Trigger Warning: This book features a suicide attempt.
Warning: This review contains minor spoilers, but as this is a retelling of The Beauty and the Beast, it only spoils the aspects of the story we already know about from the original fairy tale.
I'm such a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, that I've been desperate to read The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross from the moment I heard about it. However, I couldn't be more disappointed.
The Beast's Heart is the story of Beauty and the Beast from the Beast's perspective, and it seems like Shallcross has tried to stay true to the original fairy tale. However, in trying to stay true to the original - which is 22 pages long in my copy of Perrault's Fairy Tales - absolutely nothing happens. Seriously. Once Isabeau is at the castle, for chapters and chapters and chapters on end, all that happens is Isabeau plays the virginal while the Beast listens, and the Beast reads to Isabeau, and sometimes she draws while she reads. That's it. The only time this is broken up as when Isabeau falls ill, eschews the Beast's company for several weeks, seeming to not be able to stand his company. But when she's well again, they go back to doing the same old thing until she discovers her father is ill and goes home.
And this was incredibly disappointing. Yes, the original story is short, but that doesn't mean you can't stay true to that story and not develop on it, to make it worth being a full-length novel. Drown by Esther Dalseno is a perfect example of how it can be done. It's a retelling of The Little Mermaid, and it stays incredibly true to the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, but it takes it develops it further; it has the origin story of the sea-witch, it has mermaids who have no feelings, and a plague that is killing them off, plus a prince who has a mental illness. There is so much more going on in Drown than in the original fairy tale, and yet it is so very close to everything that happens in the original. Drown is proof that you can have a retelling of a fairy tale, stay true to it, but also have a full length novel where things happen. But with The Beast's Heart, all we have is this constant repetition of the same old things, and, well, I was bored.
On top of nothing happen, I don't feel there was really any development to the characters. I couldn't tell you very much about either of them, except the Beast is very angsty, and Isabeau has very little personality. And because of this, I couldn't believe the romance either. He only wants Isabeau with him in the first place because she's beautiful and he's lonely, but when he actually falls in love with her, I couldn't tell you. The fairy that transformed him appears at one point, and they have a conversation, and after that the Beast realises he's in love with Isabeau, but I never felt it. He's just all kind of angsty and obsessive. And I don't feel Isabeau ever really sees the Beast as more than a friend. I was not rooting for them at all.
There are a couple of good things about this story. I really enjoyed the writing style, which felt like high fantasy, but a little more formal. And I enjoyed the stories of Isabeau's sisters, Marie and Claude, which we got to see through the Beast's magic mirror. A hell of a lot more happens for those two than the Beast and Isabeau, and they were really the only interesting part of the book. They have developing romances that I could root for. But there isn't as much of them as I would have liked, and neither of these things make up for the majority of the story, where nothing happens!
I am so very disappointed with The Beast's Heart, and I really didn't enjoy it very much at all. However, other people have really loved this story, so do read some other reviews before deciding whether or not to read it.
Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley for the eProof....more
Trigger Warning: This book features sexual assault, sexual violence, suicide, female genital mutilation, homophobia; though we don't get to see any of these things on page, they are discussed. This book also features an on-page attempted rape.
The first half of the story is pretty awesome. Gaia, our mermaid, lives in a very patriarchal society where her father, the Sea King's word is law, and all he wants from his daughters is for them to be beautiful, be quiet, and be obedient. The consequences for earning his wrath are violence. There's also a predatory, sinister feel to the story, in the ways mer-men look at and touch women. It's goddamn creepy and disgusting, and I felt more than uncomfortable more than once. The Sea King, Gaia's betrothed, Zale, and the whole society is enraging! It's disgusting, and you can't help but hurt for Gaia, her sisters, their Grandmother, and even their mother.
Besides the very controlling patriarchal society, there isn't much in the way of world building; mer-people exist, the Sea King rules, and everyone does as they are told. There are the Rusalkas, creatures from Slavic mythology and folklore; they are beings who were once human women who drowned after being betrayed and hurt by men. They are very much like sirens, in that they lure human men to their death with song, but instead of being beautiful, they have pale green hair, long claws and sharp teeth. There is some history on the war between the mer-people and the Rusalkas, but there's nothing about politics or culture which was disappointing. However, the story is being told by Gaia, a mermaid, and in this society, she wouldn't have anything to do with anything like that, so maybe it makes sense.
But what O'Neill does bring to the story is the backstory of Gaia's mother; Muireann. Muireann is dead; captured by humans and killed, because she was too interested in going to the surface, fascinated by humans. The Sea King has told his daughters that she abandoned them in favour of her obsession, that she didn't love them enough to stay home. The thought of Muireann enrages the Sea King, to the point that he even changed Gaia's name - her mother named her Gaia, which means "of the earth", and her father changed her name to Muirgen, which most people call her. No-one is allowed to mention Muireann in front of the Sea King, but Gaia can't let go the thought of her. They never saw a body, so is she really dead? What happened to her? Could she maybe be alive in the human world? So yes, Gaia does become enthralled with Oliver, the young man she saves from the Rusalkas when a storm destroys his yacht, and believes herself to be in love with him, but he's not the only reason she wants to be apart of the human world - she also wants to find out what happened to her mother.
I also loved what O'Neill did with the Sea Witch. She's not who you will expect, from reading the original story. She is powerful, she's confident, she is living her life how she chooses. She may not be the nicest, but haven't we learned that telling girls and women to be nice is another way of silencing us? We shouldn't make a fuss, we shouldn't raise our voice, we shouldn't disagree because that's not nice, and we don't want to hurt any man's feelings, would we? Well, that's not how the Sea Witch chooses to live, but that doesn't necessarily mean she's evil. She is, in fact, a feminist role model.
'"That is not why I am here, Sea Witch," I say instead. "My name is Ceto," she snaps, pushing herself out of the chair until she towers above me. "It is your father who has insisted on calling me a 'witch'. That is simply a term that men give women who are not afraid of them, women who refuse to do as they are told."' (p115)*
There are a number of themes in The Surface Breaks who fans of O'Neill will recognise from her previous books, almost a mirroring of those books, or of our society. Such themes are beauty...
'When my grandmother calls me "special", she means "beautiful". That is the only way a woman can be special in the kingdom. And I am beautiful. All of the Sea King's daughters are, each princess more lovely than the next, but I am the fairest of them all. I am the diamond in my father's crown and he is determined to wear me as such. He will hold my prettiness out for display and he will take any ensuing admiration as his due.' (p4)*
'We have been told since we were mer-children that extra weight is revolting. There have been mer-men who gained in stature as they aged, but men were not born to please the eye, as we were. Maids have been told that being slim is as important as being beautiful, as necessary as being obedient, as desirable as remaining quiet. We must stay thin or we will die sad and alone, spin-maids of the kingdom, cast to the Outerlands because we are a drain on the palace resources. Such maids are neither mothers nor sirens and therefore are of no use to anyone.' (p119-120)*
'"And doesn't she look radiant? One of the great beauties of the kingdom. A great, great beauty." "That is the truth," Zale says. "I still remember the night of that ball, when it was apparent that she would become the fairest of your daughters. I knew then that she should be mine." I remember that night too. I had just turned twelve. That was the night that Cosima began to cry. "You were smart," my father says, pressing his fingertips into my shoulder blades. "You got in early. If Muirgen were not my daughter, perhaps I would have chosen her for myself." He and Zale laugh, and I try to smile too. Just mer-man talk, I think. No need to be so sensitive.' (p30)*
...and rape culture and victim-blaming, and even entitlement...
'"Muirgen," Cosima sighs. "She knew the dangers and yet she kept going to the surface, day after day. She was reckless. She might not have meant to be captured, but she still brought it upon herself."' (p10)*
'"Typical girl," Zale says. "Distracted by shiny trinkets, regardless of their provenance. Things will change when we are bonded. These visits to the surface will come to a stop, for one. It's too dangerous your risk of capture increases with each return. Perhaps you should heed what happened to your mother. There's a lesson in that, isn't there? A lesson I'm sure you would do well to remember, especially when you belong to me."' (p78)*
'"But why would they be afraid of us? We have no powers." "Of course we don't," she says, looking away from me. "But the humans do not understand that. They fear that their men will be overcome with madness and dive into the depths of the water to make a bride of one of us, finding only death instead. And then they blame us, as men have always blamed women, for prompting their lust, for fuelling their insatiable greed for something they cannot have."' (p95)*
'"We are betrothed, Zale, but we are not yet bonded." I do not want him touching me. Ever since he decided that it was the sixth daughter of the Sea King he wanted rather than the fifth, I have felt his fingers on my skin. Just a light touch to the waist or the cheek, trailing across the small of my back. Nothing that he could be reprimanded for. Just enough to remind me who I belong to. "We shall be on your sixteenth birthday," he says, and I look away. I do not want him to see my fear. "So soon, little one." It is tradition in the kingdom that maids are not to be bonded before their twentieth birthday, but it seems the rules can always be broken by powerful men. They created the laws, after all, and they uphold them, therefore they can shape them to their own desires.' (p75-76)*
...and they make The Surface Breaks a really powerful story. These are just a few of the many quotes I have bookmarked, I could have quoted and quoted this book, but this review would have gone on forever, and it's already pretty damn long. It's a story that deals with the sacrifices Gaia makes - of her home, her family, and literally her voice - and how she changes her body to be more pleasing to a man in a way that addresses and remedies the problems people have with the original fairy tale. Imagining how thought-provoking this version of the story will be on teen readers, and how they may reflect on our own society, makes me so bloody happy. I so wish I had this book when I was a teenager.
But as a fan of The Little Mermaid, I was disappointed in the latter half of the book when Gaia has become human and is living with Oliver and his mother, because nothing of great importance really happens. Oh, here and there she'll hear or see something she believes relates to her mother, a few clues, but otherwise, she's just waiting around for Oliver to notice her, to really notice her. But there isn't much to Oliver. He's a spoilt rich guy - an adult at 21 - who leaves all responsibility to his family's company to his mother, spending all the money but earning none of it, and blames his mother for his father's death. I liked the fact that he's a person of colour, but he feels kind of like a cardboard cut-out, and really two-dimensional. And I kind of get it, there's nothing that great about Oliver, is this really who Gaia has sacrificed everything for? I've read other retellings of The Little Mermaid, and I have seen what can be done; I have seen how the original story can be built on and developed. Maybe it's not fair to compare The Surface Breaks to other stories, but even if I hadn't read others, I would still think that not enough was done with this part of the story. I actually lost interest; nothing was happening, and I was kind of bored.
It only really picked up again on the final day before Gaia was due to die. There were some really fascinating conversations had, and learning the truth about so many things was awesome. But then it went and ended far too quickly. Far too quickly. That ending should have been drawn out longer; Gaia finally has finally found her agency, and she's only given one single chapter in which she uses it, a chapter which isn't nearly long enough. I understand she was on a deadline, what with dying once the sun rose, and I'm glad it had a feminist ending, but there could have been so much more to that climax. So much more. And there should have been an epilogue, in my opinion; I think it was really unfair for it to end like it did. Unless there's going to be a sequel, it was really unsatisfying.
The Surface Breaks is wonderfully feminist. It's powerful, thought-provoking, and important. But at the same time, I feel the second half let it down, and it did end up falling a little flat for me. I would still recommend giving it a read, especially if you love feminist stories and/or feminist retellings. But I personally was kind of disappointed.
*All quotes have been checked against a final version of the book and are correct.
Thank you to Scholastic for the bookseller's proof....more
Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan is absolutely beautiful. I'm a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, sOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan is absolutely beautiful. I'm a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, so I was sure I was going to love this collection, but I didn't expect it to blow me away quite as much as it did.
Sullivan's retellings are magical, because they have the heart of the original fairy tales we know, but will also shine a light on how women were viewed and treated when these stories were first put to paper. A theme of how women are seen runs throughout most of these stories, and it is this:
'It's not about being sensible, or strong. It's not about being kind. It's not about the soft touch and the kind heart. Beauty and a womb. That's all you are.' (Sister Fair, p62)
Reading those lines, it really struck me - as it continued to as I read on through the book - how little respect was given to women, how they were denied their humanity. Beauty and a womb. A toy and a tool, to be treated however your husband, your father, any man who notices you wishes to. A woman is property to be traded and taken, with no thought to what she may want, because why should what she wants matter? Time and again, throughout Sullivan's retellings, we are shown this. Women are nothing, or so we are seen.
And it's this that gives Sullivan's feminist retellings their darkness. We all know the sanitised Disney versions of fairy tales pretty well, but we also know that they are based on darker tales told by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault - ones full of death and tragedy. Sullivan's retellings retain some of that darkness, but she adds some of her own. Softened by Disney as we are, the original stories can be shocking, and although the same can be said of Sullivan's retellings, the darkness in Tangleweed and Brine feels like truth.
'A woman with a value is in danger. There is a ticking inside your womb.' (Beauty and the Board, p149)
With Sullivan's retellings, in some cases, the stories we know, including the originals, feel like Chinese whispers, stories that have been twisted and distorted in the re-telling over centuries - where Sullivan's retellings feel like the stories as they should have been told, before the distorting. There were some fairy tales Sullivan retells that I hadn't heard of before, like Donkeyskin and Fair, Brown and Trembling, and others I only knew the sanitised versions of. I would look up the plots of those stories before reading the retellings, so see how Sullivan changed things, and each time, Sullivan's stories felt more like the real story than the original. Especially with stories like Sister Fair, a retelling of Fair, Brown and Trembling, and The Little Gift, a retelling of The Goose Girl. To me, it felt like Sullivan's stories were true - more believable than the originals. Even with their magic, enchantment, and fantastical elements, Sullivan's stories feel like something I could believe happened. And it's the position of women at that time, and how Sullivan weaves that into her stories, that makes them so credible.
Some of the stories are incredibly disturbing, with Riverbed, a retelling of Donkeyskin, where a king wishes to marry his daughter, among them. But - again, like Riverbed - there are some stories where the women refuse to give up their agency - or, rather, strive for agency where they had none in the first place. Some of the women in these stories choose a different path from what we would expect - a path that leads to evil in some cases. But evil can be understandable if it's the only way to freedom, to security, to safety. Is it evil when the alternative is to suffer? A woman with power is dangerous, but a woman without it is in danger. In Tangleweed and Brine, the evil, the bad; they are all sympathetic characters we understand. Beauty and the Board and Ash Pale are two such stories where women go to extreme lengths, and find a home in the darker side of morally grey.
'"From her own lips," a courtier proclaims, "she chose her fate." And isn't that what every woman wants?' (The Little Gift, p142)
I have to admit that Consume or Be Consumed is probably my favourite, but being a retelling of The Little Mermaid, my most favourite fairy tale, it's not that much of a surprise to me. Though, again, this is another retelling that feels more true. To give up so much, everything you know, and to suffer such pain, to get nothing in return? The mermaid's thoughts in Sullivan's story feel more realistic to me than in the original by Hans Christian Andersen - though I, of course, still adore the tragedy of his tale.
If the stories themselves weren't a draw in their own right, each story is told with the most gorgeous, captivating prose. Even when disturbed to the point of feeling nauseous, I would still revel in the beauty of Sullivan's writing. I also loved Sullivan's use of second person in most of the stories; being put into the shoes of these characters, to have these things happen to you, adds to the credibility and revulsion. I also loved that people of colour featured in some of these stories - outright stated in the text, but also in the gorgeous, delicate, detailed illustrations by Karen Vaughn. And I loved that The Little Gift was a lesbian retelling.
Tangleweed and Brine is just a work of art. Powerful, thought-provoking and gorgeous. It's a beautiful homage to the fairy tales we've all come to love, but also full of the harsh truth of the treatment of women. It would be such a welcome addition to anyone's collection of fairy tale retellings, and one I, myself, will definitely treasure for years to come.
Thank you to Little Island Books & Bounce Marketing for the reading copy....more
Trigger Warning: A character is raped off the page in Beautiful Venom.
I'd been wanting to read the Because You Love to Hate Me anthology, edited by Ameriie ever since I first heard about it. Retellings that put villains at front centre? What's not to love? However, I finished feeling a little disappointed.
All I'd heard about Because You Love to Hate Me is in the summary above. It specifically said that these stories are reimagining fairy tales, but that is not always the case. Five of these thirteen stories are original stories. Possibly even six, as one story's only link to a previously known story is in the challenge, but it's not recognisable as a retelling. Really, only three of the stories included are based on fairy tales, though there are others based on classics, mythology, and folktales, which is fine by me. But the whole reason I wanted to read this book was because it was going to be retellings of fairy tales - or other known stories - from the villain's perspective with a twist, or origin stories, or what have you. This is what I was expecting. The challenges from the Booktubers for the authors are revealed after each story, which was good, because, in some cases, they would be spoilers, but when you read the first story, and struggle to work out what the original story it's based on is, to then find out it's not based on anything, it's a disappointment. And to have that for a number of stories, I was annoyed. That's not to say that the stories were bad, just that it's not what I was expecting. I have no interest in villains in general, it was the fact that these are villains we already know that had me wanting to read this book. To be fair to the book, though, the blurb does say that there are also original stories in this anthology, but I'm not reading the blurb when I already know what the book is, right? Maybe I should from now on.
That aside, I enjoyed most of the stories. There were a few that really stuck out for me. The Sea Witch by Marissa Meyer is an origin story of the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid, and was so, so good! But I love The Little Mermaid, and I love Marissa Meyer, so this was pretty much a perfect fit for me. I also really loved Beautiful Venom by Cindy Pon, a retelling of the story of Medusa. I never knew how Medusa became Medusa in any great detail, so the story was a great surprise to me, but also one I feel is really important. It looks into rape culture and victim blaming, and was so powerful. Pon also took this Greek myth and set it in East Asia - presumably China. This is also the only story in the anthology with POC characters. Marigold by Samantha Shannon was brilliant, a really feminist - and probably more realistic - look at a story set in the 19th Century, involving the Erl Queen. I also really enjoyed the original stories The Blessing of Little Wants by Sarah Enni and Sera by Nicola Yoon, which I'm not going to say anything about, because of spoilers.But to be honest, a lot of the other stories left so little impact that I have the book with me as I write this review because I simply couldn't remember them.
I liked the premise of this anthology, that Booktubers would challenge authors to write about villains in a specific way, and I was interested in what they themselves would have to say. At first, I thought it was going to be them also writing a story based on the challenge, but most of the time, it was more about them looking at the subject of villains, or specific villains, referencing the story their author wrote. Some of them were interesting; I like what Benjamin Alderson (Benjaminoftomes) had to say on rape culture and victim blaming in Without the Evil in the World, How Do We See the Good? And I loved how Steph Sinclair and Kat Kennedy (Cuddlebuggery)'s The Bad Girl's Guide to Villainy, although focusing on villains and being kind of jokey, was so feminist; a lot of the advice they five to would-be villainesses is advice girls and women should take simply to have a voice in this patriarchal world - to take up space, not do as you're told, go our and get what you want. It was fantastic! But overall, I didn't think the pieces from the Booktubers added much, and at worst, I felt some of them were written as if they were writing to young people - not that they were dumbed down, just that they had a specific age group in mind, and to me some felt a little patronising. Apart from the two mentioned above, the pieces from the Booktubers didn't work, in my opinion, for this book. The ones that weren't patronising would have been interesting if discussed in greater length in blog posts, or, as they are Booktubers, videos. But I didn't really enjoy them as part of this book. Saying that, that are people who are fans of these Booktubers who will buy it for them as well as for the authors/villain stories, and so will probably enjoy this element of the book more than I did, who was interested in the book only for the retellings.
So mixed feelings overall. Because You Loved to Hate Me wasn't what I expected. I'm sure there are a lot of people who would love it, but for me, I would have preferred more stories instead of the commentary from the Booktubers, and stories with a bit more impact.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Children's Books for the review copy....more
I have been excited to read The Seafarer's Kiss by Julia Ember ever since I first heard of it. I'm a massive fan of The Little Mermaid, and have been desperate for more retellings, having only read Drown by Esther Dalseno. And The Seafarer's Kiss is a bisexual one, with added Norse mythology. It sounds so good! However, now I've finished this book, I'm left with mixed feelings.
The story itself is pretty good. The world building is brilliant, set in a patriarchal mermaid society ruled by a tyrannical king. Fewer and fewer merfolk are born each year, so at the age of 19, mermaids must undergo The Grading, a test which discovers how fertile they are - which creates competition around the mermaids, on who they believe to be the most fertile or not due to how they look after themselves, which leads to bullying. Once known, the mermen compete for the most fertile mermaids. The mermaids are allowed to turn mermen down, but it's expected that they choose someone to mate with, and get to mating pretty quickly. Once eggs have been laid, the mothers go onto their own form of solitary confinement, practically a prison, until the eggs are hatched. And then the cycle of mating and laying eggs must begin again. Mermaids do not have much of a life, and their life is miserable.
Ersel has no interest in becoming someone's mate and spending the rest of her life bringing children into the world. Ever since she was a child, she had a dream with her best friend Havamal, that they would eventually leave the ice glacier that is their home and explore the oceans. They have always been interested in ship wrecks and the human treasures discovered there, and they both wanted to adventure out and discover more of the world. Until Havamal becomes one of the King's Guard, and turns his back on their dreams. He still wants to be with Ersel, but he doesn't see why she is so against a life at the glacier. The dreams they had were childhood dreams, and nothing more - except for Ersel.
When Ersel discovers a human, Ragna, stranded on the glacier, it sets off a course of events that changes her life. Getting to know this woman opens up a whole new world of possibilities for Ersel, the dreams she had evolve and build. She can still have the life she wanted, a life of exploring, but this time, with Ranga. Until she is discovered with Ragna by Havamal. Havamal gives her a choice; mate with him, or he will kill Ragna. It's then that Ersel seeks the help of the Norse god Loki, and everything takes a turn for the worst.
It was a pretty good story, but it's only 212 pages long. It's so short, and everything happens so quickly. There wasn't any time for me to get emotionally involved. I was intrigued by the story, but I didn't care about Ersel, or anyone else, really. There are some terrible things that happen in this book, but they had no emotional impact on me. I also didn't really feel the bond Ersel had with Havamal, nor her new feelings for Ragna. There just wasn't enough development there for me. Also, there are certain things it would have been better to have seen than be told about; things happen at the ice glacier after Ersel is exiled, and we - along with Ersel - get told about them from other characters, , but they are huge, important things! The Seafarer's Kiss is told in first person perspective from Ersel's point of view, but at those moments, the story could have switched to third person and follow a different character, so we got to see what happened. There are a lot of weeks that pass for Ersel where nothing much happens, and although we don't see those weeks, they happen between chapters, that would have been the perfect time for us to see what was going on elsewhere. And as great as the world building is, I couldn't tell you how merfolk mate, nor how eggs are laid, and considering that mating is a huge thing in their society, I would have thought the biology of of merfolk would have been explained somehow. There is an off-the-page human sex scene in the book, so it's not like the book is steering clear of sex, so I don't really know why we're left in the dark in regards to how merfolk mate.
They are my thoughts on The Seafarer's Kiss as a story. As a retelling of The Little Mermaid, I'm really disappointed. There are elements of the story that are recognisable; the interest in humans, the desire for legs, the giving up of a voice. But these are small elements, and they don't always appear in this story as they do in the original. And there's a point in the story where The Seafarer's Kiss completely diverges away from The Little Mermaid completely. The heart of the original story is completely missing.
At no point does Ersel step foot on land in this book. She is exiled, away from the glacier, but she doesn't go on land. She doesn't go to be with Ragna. That whole part of the story is left out. There is no human who doesn't love her, who believes they were saved by someone else and loves them instead (because, really, Ersel only helps Ragna, doesn't save her from drowning. She does save someone from being drowned/eaten by orcas, but he's a small character who appears only briefly). She doesn't experience the suffering that comes with the knowledge of giving up absolutely everything for this person, a person who thinks of her only as a little sister. This is not a tragic love story with an even more tragic end. In reality, it's not even really a love story, it's a fantasy that involves romance. Of course, a retelling doesn't have to follow the original story to the T, but you would expect it to have some of the major elements of the story to be present.
The Seafarer's Kiss is at best inspired by The Little Mermaid, but it is not a retelling. It's unrecognisable as a retelling. There's more to The Little Mermaid than a mermaid falling for a human - so much more. Calling this a retelling - which is how it's described - is, in my opinion, misleading.
But as I said, it's not a bad story. In my opinion, it should have been a hell of a lot longer, with a lot more development that filled things out. But the story was definitely intriguing, and I was interested to see where it would go. I loved that it was a bisexual fantasy story - #OwnVoices at that - and how it wove in Norse mythology, with Loki having a pivotal role. I loved how Loki was non-binary, taking both male and female forms, and only ever referred to (except for once, which I think was an editorial error) with the gender neutral pronouns they/them. I loved how this is a feminist story and tackles controlling and policing of women and their "job" in the world - that women are here to have children. There's a lot to love about this book, but it could have been more, too, I feel. But I know a number of people have only positive things to say about this story, so do read other reviews before deciding whether or not to read it.
Thank you to Julia Ember for the review copy....more
I have been such a huge fan of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, I was so excited while reading the firsOrigially posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I have been such a huge fan of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, I was so excited while reading the first three, knowing I had Fairest, a prequel to the series from Queen Levana's point of view, to read! I was so looking forward to see why Levana is who she is, and what her motivations are. Fairest wasn't the story I expected, but it was wonderful!
I was completely surprised by Levana's story. We get her backstory, right from when she was 15 until just over a decade later. I was expecting to see a cruel young girl who enjoys others' pain, but what I found was a girl who is so unbelievably insecure. Something unimaginable happened in her past that left her terribly scarred. Levana is mocked and ridiculed by her malicious older sister Channery, everyone at the palace looks down on her and laughs at her, and her parents never seemed to care.
She has a crush on one of the guards, Evret, and when he shows some kindness, it's the first time anyone has been nice to her for so long. Her crush becomes a desperate infatuation, and with her innocence and naivety, she reads far more into his words than there is to read, and makes herself believe he is in love with her, too - despite the fact he is married to a woman he quite obviously adores with all of his being. Their story is such a tragic one, and I can't help but feel so deeply sorry for Levana. She just wants to be loved, and she makes herself believe it so fully, she won't accept any denial on his part. She does some terrible, disgusting things, but they are born of desperation. She is so alone, and so unbelievably lonely. She just wants to be happy, and believes Evret is the only person who can bring her happiness.
Queen Channery dies while her daughter, Selene, is just a baby, and so Levana becomes Queen Regent. Under the reign of her parents and Channary, Lunar hasn't faired as well as it could, in the hands of those who cared more about their own interests than that of their home and people. Levana, however, has always taken a keen interest in politics and how Lunar is run, and discovers she's actually very good at making decisionsand coming up with ideas for the betterment of her planet. Lunar thrives, and so does she. But it's here that we start to see the Queen she will become. The people of Lunar would be more productive if they had compulsory breaks, as she has seen works well on Earth. This works well, but she is advised that revolt is likely if the people of Lunar have too much time to socialise with each other, and so she decides there should be a curfew after the work day, which will be enforced by more guards. She starts small, but the dictatorial and manipulative rule that we know her for has it's roots here, taking away this freedom from her people. She doesn't even blink at the idea, but this is probably links to how she feels about how she's treated Evret, and she does genuinely believe that she's doing what's right for Lunar, and has her people's best interests at heart.
We get more of a history on leutomosis, the disease that ravages Earth in the first three books of the series. Dr. Erland touched on how he believes that Leutomosis is a biological weapon from Lunar, but in Fairest, we're told exactly how this came about. I expected to read about a cold-hearted Queen, who revels in the thought of the pain and death she is the cause of, taking sadistic joy from it all. But that's not the Levana we see. She's a politican and a strategist. What befalls earth is terrible, but Levana isn't enjoying it. She might enjoy how her plans are working, but it's a means to an end, the end being an alliance with Earth - that will be made by offering the antidote - so Lunar can have access to resources the planet is running out of.
They don't have huge parts, but we get backstory on Cinder as Selene and Cress in Fairest, and are introduced to Winter. We get her backstory as well as Levana's, as they are so intertwined, Winter being Evret's daughter. Although Fairest is a prequel, it works to read it after Cress but before Winter, as it was written, because of what we already know of Cinder and Cress. Some parts might not make as much sense, or the import will be lost, if Fairest was read before any of the other books in the series. I've been told you don't need to read Fairest before Winter, but having the insight on Levana when reading Winter can help you understand the woman and her motivations as you read Winter.
Fairest was a much more emotional read than I was expected. Levana is cruel, manipulative, and vicious, but she's also a woman who had a terrible childhood, who has only wants to be loved and liked, and do the best for her planet. She wants to be happy, but her unhappiness can't be cured with power, but she doesn't seem to understand this. So she's always striving for more, the next thing, and the then the next thing, and so on, desperate. Levana is a woman to be feared, but she's also a woman to be pitied.
Fairest was a wonderful novella, and I'm really keen to see how my view of Levana might change as I read Winter. This series is just incredible!...more
I can't really begin to express how much I love The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. With each book, it juOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I can't really begin to express how much I love The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. With each book, it just gets better; the world, the originality, the effortless weaving of fairytales we know into a completely unrecognisable story that I just can't get enough of. Cress is no exception; the stakes are raised, the clock is ticking, and things get even more epic.
I don't want to give too much away because so much happens, so I'm not writing a description this time round, as I think the Goodreads description is good enough. But oooh, this story is just so good! I don't know the original story of Rapunzel very well; I know she's locked in a tower, has very long hair, which is used to help a prince climb the tower. Otherwise, I'm in the dark, so I didn't have the same experience of recognition as certain parts of the story reflected the original. Even so, it was still bloody brilliant.
As I said, things get epic in this story, and this is due to them being split up. Everyone is in danger, but no-one knows how the others are doing, if they're even alive. Cress and Thorne end up on Earth in the middle of a desert, with no life to be seen in any direction for miles. Because of the events of the botched yet partially successful rescue attempt, Thorne is injured, and Cress is struggling with being out of her satellite, with all the space and all the sky. Cress needs Thorne to keep her from drowning in anxiety, and Thorne needs Cress because he's injured. They both need the other's help, and it's difficult. Thorne needs to do some fast talking to keep Cress calm, and needs to really think in order to keep them alive, and Cress needs to keep a lid on her anxiety to help Thorne get about and follow his instructions. And this is all so, so wonderful! Seriously! Thorne is still Thorne; still arrogrant and funny and making a joke out of everything, but in Cress, he shows he's also very smart. Not only that, but he's great under pressure. He is so compassionate and kind and gentle with Cress, despite the fact he's struggling with his injury himself. He can't afford to freak out and worry about what's happened to him, because he's the only one who can keep them alive, because not only does Cress not know much about Earth at all, she hasn't been out of her satellite for seven years. She has no idea what to do. Thorne really steps up, and my admiration for him really grows. He's definitely the comic relief of the series, but he's also a fantastic character in his own right. There's a conversation he and Cress have; Cress talks about how she's always thought of him as a hero, because of the research she's done on him - there's always been some kind of altruistic motive behind his wrong doings. Thorne tells her she's got him all wrong, and those altruistic motives were made up to get him out of trouble - he's no hero. Except in this story, that's exactly what he is. And he's wonderful!
I didn't warm to Cress as much as I hoped. I didn't hate her, I actually liked her, but I didn't warm to her as much as I warmed to Cinder and Scarlet. That might just be because she spent a lot of time with Thorne, who I completely adore, so my attention was more on him. Saying that, she's still a fantastic character. She's scared, she's really terrified - of defying her queen, of what will happen to Earth if Levana marries Kai, what will happen to her if she's ever caught, what will happen to her and Thorne in this desert, of the world itself - but she is brilliant. She's super intelligent, and all the time in the satellite has taught her to be an exceptional hacker. She's resourceful and smart, even when she's scared, and she's so brave. Courageous. She is scared all the time, but she still defies Queen Levana and Mistress Sybil. She takes action and works against them, despite being terrified, and you can only admire her for it. I have so much respect for her, and am in such awe.
Which made me really just how wonderful the female characters in this series are. They're all based on fairy tale damsels in distress, but they're all so resourceful and smart and strong! When it comes down to the crunch, Cinder, Scarlet and Cress will always do the thing they believe is right, and show such bravery. Cinder tries to warn Kai at the ball that Levana will kill him; Scarlet goes off to find her grandmother once she's found out that she's been kidnapped; Cress goes against those who have only kept her alive for how useful she is. And not only that, but look at the jobs these ladies have; Cinder is a mechanic, Scarlet practically runs the business of her grandmother's farm, Cress is a computer hacker - all jobs that are stereotypically thought of as jobs for - and given to - men. These ladies are the kind of role models we need in fiction these days. They're not your typical damsels in distress - they may get into scrapes they need help getting out of, but they also do some rescuing of their own. These characters are women to look up to.
This book is action packed, and packs one hell of a punch! Just as you think things are starting to look good, there's another obstacle, and another, and another. Characters are mourning those they believe dead, and trying to carry on without them, despite their grief. There's the huge, unbelievable build up to the end, and then that ending! Oh my god! I am so excited to pick up Winter, the fourth and final book in The Lunar Chronicles, but I'm waiting. I'm waiting to read Fairest, which I believe is a prequel to the series, from Levana's point of view. Apparently it's not crucial to read before Winter, but it gives an insight into the queen and can help, I've heard. So I've ordered it online, and I'm going to read that first. I am SO excited! And it also means the end of the series is put off a little longer.
This series is absolutely incredible, and I really, really don't want it to end! I'm so glad I have two more full length books, and a short story collection, Stars Above, to read before leaving this world. I simply cannot get enough!...more
What can I say? Winter by Marissa Meyer brought The Lunar Chronicles to a conclusion. A series and characterOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
What can I say? Winter by Marissa Meyer brought The Lunar Chronicles to a conclusion. A series and characters I have grown to love over the last few months. I put off reading Winter for as long as I could, not wanting to say goodbye, yet picked it up after not long at all, desperate to know how the story would end. And Winter was absolutely incredible.
After stalling the wedding between Emperor Kai and Queen Levana by kidnapping Kai, Cinder and her friends start finalising their plans. Kai is now on board, and will do all he can to help. He must go back and persuade Levana that the wedding should take place on Luna. When the Earthens travel to Luna, Cinder, Cress, Thorne, Wolf and Iko will be smuggled in. Cinder will then announce her true identity to the citizens of Luna and start a revolution to get Levana off the throne. Meanwhile, Levana has started to become jealous of the love and adoration her step-daughter Winter inspires in the people of Luna. Not being of royal blood, there's no way that Winter can ever become Queen, but Levana is anxious enough as it is with Cinder still out there somewhere. Levana will not leave any threat to her throne, and Winter must escape if she wants to keep on living. Being reunited with her long lost cousin and joining their revolution to overthrow Levana is the only way she can remain safe. But having refused to use her Lunar gift for years, her mind is fraying. She is constantly bombarded with hallucinations and sometimes barely holds it together. Will Winter really be able to help when she can't trust her own mind?
Oh, how I loved this book! I've been saying it in each of my reviews of this series as they've gone on, but Winter was so epic! Although there are the sci-fi roots with cyborgs, androids and space travel, Winter felt a lot more like a high fantasy meets dystopia, and I absolutely loved it! The revolution, the plans and strategy, the various people coming together to fight against an evil entity felt so familiar, it was like coming home, but to a more contemporary/futuristic high fantasy, but high fantasy nonetheless. There were twists and turns the whole way through. Things didn't always go to plan, the group was separated, and no-one knew what was happening to them, if they were still alive. Plans had to be adapted when pivotal people went missing, and you were constantly left dying to know more, desperate to know how things would play out, how these amazing characters were going to get out of that. It was just bloody brilliant! So epic and fast paced, and things really get moving very early on, and it's almost non-stop from the get-go. Winter is a book where you're constantly on the edge of your seat, and it was just incredible!
Of course, I need to talk about the title character. Being the final book in the series, in comparison to the other books, we're with the other characters more than we are with Winter - or rather, it's pretty equal. Everyone gets their own third person narrations at different parts of the story. But at the same time, Winter had to deal with the revolution but also Winter's story, that of Snow White. I have to say I was really impressed with Winter in this regard; it can't have been easy to finish off this series, tie up loose ends and bring the story to a fantastic conclusion, but also introduce a new character and tell her story too. The fairy tale elements of Snow White were there, given a twist and updated like we're used to, but with this story, they were wonderfully interwoven with the larger plot. I think it would have been very easy for it to feel like to separate stories - the story of the revolution and the story of Winter - but Meyer shows just what an expert storyteller she is in creating one whole story; the revolution wouldn't have been what it was without Winter, and Winter's story wouldn't have played out the way it did if the revolution wasn't happening. They were integral to each other, rather than separates. And it was just wonderful!
I found Winter to be a fantastic character. She is so kind and selfless, to the point that she is putting her life at risk. She swore long ago never to lie or manipulate others with her gift, and the effects of not using it have led to her suffering from what is called the Lunar sickness. She's become mentally ill, and her hallucinations seem so very real, and they absolutely terrify her. Can you imagine? These visions are horrific - the walls bleed, or a harness starts to suffocate you, or your body slowly starts turning to ice - and you know it's not real, it's not really happening, but that doesn't stop you from panicking. And there's a way you could make this all stop, but making it stop would mean going against your morals, so you continue to suffer, and get worse. And it's not just the hallucinations, the Lunar sickness effects how she thinks, too. So she makes decisions that aren't necessarily wise, and puts herself in dangerous situations simply because she doesn't think rationally, at least not all the time. I'd like to say Winter isn't romanticising mental illness in the slightest, it doesn't give the idea of Winter heroically suffering for the sake of others, that's not what it's about. There's nothing heroic or beautiful about what Winter is going through. It's traumatic. And I think the subject of mental illness is dealt with so brilliantly in this novel. It's fantastic.
I absolutely loved the climax of the story. It was unbelievable! It's full of jaw-dropping "OH MY GOD!" moments, and you have no idea who's going to get out of it alive. Seriously, the stakes are so high, lives are at considerable risk. It's terrifying. The ending of the book, and the series, was just fantastic and so satisfying - though there were moments I wish we'd got to see or got to see more of. I felt those moments were pretty important, and we should have got to see them. But overall, Winter is an amazing story and an epic conclusion, and has firmly put Meyer up there with my favourites. I'm so happy there's still Stars Above, the short story collection, so I don't have to say a complete goodbye to these characters just yet. I will read anything Meyer writes in the future with complete relish. Meyer is definitely an auto-buy author.
When I first heard that Marissa Meyer was writing Heartless - a prequel origins story of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland - I was a little nervous. Because it's by Meyer, I was definitely going to read, as I adored The Lunar Chronicles, but I do not like Alice in Wonderland. It's a bit too weird for me, too much goes on, and I worried, because Heartless would be set in that universe, that it would be a bit too weird, too. Thankfully, I absolutely adored it!
Heartless started off a bit on the slow side, but it soon picked up. Lady Catherine Pinkerton is the daughter of Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove. With a love of baking, all she wants is a simple life of owning a bakery and selling the cakes and pastries the kingdom of Hearts already can't get enough of. Her mother, however, has other plans; she is determined that Cath will become the bumbling, giggling, jittery King of Hearts' wife and become the Queen, though Cath couldn't think of anything worse. When the King appoints a new court joker, Jest, Cath's eyes are opened to a new possibility. Jest is charming and flirtatious, and seems to be as interested in Cath as she is of him. But her family would never approve of her courting a lowly joker. While trying to fight for the life she wants, terror has arrived in Hearts; a Jabberwock, the beast everyone thought was a myth, attacks at a ball, injuring people and eating others. But who will rid the kingdom of the monster, when the king buries his head in the sand, pretending nothing is happening?
There were things I saw coming, and things I didn't. Knowing that Heartless is a prequel to Alice in Wonderland, that it's an origin story, you know how it's going to end: Cath will marry the King and become the Queen. You know this from the start, but as you read the story, get too know and care about the characters, the more and more you hope that it doesn't come to pass. Although the world Cath lives in is fantastical, it has a similar societal structure to Victorian England, and it felt stifling. Cath, as a daughter of aristocracy, is not free to do as she pleases. She has a role to play; she is to uphold the family honour, and not disgrace it. Running a bakery? Courting a joker? Her parents would never allow it. And yet, Cath dreams. She dreams so strongly that she makes plans, with her maid, Mary Ann, who she plans to go into business with. They find a shop that's closing down, they try to work out ways to gain the money to buy it. This isn't just some idle fancy of Cath's, it's what she wants more than anything. But she is a girl, and a Lady at that, she will never be allowed to do such lowly work.
And as she and Jest - who at times reminds me of Thorn from The Lunar Chronicles - begin to fall for each other, the more heartbreaking the story gets. It's surprisingly emotional, as Cath dares to dream of a life of her own, and slowly seeing her dreams fall in tatters. It upset me, but it made me angry. There are some serious not-so-subtle feminist undertones to this story, which I love. Cath is controlled by the confines of class, the confines of her gender, and really, it's just as horrifying at the Jabberwock. Really, it's no wonder the Queen of Hearts is like she is. It's so very easy to put yourself in Cath's shoes, and the misery overwhelmed me as it looked like everything would be taken from her two thirds of the way in, then desperately clinging to home when it looked like there was a chance to turn things around, and then the devastation, the anger and the rage. Oh my god, the rage.
I should point out that characters we know from the original story do make an appearance. The White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter (who is quite a prominent character himself, and Heartless could also be considered his origin story), the March Hare. Some only have minor roles and tiny cameo appearances, but others show up pretty regularly. It was strange, but kind of cool to find that I liked most of these characters, while I was pretty certain I would hate them.
If there were any negatives to the story, they're just be small nit-picky things that I would have liked to have seen more of. I would have liked to see Cath and Jest's relationship develop a bit more. It's not instalove, but I don't feel there are quite enough moments between them before they've both fallen. I liked Jest being flirty and skirting along the edge of outrageous, but he soon becomes love-struck and is more soft, sharing how he feels often. Also, I would have liked the sub-plot of the Jabberwock to have had more of a focus, because I loved all those scary, action-filled moments. But because Cath is a Lady, dealing with the Jabberwock - if anyone is going to, what with the King in charge - isn't something that involves her, even when she is being courted by the King. The Jabberwock is attacking the kingdom, and although Cath is present for some of the things that happen, she's not around for everything. I really would have liked to have known more about it, like how? I know why and how the Jabberwock has appeared, but I would like that explanation expanded upon. I have some questions I don't know the answers to. But again, it's only a small thing, and doesn't matter in the great scheme of things. Just tiny, nit-picky things.
I absolutely loved Heartless. It put my emotions through the wringer, and made me care about characters I previously disliked. Such a wonderful, emotional story, and I so wish there were more books to come. Heartless has made me feel a lot less nervous about trying other Alice in Wonderland retellings, so I'm excited to go back to this universe through other authors!
Thank you to Macmillan Children's Books for the proof....more
Having absolutely adored Cinder, I was really excited to read the sequel in Marissa Meyer's Lunar ChroniclesOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
Having absolutely adored Cinder, I was really excited to read the sequel in Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, which takes on the fairy tale Little Read Riding Hood. And I'm so pleased to say Scarlet is even more incredible!
Scarlet's grandmother has gone missing. The police have been investigating, but due to a lack of evidence point towards her not leaving of her own accord, they've closed the case. But Scarlet knows her grandmother, and knows this is not like her. When her neglectful, drunken father turns up at her home, ransacking the place, terrified and not making much sense, Scarlet finally has some idea of what happened to her grandma; she was kidnapped because of something the kidnappers believe she has, and they tortured her father in the hopes of trying to get the information from her. Scarlet is determined to find her and rescue her herself if she has to, but she ends up getting help from Wolf, a street fighter, who has a tattoo very similar to those of her father and grandma's kidnappers. The kidnappers are a gang Wolf used to belong to, and as he knows where they are, he's promised to help her. But Scarlet has seen how vicious Wolf can be when he's angry, how dangerous he is. Can she trust in his help? Meanwhile, Cinder, now equipped with the swanky new hand with inbuilt toolkit from Dr Erland, is trying to escape from prison. She knows within days Queen Levana will take her to Lunar to execute her, and knows the real reason why: she's Princess Selene, the rightful heir to the Lunar throne. Reeling from this information, the only way she can cope is by trying to figure out a way of escaping without being caught. Cinder is slowly learning how to control her Lunar gift of manipulating bioelectricity, and comes across fellow prisoner, Captain Carswell Thorne, who just so happens to have a spaceship hidden. The two plan to make their getaway, but then what? Cinder is supposed to meet Dr Erland in Africa, but doesn't know if she wants to be a Princess and go against Queen Levana. She just wants to be free. Instead, she tries to find someone who may have more information about her past, so she can work out just how she came to Earth and ended up as a cyborg.
Oh my god, I loved this book! There's so much more of an adventure feel to it, what with Scarlett going off in search of her grandmother. But it's also a much more emotional read. There was the sorrow of Peony's death in the first book, and the despair over Cinder's life because of the treatment from Adri, but in this book, there is so much on the line! Scarlet saw what the gang did to her father, the burn marks from a poker in rows all over his arm, and she's terrified about what they have been doing to her grandma, Michelle, for the past three weeks. She has no idea what they could want from her, what they think she could possibly have - she runs a farm on the outskirts of a small, quiet French town - but knows her life is in terrible danger, and she and Wolf will be walking into it.
And with Cinder, there is so much fear of being discovered! So many close shaves! It's only down to her Lunar gift that she and Thorne get out of the scrapes they find themselves in, but she is so conflicted about using it. She doesn't want to be like Queen Levana, abusing this power and manipulating people to get what she wants, but without she would be dead. She and Thorne are wanted fugitives, and she has to do all she can to evade capture.
I love the new characters we meet in this book. Scarlett is brave and determined, and she cannot leave Michelle to these thugs who have her, when the police will do nothing. The only person who even cares is her; what chance does Michelle have without her? She's scared, but mostly for Michelle than for herself. She has got to free Michelle, because nobody else will. Wolf is a really intriguing and fascinating character. I found him to be a really sweet guy; he's strong and can very much handle himself in a fight, but as a person, he seems unsure and nervous. You can tell he's conflicted about helping Scarlet - going back to the gang really isn't something he wants to do, but at the same time, he knows what danger Michelle is in. He also really struggles with the mounting attraction between him and Scarlet, and doesn't really know what to do with it. For Scarlett, Wolf has her feeling so many different emotions; distrust, fear, anger, attraction, hope, frustration. Their relationship is a complicated one, but really interesting to watch develop.
Thorne! Oh my god, how I love Thorne! He's not exactly the smartest guy going, but he's full of self-assurance and arrogance. This makes him sound like a really irritating character, but he's such a flirt and always making light of things, or taking small things too seriously, he's hilarious! The things he comes out with, oh my god, I just love him. He is seriously one of the highlights of the book for me, and I do so hope we get to see so much more of him in future, because he is just so brilliant! He's the kind of guy I'd love to hang out with, but being the thief that he is, that probably wouldn't be wise.
The action is really cranked up in this book, both in regards to trying to escape and evade capture for Cinder and Thorne, and in the journey to Michelle for Scarlet and Wolf, but also in regards to... fighting. That's not exactly correct, but I can't explain further without spoiling this book. But oh my god, this book gets close to the point of terrifying towards the end. It's disturbing and wrong, and so, so scary. Lives are very much at steak in this book, on a massive scale. I don't think I've ever read a book that made me physically feel like I'd had such a work out as Scarlet did reading those last several chapters. I was sitting at the edge of my seat, my heart was hammering, and I was so tense there was a tightness in my chest. The emotions I went through towards the end! This is one of those books where you cannot see a way out of a terrible situation, and I was literally terrified for these characters. The ending is so cinematic, I could see it all, and I was feeling the fear for the characters like I do when watching a horror movie. Those last few chapters are epic! Seriously! And this is just the second book in the series!
If you hadn't guessed, I absolutely loved this book, and my excitement for the rest of the series huge! But I also have such super high expectations now, and I'm a little worried that they might be too high? But oh my gooood, I am so, so, so excited for Cress, the third book in the series! I'm now actually so glad it took me so long to read this series, because I don't have to wait too long for the next books. I'm trying to make this series last, so I'll read a few other books before getting to Cress, but I really don't know how long I can wait, because that ending was just incredible! I will absolutely read anything Meyer writes in the future, she has solidified a place amongst my favourite authors with these two books, and I am so excited for everything she will ever write.
I have wanted to read Ash for longer than I can remember. I loved the cover, and I love the idea of fairy taOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I have wanted to read Ash for longer than I can remember. I loved the cover, and I love the idea of fairy tale retellings. However, when I discovered it was actually a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, I wanted to read it all the more. How different it would be! When I came up with the idea for LGBTQ YA Month, I knew it was finally time to give it a go. Unfortunately, I wasn't that impressed.
Ash is a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters, and is badly treated. She lives in a land where some people still believe in magic and fairies, and she wishes a fairy would bring her mother back or take her away - even if it means she can never return. When she meets beautiful fairy Sidhean in the woods, Ash believes she will get her wish, but he keeps telling her she's not yet ready. Sidhean becomes her only friend, Ash finding him in the woods whenever she can manage to get away. But one day, instead of Sidhean, it's Kaisa, the King's Huntress, that she bumps into. The two strike up a tender friendship, and Ash soon discovers she has feelings for Kaisa. Ash starts to realise life might actually be worth staying for after all, but Sidhean has claimed her for his own.
There are some aspects of the story that are the same or similar to that of the fairy tale we all know. The main differences are the LGBTQ aspect, and the involvement of Sidhean and fairies in general. As a fairy tale retelling, Ash feels much like a high fantasy, but the fairies feel a lot like the fae you would read about in folklore, or in some YA urban fantasies and paranormal romances, just a little subtler. We still have the girl who is a slave to her stepmother and stepsisters, we have a prince and we have a ball where he is to find a wife. We have magical clothes, a carriage and footmen, but instead of a Fairy Godmother, we have Sidhean, and the wishes he grants come with a price. (I would like to point out that although shoes come with the clothes, they are neither made from carpet as in the original story, or glass from the more modern version - despite the shoes Ash is holding on the cover appearing to be made of glass).
Ash is a sweet story, and a very good retelling, but it's kind of slow paced, and even at it's highest and lowest points, the tension seems to stay on one level really, or it felt that way to me. There just wasn't really much to get excited about, unfortunately, simply because the tension didn't always match the events taking place. And the ending really annoyed me. It just felt much too easy to me. I finished reading it thinking, "Really? That's it? That's how it ends?" I was really disappointed, and felt kind of let down.
The romance is sweet, but very slow to build. Most of the time, Ash has feelings she doesn't really understand, and doesn't know what to do with. The fact that she's a lesbian isn't made too much of a big deal out of in regards to what other people might think. There is some hint that it may be a bit controversial, but the story doesn't focus on it, it focuses on Ash and Kaisa. The actual realisation of Ash and Kaisa's feelings for each other doesn't come about until we're nearing the end, so it's more of a self-discovery and discovering the emotion of love than about an actual romantic relationship.
I love the idea behind Ash, and I think LGBTQ retellings of fairy tales could really work. Sadly, this particular story didn't work for me personally. Be sure to read some other reviews of Ash before deciding whether to read it or not; don't decide not to based on my review alone....more
I've had a proof copy of Cinder by Marissa Meyer since before it was published, and although it sounded realOriginally posted on Once Upon a Bookcase.
I've had a proof copy of Cinder by Marissa Meyer since before it was published, and although it sounded really interesting, it's taken me until now to read it. This series has been raved about far and wide, but I'm not a huge fan of sci-fi, and a retelling of Cinderella where she's a cyborg mechanic... it made me nervous. But as I set up the Retelling Reading Challenge 2016 for the sole purpose of finally getting down to reading these books. And I really wish I hadn't waited so long; Cinder was bloody amazing!
Cinder is a mechanic in New Beijing, and all of her earnings go straight to her lazy stepmother. She was in an accident when she was 11, and the only way to save her was to make her a cyborg, which, by law, makes her the property of her stepmother. She has no rights to own anything. When Prince Kai, heir to the Eastern Commonwealth, stops by her booth in disguise, asking for help fixing his android, and soon after her youngest and favourite stepsister catches the plague, her life is changed forever. She is soon sent off to the palace by her stepmother to be involved in the cyborg experiments to find a cure - experiments involving injecting her with the plague, with only one real outcome. Only she doesn't die. Meanwhile, Prince Kai is thrust into politics when his father, the Emperor, dies from the plague, and must continue to try to form an alliance with Queen Levana, the evil queen of Luna, who controls her subjects through magical brainwashing. But the only alliance she will agree to is marriage to the Prince, to become Empress. But Prince Kai has bumped into Cinder a couple of times at the palace, and he seems to have more than a casual interest in her.
Oh my god, this book was incredible! There are a few elements of the original Cinderella story within Cinder - she slaves away for her stepmother, there is a pumpkin coloured "carriage" of some kind, there's a ball and a prince - but there is so much of this novel that is new! Although the elements of the original fairytale story are there, and some of them you expect to appear in someway, you never know how they're going to appear, or how Cinder will get from one moment to the next. Cinder is so gripping, and I was completely absorbed in this story.
There was an element of this story that I guessed at as soon as it was mentioned, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the story. Although it's sci-fi-esque with androids and cyborgs, and an humanoid aliens from the moon, it felt a lot like a high fantasy to me, with all the royal and political intrigue and manoeuvring. Though the story focused more on Cinder and her story, we did get some chapters from Prince Kai's perspective, so we knew what was going on inside the palace walls and with Queen Levana.
I want to rave, and rave, and rave about this book, but I'm really not sure if there's more I can talk about plot-wise without spoiling the story. So on to the characters. Cinder is wonderful. She is a whole lot spunkier than the Cinderella we've all been brought up with. She argues and stands up to her stepmother, even when it's likely to get her into trouble. She's no walkover. I love that this story took the element original element of her slavery and made it into something different, something that also challenges gender roles. Cinder has to work, because her stepmother needs the money, and she doesn't work. But she's not slaving away for hours doing chores, she has an actual job and it's in something she's not only good at, but something she enjoys! Cinder is also pretty damn clever and resourceful, and she's just brilliant.
Prince Kai was really interesting. The romance is a slow burner in Cinder; they're attracted to each other, but there are other things going on in each others' lives. Not only is Kai having to deal with the sudden death of his father, but also the fact that Queen Levana decides to make her way to Earth the day after, to show give her "condolences" in person, and be there for the coronation. I loved how Kai had to deal with politics of trying to keep the Queen of a stronger planet happy so that another war is started, but at the same time, doesn't want to give his planet over to the Queen on a plate by marrying her. She is a threat, but it's difficult to find a way around the threat without marriage or war - a war they can't win. I really, really love political intrigue, so this side of things was right up my alley.
Queen Levana is the best kind of villain. Oh my god, is she sadistic. She glamours everyone into seeing her as beautiful, and has all the people of Luna worshipping her. There's a sign of uprising? Well, just fiddle with their minds and make them love you instead. Or kill them. She's a complete dictator who strives for power, and only has her throne by killing her sister and niece. She's vicious and cruel, and wonderfully, wonderfully evil. I'm really looking forward to seeing what other abominable things she'll be behind in future books.
I absolutely loved Cinder, and I am so excited to read the second book in The Lunar Chronicles, Scarlet. If you've not yet read Cinder, don't leave it as long as I did. Pick this book up now!