Fairy Tale Friday: The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell

The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, was published in 2014 by Katherine Tegen.

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside torn in half or smashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that holds Sand prisoner. Why wasn’t this in the stories? To survive, Sand does what he knows best—he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending? Or have the saints who once guarded this place returned? When Sand finds the castle’s lost heir, Perrotte, they begin to untwine the dark secrets that caused the destruction. Putting together the pieces—of stone and iron, and of a broken life—is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it’s the only way to regain their freedom.

Rating: 2/5

The Castle Behind Thorns is a unique reinvention of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale (although it’s not marketed as such, it’s got Sleeping Beauty written all over it), where Sleeping Beauty wakes up not because of a kiss but because someone is fixing everything that was broken in the abandoned castle. I like adaptations of fairy tales that place the fairy tale somewhere in history, and this particular world is closely tied to the religion and the politics of medieval France.

The message of forgiveness laid out in the novel is good, although laid on a little thick by the end. The moralizing message is a bit much for an adult reader, but it might be just the thing a younger reader might need to hear. Haskell seems to have a much heavier hand here than she did in either Handbook for Dragon Slayers or The Princess Curse, so I’m not quite sure if she had a different audience in mind or if she simply thought a less subtle application of her point was needed because of the world she had built. It’s a good message of forgiveness, but it perhaps could have been communicated in a way that was less moralizing and thus less likely to turn people off from it (though, again, a younger audience may be more receptive).

However, I didn’t enjoy The Castle Behind Thorns as much as I enjoyed Haskell’s other works, and I’m not quite sure why. The lack of subtlety may have been one reason. Ultimately, though, I just didn’t find much about the book incredibly interesting. I’m not all that fond of Sleeping Beauty and Haskell wasn’t so unique in the telling of it as to make me really involved in the world and the plot. The premise was good and so was the reimagining of the fairytale as a whole, but the book wasn’t strong as a whole. I’ve read better versions of Sleeping Beauty and better books by Haskell. The Castle Behind Thorns is good, but not great; interesting, but not enticing; imaginative, but not groundbreaking. I’d much rather read The Princess Curse again.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fairy Tales, Middle Grade

He, Sand, had done all this. He had saved these things, sorted them, repurposed them, and made them work again.

With his mended broom held above his head like a sword, he shouted: “I am Sand, lord of this kitchen!”

Even though when he said it out loud, he could hear how silly it sounded, he knew that it was incomplete. There was no one here to challenge his rule, no one here to tell him otherwise.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2pNrATa

Fairy Tale Friday: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2000 by Tor.

Lovely young Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by the brothers who love and protect her: Liam, the natural leader; Diarmid, with his passion for adventure; the twins, Cormack and Conor, each with a different calling; the young, compassionate Padriac…and her other heart, rebellious Finbar, grown old before his time by his gift of the Sight. Sorcha is the light in their lives, and in her young life she has known only peace and happiness. But that joy is destroyed when her father is bewitched by the woman who has won his hear and her brothers are bound by a spell that only Sorcha can lift. To reclaim the lives of her brothers, Sorcha leaves the only safe place she has ever known and embarks on a journey filled with pain, loss, and terror. When she is kidnapped by enemy forces and taken to a foreign land, it seems that there will be no way for Sorcha to break the spell that condemns all that she loves. But magic knows now boundaries, and Sorcha must choose between the life she has always known, promises made…and a love that comes only once. And in that choice, perhaps shattering her world.

Rating: 5/5

Daughter of the Forest is a stunning retelling of “The Wild Swans” fairytale. Marillier beautifully combines the fairytale with a Celtic setting, blending history with fantasy seamlessly. While the novel starts off slowly, once the initial set-up to the fairytale begins, the book flies by as the reader is swept up into Sorcha’s journey.

And what a journey it is. Sorcha is a wonderful protagonist, quietly strong and steadfast in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I love female protagonists of this sort, so it helped me connect with Sorcha even more. Marillier has perfectly crafted the circumstances and the effects; everything Sorcha does is explainable and believable in light of the world and the plot and what happens to her is also so, even the terrible parts. Fair warning, there is quite a violent, difficult scene to read at the beginning of Sorcha’s quest to free her brothers. It’s not graphically detailed, but it’s not glossed over at all—so, in a way, it’s much more graphically detailed than you might expect. Sometimes authors use things like this as a device or as another obstacle the protagonist must climb, but I feel like Marillier included it more for worldbuilding’s sake, to depict just how cruel the world can be at times. Or perhaps it’s to show how deep Sorcha’s bond with Red became, or perhaps it’s both. In any case, it’s handled deftly by Marillier.

That leads me to the thing I adored most about this book, which was Sorcha and Red. I think I’ve mentioned before that I tend to love the “agonizing” types of romance more than most other types, and Daughter of the Forest is full of agonizing—from Red, from Sorcha, from the people around them who see what’s happening and feel powerless to do anything about it. The relationship is slowly and beautifully developed, to the point where I cried at a particular part of the book that is poignant and beautiful and made me not want to put the book down even though I had to go to bed. And the romance ends perfectly, too, in a wonderfully satisfying way—usually I feel disappointed at the end of a book, or at the moment the love interests get together. But not in this book. In this book, I felt nothing but satisfaction.

I thought I loved Marillier already from reading her previous books, like Shadowfell and Wildwood Dancing, but Daughter of the Forest made me adore her. It’s a fantastic fairy tale adaptation, but it’s also a fantastic story, filled with love, loss, sorrow, pain, hope, and all the other things that make a particularly good book stand out from the rest. There are some hard things to read in this book, but there are many more beautiful things, and, like Sorcha, the reader comes to the end with a remembrance of the pain but with the knowledge that things are, as much as they can be in that world, going towards “happily ever after.”

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, death, rape.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale

“Listen to me, Sorcha. No matter where we are, or what we do, the seven of us will never be truly separate. We’ll always be the same for one another. But we are growing up; and grown up people do marry, and move away, and let other people into their lives. Even you will do that one day.”

“Me!” I was aghast.

“You must know that.” He moved closer and took my hand, and I noticed that his were large and rough, a man’s hands. He was seventeen now. “Father already plans a marriage for you, in a few years’ time, and doubtless then you will go away to live with your husband’s family. We will not all remain here.”

“Go away? I would never go away from Sevenwaters! This is home! I would die before I’d move away!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2mEPqig

Rose & Thorn by Sarah Prineas

Rose & Thorn, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster. It is the sequel to Ash & Bramble.

After the spell protecting her is destroyed, Rose seeks safety in the world outside the valley she had called home. She’s been kept hidden all her life to delay the three curses she was born with—curses that will put her into her own fairy tale and a century-long slumber. Accompanied by the handsome and mysterious Watcher, Griff, and his witty and warmhearted partner, Quirk, Rose tries to escape from the ties that bind her to her story. But will the path they take lead them to freedom, or will it bring them straight into the fairy tale they are trying to avoid?

Rating: 4/5

Rose & Thorn is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, though perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s a reimaging. Rose & Thorn is a sequel of sorts to Ash & Bramble, which set up the idea of Story forcing people to fulfill fairy tales over and over. So, the main goal of the characters is to not have the original fairy tale happen, so things go a little differently than one might expect (although saying that may be spoilery, but oh well).

It’s a beautiful retelling of Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale I don’t actually much like, and there’s loads of originality throughout. Rose is a great protagonist, the type of female protagonist I like. She’s not all gung-ho, “I can do everything cool and awesome” warrior-esque, which can get so tiring and boring. She’s much quieter and understated, which I prefer.

The romance was a little boring, but I find most romances boring in YA since it’s so clearly designed to appeal to teenagers. Griff as a character, at least, was interesting, although I thought the ending was a little rushed—it was believable, but definitely could have been more so in terms of his change.

The main problem of Rose & Thorn, and of Prineas’s fairytale retellings in general, is the concept of Story as this malevolent force that constrains people to its will somehow (through a Godmother, but then at the end it’s revealed it can act on its own, so why does it need a Godmother?) and forces them into fairy tales over and over. But not all stories are Story, only some—if they’re “your own stories,” whatever that is (seemingly the one you want). What if the story you want is the same one that Story wants? Anyway, it’s a little hard to swallow and several times it seems a little forced in the story, as if Prineas also realizes that an idea like Story is hard to convey or accept as realistic.

However, despite the problems of its underlying concept, Rose & Thorn is an imaginative, fresh retelling of Sleeping Beauty with memorable characters (even if you haven’t read Ash & Bramble) and an interesting protagonist, and carries enough appeal to make me want to keep reading Prineas’s fairy tale retellings.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

“Ohhhh,” I breathed. This was the Forest. It had offered the clearing as a baited trap, I realized, and it had reached out to take me as I slept. Merry had told me that the Forest was evil, and maybe I should’ve been frightened, but I suddenly felt excited. Ready to go where the Forest led me.

It was, I realized, my story beginning. “Once upon a time…,” I whispered to myself.

I ate a quick bite of breakfast, rebraided my hair, washed my face in the stream—which hadn’t disappeared, like the road—put on my cloak, slung my knapsack over my shoulders, and, ready to start, turned in a slow circle, looking for a way through the trees.

“Once upon a time,” I repeated, “there was a girl who was searching for a path through an enchanted forest.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2lMjAmZ

Fairy Tale Friday: Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, by Liesl Shurtliff, was published in 2013 by Yearling.

In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, twelve-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone’s joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold—as much gold as he wants! His best friend, Red, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse. To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.

Rating: 2/5

I appreciate Rump for its attempt to retell the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin from the point of view of the titular character, since 1.) there aren’t many (that I know of) retellings of that particular fairytale and 2.) the obvious (at least, to me) would be to retell it from the miller’s daughter’s point of view.

However, Shurtliff is no Vivian Vande Velde, and I much preferred Vande Velde’s tongue-in-cheek, short retellings in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem than Shurtliff’s more expansive yet more mediocre retelling. I hate to compare fairytale retellings, but I read Rump right after reading The Rumpelstiltskin Problem and the latter was delightful while the former was average.

Rump contains a decent protagonist, but the villain is over-the-top, the book is littered with stale tropes and mechanics, and at times the plot is incredibly obvious, even for a retelling. Perhaps it would be a better read if the reader was not acquainted with the original fairytale as much as I am.

Also, all the kiddy, immature jokes in this book put it squarely in “clearly for younger readers” territory, and I prefer books that don’t so publicly announce their audience. That, combined with the stale and obvious tropes, made Rump more of a chore to read than a delight.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

I gathered the straw from the ground until I had a handful. I sat at the wheel. A few pixies fluttered around my hands and the straw and the bobbin.

“Gold! Gold! Gold!”

I fed the straw into the wheel.

Whir, whir, whir.

I spun the straw.

My breath caught in my chest. I stopped, unable to believe what I was seeing. In my hand were bits of straw, but around the bobbin were glowing, shimmering threads. I brushed my fingers over the threads, smooth and warm. Gold. I had just spun straw into gold.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2aOfG3f

Fairy Tale Friday: The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde, was published in 2000 by Houghton Mifflin.

Have you ever wondered just what was going on when that odd little man with the long name stepped up and volunteered to spin straw into gold for the miller’s daughter? When you stop to think about it, there are some very peculiar, not to mention hard to explain, aspects to that story. Vivian Vande Velde has wondered too, and she’s come up with these six “alternative” versions of the old legend. A bevy of “miller’s daughters” confronts the perilous situation in ways that are sometimes comic, sometimes scary. Usually it’s the daughter who gets off safely. Other times—amazingly—it is Rumpelstiltskin himself who wins the day, and in one tale, it is the king who cleverly escapes a quite unexpected fate. Once you’ve read The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, you may never think about fairy tales in the same way again.

Rating: 4/5

I have a soft spot in my heart for Rumpelstiltskin, so when I read the author’s note that prefaced The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, I was a little disgruntled at how Vande Velde so callously tore apart my beloved fairy tale. Luckily, the six tongue-in-cheek “retellings” that followed were hilariously simple and brilliant reimaginings of the original fairytale. All of Vande Velde’s “explanations” for some of the odd occurences were wonderful, and I liked that she took a different approach for each story. Sometimes the miller’s daughter was the hero. Sometimes it was Rumpelstiltskin. And the king even gets his own part to play in one of the stories.

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem is certainly not a “serious” retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, and Vande Velde’s humor is of a particular type which everyone may not enjoy, but the whole thing is wickedly clever regardless. It’s a quick, easy read and very conducive to reading out loud to children. It’s not particularly satisfying, but it is fun!

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

The lord high chamberlain said, “Christina’s father, what is the meaning of this?”

“I am not Christina’s father,” Otto said. “I don’t even know who Christina’s father is.” Now what? He continued, “I…might bear a slight resemblance to the man, but in truth I am a dangerous magical creature who knows all sorts of enchantments besides the spinning of gold form straw, and I have come to take what is rightfully mine. IF you don’t over my—this girl, I will put a terrible spell on you.”

He had been worried that he looked so frightening, Christina might not realize she was being rescued. And, indeed, he saw that she had clapped her hand to her forehead and that she was shaking her head.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2a2IJCJ

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, by Catherynne M. Valente, was published in 2016 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the sequel to The Boy Who Lost Fairyland.

Spoilers for the Fairyland series.

This final book in the New York Times-bestselling Fairyland series finds September accidentally crowned the Queen of Fairyland. But there are others who believe they have a fair and good claim on the throne, so there is a Royal Race—whoever wins will seize the crown. Along the way, beloved characters including the Wyverary, A-Through-L, the boy Saturday, the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the wombat Blunderbuss, and the gramophone Scratch are caught up in the madness. And September’s parents have crossed the universe to find their daughter. Who will win? And what will become of September, Saturday, and A-Through-L?

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home is a delightfully perfect ending to the Fairyland series. It resolved things in ways I wasn’t expecting, and yet as I read those resolutions, I couldn’t help but think how well they fit with the characters as we knew them. September’s desire to go home warring with her desire to stay in Fairyland was perfectly resolved at the end, making such complete sense that although the series is finished, I am happily content.

I’m also glad that we got some final resolution with the Marquess, who was my favorite part of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Many things from that book were brought back and her resolution was quite sweet and a good way to resolve that character. However, I do think Prince Myrrh was a bit of a wasted character and a little pointless to include since he doesn’t do anything.

Blunderbuss the combat wombat was probably my favorite part of the book, and the description of her’s and Ell’s kiss at the end was hilarious. I also liked the fawning over Agatha Christie and the Cantankerous Derby in general.

I do think the part with September’s parents was a bit sudden and I didn’t really buy the fact that they so readily agreed with the “Let’s all stay in Fairyland!” idea, but it had a really strong Oz vibe to it, as this whole series in general has had, so I rolled with it even if it seemed a little contrived.

The Girl who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home is a perfect ending to a wonderful series, which started strong with the first book, wobbled a bit on the second and third, and hit a home-run on the fourth and fifth. This last book had a few minor things I didn’t like, but overall, this has been one of my favorite series to read and it had such a good ending that I’m not even sad that it’s over—I’m that satisfied.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

“I know I ought to have come as soon as I heard Greenwich Mean Time sounding off at you, but I couldn’t stop looking at the Human section. So many books I’d never heard of! SO many titles I couldn’t understand? What’s a Wuthering? Why is it Important to Be Earnest? I am always earnest. Why would anyone not be?”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1sCJZ5A

Fairy Tale Friday: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf.

High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm. But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop. When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.

I grew to love Marillier’s writing through her book Shadowfell and its sequels (reviews coming to the blog at some point!), so I decided to try some of her other books—and I’m glad I did. Wildwood Dancing is an adaptation of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” with a little bit of “The Princess and the Frog” thrown in, although I would say that the book is more inspired by them than actually adapts them. It’s an enchanting book with a beautiful setting, an “other realm” that I actually really liked (I don’t usually like “fairy realms” in books for some reason), and a protagonist who, while maybe not incredibly assertive, was quietly strong and persevering.

Some readers, used to the type of strong female characters that fight, speak their opinions loudly, and eschew all forms of tradition, might see Jena as meek and quiet. But while she’s certainly quiet, I found Jena a refreshing breath of air. She does her best to thwart Cezare as she can, in the position she is in, without stepping out of the bounds of what that world requires. Maybe that makes her seem spineless, to some people, but not to me. I appreciate a protagonist who works within his/her role, rather than breaking out of it and working without.

A few aspects of the plot were a little obvious—I spent most of the book impatiently waiting for Jena to realize what I had already figured out—and most of it is predictable, although seeing as how it’s at least a semi-adaptation of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” it would be. But I enjoyed Wildwood Dancing despite the predictability, despite the grating repetition of Cezare’s machinations, and despite the plodding middle, and I enjoyed it because of Jena, the beauty of the world and the writing, and the quiet wonder and mystery that steeps throughout the entire book.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

The folk of the Other Kingdom had their own name for this expanse of shining water—at Full Moon, they called it the Bright Between. The lake waters spanned the distance between their world and ours. Once we set foot in their boats, we were caught in the magic of their realm. Time and distance were not what they seemed in the Other Kingdom. It was a long walk from Piscul Dracului to the Deadwash in our world—an expedition. Gogu and I had made that forbidden trip often, for the lake drew us despite ourselves. At Full Moon, the walk to Tӑul Ielelor was far shorter. At Full Moon, everything was different, everything was upside down and back to front. Doors opened that were closed on other days, and those whom the human world feared became friends. The Bright Between was a gateway: not a threat, but a promise.

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2370pjH

Fairy Tale Friday: The Wild Swans by Jackie Morris

It’s been a while since I’ve had a FTF, eh? To be honest, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the time to scout out fairy tale retellings specifically, so Friday’s have been more of a “let’s do reviews of 2015/2016 books” since I’ve been reading more of those. This book checks both boxes!

The Wild Swans, by Jackie Morris, was published in 2015 by Frances Lincoln.

At first there is only happiness; a childhood blessed with loving parents and eleven brothers, handsome and brave. But when the queen, their mother, dies, a terrible change comes to the castle and to Eliza. Enchantment deep in the forest leads the king to marry the mysterious woman in white. Who knows why he conceals his children from her, in a tall tower, within a complex maze? But when the new queen discovers them, she takes a bitter revenge, and eleven boys become eleven swans, who must fly far, far away from their sister. Eliza will need love, faith and courage to find her brothers, and that is only the beginning of her quest to break the white queen’s spell.

The Wild Swans is a pretty basic retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name, but Morris’s gorgeous illustrations and lyrical writing helps breathe beauty and richness into it. There were moments when I did grow a little annoyed with the writing, but all together the effect is quite pretty and helps make the retelling memorable.

I did like how the white queen gets a bit of a more complex motive than in the original fairytale. There was the implication throughout the novel that the queen would have welcomed and loved the children if she had been given the chance. She turns the brothers into swans out of jealousy and rage and, perhaps, sorrow, rather than out of the Andersen fairy explanation of “because stepmothers are evil and don’t love their stepchildren.”

Since the retelling is basic, so is the characterization and the world. Eliza is pretty one-note all the way through, but I do like how she’s the quiet, strong protagonist type. I think she’s given perhaps a little too much wisdom than the situation warrants, but maybe not.

So, yes, The Wild Swans is simple, but its dissimilarity to other fairytale retellings that are currently in vogue makes it stand out. Its simplicity makes it beautiful, helped along by the illustrations and the at times annoying, but mostly beautiful writing. This is a great little book with which to read to or with a child.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade

Inside the tower she climbed the steps to the boys’ chamber. All were asleep, the youngest turning in fitful dreams of flying. Across each boy’s bed she threw the softest cover of pure white cloth, light as a feather. Each floated down, then wrapped itself tight around the sleeping figures, clinging, attaching at every contour of their bodies. Eleven soft cloths of the finest spiders’ webs, each warped with a spell, wefted with jealousy.

As she stood over the youngest boy, to drape the last cloth, he opened his eyes and looked into hers. “Mother,” he said, and smiled a smile in his half-awake dreaming so warm that she almost relented.

‘I could have been,” she answered, as she swept her hands across his eyes and muttered a spell for sleeping.

The last cloth fell.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/1RoXhxu

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Winter, by Marissa Meyer, was published in 2015 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the sequel to Cress.

Spoilers for the Lunar Chronicles.

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana. Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend, the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

I loved the first three Lunar Chronicle books and I could hardly wait to start reading Winter. Unfortunately, though, Winter was a huge disappointment. The thing I enjoyed most about the first three Lunar Chronicle books was the devotion to and adaptation of the respective fairy tale without neglecting or skimping on original plot. Yet in Winter, the fairy tale was almost non-existent and hardly imaginative. Winter felt like a side character in her own novel due to the amount of time devoted to Cinder & Friends and their takeover of Luna. A better idea, in my opinion, would have been, if not to leave Winter out entirely, at least not make her Snow White and try to dedicate an entire book to her.

There were far too many viewpoint characters and far too much jumping around, and poor Winter’s plot really suffered because of it. Jacin had no personality and I could not have cared less about his romance with Winter. Again, it would have been far better not to have tied Winter with Snow White—a lot could have been cut out of the book that would have given it a needed trim and then there wouldn’t have been such a sad little Snow White retelling.

Other problems I had with Winter: I loved Cress and Thorne in Cress, but it bothered me to no end that he basically admitted he was just the type of guy who flirted with other girls and that Cress would have to deal with it. He didn’t say that, exactly, but it was very much implied. I’m sorry, but no.

Another problem I had was the tediousness of the plot as a whole. Winter is a whopping 800+ pages long, and boy, does the plot drag in places—especially the parts where one of the team gets caught again and then escapes again and then someone else gets manipulated by a Lunar again and then Cinder has to try to snatch them back/kill the thaumaturge again. After about the third iteration I was sick and tired of the characters committing the same mistakes and repeating the same process over and over.

The last problem I’ll talk about here is the whole Levana reveal as a whole. I didn’t actually read Fairest, the prequel that reveals some of Levana’s backstory, and maybe I missed out on something, but it really bothered me that at the end of it all, the thing that was revealed to be the crowning piece of evil on top of her evil head was that Levana had been using her glamour to hide her burn scars. The whole “she’s not just evil, she’s also UGLY AND SCARRED” vibe is just wrong on so many levels. Then Cinder has a “aw, poor thing” moment and out of everything that she could have felt pity about—such as Levana’s terrible childhood or the fact that the reason Levana is so sociopathic is because she’s never had a healthy relationship in her life and doesn’t understand how to do anything except manipulate people—it’s because Levana is burned. And it wasn’t a “what a traumatic thing that happened to you that was caused by your own family, I’m so sorry” pity thought, it was a “aw, poor thing, you’re so ugly” pity thought, which made Cinder seem more like the 30% machine she is and not the 70% human.

Also, I really don’t like the “machines are just like humans!” plot lines of science fiction.

There’s much more I could say about what disappointed me about Winter—sloppy plot reveals, dangling plot threads, and the deflated tension of Wolf’s transformation when you realize it didn’t even affect him at all and was used mainly as some sort of “I don’t care what you look like, Wolf, I still love you” plot—but I think my disappointment in the book is already clear. There were some things I enjoyed about it, but overall, Winter was a too-long, tedious, all-over-the-place finale and my enjoyment of the series as a whole has decreased because of it.

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Science Fiction, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

Winter gasped delightedly and laced her fingers beneath her chin. Everyone spun to her, startled at her presence, which was not uncommon. “Do you think the Earthens brought us gifts, Stepmother?”

Without waiting for a response, she lifted her skirts and trotted toward the cargo, climbing over the uneven stacks of crates and bins until she reached the lower level.

“Winter,” Levana snapped. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for presents!” she called back, giggling.

You can buy this here: Winter (The Lunar Chronicles)

Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas

Ash & Bramble, by Sarah Prineas, was published in 2015 by HarperTeen.

A prince. A ball. A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight. The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after. But it is not the true Story. A dark fortress. A past forgotten. A life of servitude. No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems like freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight. To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another—the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.

Ash & Bramble is strange, but it’s a wonderfully unique, refreshing fairy tale retelling. In fact, Prineas creates a world where all the villain does is recreate fairy tales, with as many retellings as a rebellious people attempting to overthrow a powerful force can manage. And yes, it does start out strange, but once Pin gets to the city and begins her “Cinderella story,” things get less strange and more interesting.

However, I would have liked the book better if it didn’t have the awful “girl falls in love with first boy she meets” plot as well as the “girl is obviously someone important, probably the person or relative of the person who tried to thwart the villain” plot. Pin and Shoe’s romance begins impossibly fast and mostly consists of “oh man his hands are so warm I love him.” The fact that he’s also the only male around at first makes it worse. And Pin is obviously Super Special and so the story is not really about “ordinary girl breaks out of unwanted fairy tale” but about “magical girl breaks out of unwanted fairy tale because she’s magical and can do that.” It’s lessened slightly because of Shoe, who is not magical and yet does some storybreaking of his own, but I wish Pin had been some average, ordinary girl rather than who she turned out to be.

Kudos to Prineas, who succeeded in making Ash & Bramble a refreshing retelling of Cinderella, and a refreshing fairy tale retelling in general, despite its initial strangeness and the awkwardness of switching points of view every chapter. However, the romance and some of the plot archetypes irritated me, to the point where I can neither A+, two-thumbs-up recommend the book nor tell you to stay away from it.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Young Adult

“What is that?” Shoe asks at my shoulder.

With anyone else, I would hide it, but for him I open my hand; the thimble gleams silver on my palm.
“It’s from the Before,” I whisper.

His eyes widen as he stares down at it; then he looks soberly at me, and I feel as if I could fall into his green eyes, into the promise of the forest outside. My knees wobble and I clench my hand around the thimble. He takes my arms, steadying me, and for just a moment my faint flame kindles to his; between us, the thimble burns with a sudden flash of light that leaks from between my fingers. Suddenly I can feel how strange the thimble is—its power, its potential.

He closes his hand over mine. “Keep it hidden,” he says, his voice ragged.

You can buy this book here: Ash & Bramble