of intellect. Take this for example (emphasis mine):

“Don’t look down,” he instructed Dinah. She did, her eyes following a crooked crack in the ice. Buried up to tis waist, frozen forever, was a skeleton. Its bony fingers dug into the ice, the claw marks inches deep. The scream on its face was etched there for eternity, the jawbone hanging grotesquely from its hinge.
Dinah gave a shudder. “Was that…?”
Wardley pressed his body against the wall. “Done on purpose? Yes. I told you the Black Towers were a brutal place. Club Cards find many ways of extracting informtation, mostly by torture.

Why, thank you, dear Wardley, for clarifying to us dumb readers that Wonderland prison guards use torture on their prisoners to extract information. The skeleton and the hint of “having many ways to extract information” really weren’t enough for us to get it. I don’t know if other readers are as bothered by this as me, but this was not the only time the author talked down to her readers. It happens over and over and over.

And much in the same vein, all the “secrets” and potential plot twists are painfully obvious. It’s not only apparent who Faina Baker is once Dinah and Wardley talk to her, it’s also clear from the very beginning who’s pulling the strings behind all the other things that happen at the palace. Speaking of which… everything that does happen is so wildly unconnected and makes so little sense that I asked myself more and more why I was reading this. I didn’t care about the characters, or I didn’t get to know the ones properly that could have been interesting (Vittiore, Dinah’s mad hatter brother Charles) and the story goes absolutely nowhere.

When I say nowhere, I mean that quite literally. Because this book also doesn’t have an ending. It is not part one of a trilogy, it is part one of a novel that has simply been split into three physical books. But as there was very little plot in this one, the characters are idiots and the writing is for idiots, I will not be finding out how things continue for Dinah. The few nice ideas simply weren’t enough to convince me, and there was very little Wonderland feeling about this book. It was rather an original fantasy novel with names and places taken from Lewis Carroll. Again, I didn’t hate this book. It had too little substance for that.

MY RATING: 4,5/10 – Not good