There is an ocean: In the infinite distance, between one hidden world and the next, is an unmeasurable expanse of twenty seas. One sprawling edge of the world to another is filled with waters as beautiful as they are deadly, as miraculous as they are fraught. Treasure and treachery litter their ocean beds, sleeping side by side with adventurers whose travels ended abruptly, lives caught and held under a wave until all breaths fled.
There is a land: Tucked into a corner where four oceans fold together, land rises up illustrious in a jagged slash of mountains and forests, with secrets and wonders as plentiful as any water.
There are chronicles: Not of the twenty savage seas but of the fissure of land and the people who sigh life into it.
In an original epic fantasy world, Love In The Gilded Age reimagines the heroes and heroines of Grimm fairy tales as ethnically diverse, LGBT, disabled, and gender flipped.
Xanna: 5 stars. Love In The Gilded Age: 3.5 stars. A Fortress of Thorns: 4.5 stars. Overall: 4 stars.
Xanna: I absolutely loved everything about this story. I loved the writing, the characters, the romance, the setting, the suspense, the plot twists... everything. This was such a good story. The problem that I usually have when I read short stories (as I will mention later on) is that they sometimes seem rushed because they're so short and there isn't much space for development. This one, however, I didn't feel that way about at all. It was the longest story in the collection (which is maybe why I liked it the most) but it was still short as a whole and yet nothing felt rushed at all. The pacing was absolutely perfect and I always appreciate that because if a storyline is rushed, it's ending is often sloppy. Because this story was perfectly paced, everything else fell into place. Xanna grew as a character at a realistic pace, the romance developed at a realistic pace, the suspense was able to build at a good pace and, my favourite thing of all, the ending was satisfying. I've read so many YA novels that have been spoilt by rushed endings because loose ends aren't tied up or the antagonist's demise is anti-climactic or such like. I think it's quite spectacular that Saruuh Kelsey has managed to pace a very short story better than some authors have paced a whole novel. I applaud her for yet. Then, of course, Saruuh Kelsey writes stories with wonderfully diverse characters and I really appreciate that too. This story, which was based on Little Red Riding Hood, has a PoC main character as well as a secondary character with some hearing and vision problems. Xanna is also a strong, independent woman and a very admirable heroine. The diversity was beautifully coordinated into the storyline and I'm always pleased to see that. Overall, this is a very well-written and exciting story. I know it's a cliché, but this literally had me on the edge of my seat. I was so, so impressed with this story and I can't even put all my feelings into words because I loved it that much. I am literally applauding Saruuh Kelsey right now. Well done, you did an amazing job with this story.
Love In The Gilded Age: This was my least favourite of the three stories, but it was still very good. I'm afraid that this one failed where Xanna excelled - pacing. This story starts very suddenly. There's very little build up before Kerenne is betrayed by her father and sent to the palace. The quick start left me feeling a little bewildered and I'd have liked to have become more equated with Kerenne and the world before we launched into the main storyline. However, that criticism only really applies to the first chapter. Following that, things improved for a while. I really liked the storylines and I thought that it was a very interesting twist on Rumpelstiltskin. Kerenne is an extremely diverse character because as well as being a PoC, she's also a character with a disibility. However, she does not let her disability define her and she's an incredibly strong and admirable character despite her disability. I loved that element of the story and I thought that Kerenne was an excellent character overall. Like in Xanna, I thought that the writing itself was very good. There are some wonderful messages in this story and I found myself cheering at some of the things that were written. In terms of characters, I thought that the King was an excellent antagonist and I was fascinated by Elyn. The love story bothered me slightly because it was very quick, but I understood that within the context of the story. My main criticism is that the pacing began to unravel a little towards the end. Some events felt a little bit rushed to me and that was a shame because with an excellent ending this could have been an amazing short story. However, I still enjoyed the story as a whole. Kerenne was probably my favourite of the three protagonists and the blend between fairytale and modern fantasy was brilliant. It's just a shame that the pacing that was so strong in the first story wasn't consistent in this one.
A Fortress of Thorns: This story is very, very, very short. Literally, I looked at the number of pages I had left and thought 'that can't be right...' However, it was still a very strong story despite it's length. Somehow, Saruuh Kelsey crafted a finer story in 8 pages than a lot of writers do in 300. Again, I applaud her for that. I had no issue with the length at all until the end. I kind of wanted to see how everyone reacted to the awakening of the Queen. I wanted to see how Auriiel was received for being the one to wake the Queen. Mostly, I wanted to read all about the look on Kellar's face when he found out that his sister was the hero, not him. I didn't get any of that. However, the actual content of the story was very good as a whole. Once again, the writing was lovely. This story wove together fairytale and fantasy very closely and I think they blended together very well. I loved Auriiel as a character and I really do wish that we'd seen more of her relationship with Kellar because it was hilarious. This story was probably the one that remained closest to the original fairytale and I enjoyed that just as much as I enjoyed the twists in the other two stories. The main difference from the original fairytale, of course, was the lesbian romance. I thought that the romance was beautifully written and, again, I'd have liked the story to be longer so that I could have seen it develop. However, despite my little criticisms, I did absolutely love this story. It was a fabulous ending to a collection that was very strong overall.
I loved all three of these stories. The blend between fantasy and traditional fairytale was wonderful and the diversity of all three stories was very admirable. I look forward to reading more of Saruuh Kelsey's work because I've been impressed with everything that I've read by her so far and I am really looking forward to reading more from The Fissure Chronicles. Overall, I was very impressed.
Many thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy.
This book captured me at the first page. I wanted a whole story in the lyrical language of the introduction!
Fissure is a fairy tale world filled with people of all colors, sexualities, and abilities.
Little Red must kill a wolf to avenge a ghostly grandmother. The girl who’s ordered to spin straw into gold uses a wheelchair. The hero of Sleeping Beauty is a lesbian knight who likes sewing, who lives in a world where anyone can marry who they like.
As befitting modern retellings, the stories end more in “I want to get to know you” than “love at first sight." Which definitely fits in with the practicality of this world, but maybe takes a little away from the “fairy tale” side of things. I’m reminded a little of Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms stories, where self-aware heroes are forced into the steps of old tales by magic influence.
The characters are vibrant and immediately interesting, as is their world. Xanna’s story is significantly more complex than the other two, and diverges a lot more from the inspiration. I loved the amount of imagination that went into twisting the old story into something new.
There were a few things that I personally didn’t like. The first two stories felt a little too reliant on violence and killing, and I got a little bit tired of being told over and over how dumb and ignorant men are. The nation of Rime was generalized as being full of rude people; I’d like to see a story involving them with a little more complexity.
But that’s just a few nitpicks. I really liked these fairy tales, and I’m looking forward to more!