Review of "Sherwood" by Meagan Spooner

Spooner, Meagan. Sherwood. New York: HarperTeen, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062422316 | 467 pages | YA Historical Fiction

3.5 stars

I don’t remember where I first heard about Meagan Spooner, but I had her previous fairytale retelling on my radar for a while, then subsequently added Sherwood to my TBR upon its release. While I wasn’t super familiar with the Robin Hood legend beyond the basics, I was intrigued by the twist on the story suggested in the blurb.

And it’s a petty good story, particularly in terms of developing Marian as a character in her own right. I love her taking up the mantle of Robin Hood, in light of Robin’s death and the growing political corruption. And the way it develops an understanding of her and Robin’s bond through flashbacks to their courtship was great, and I wish they had been more frequent, espevially when they dwindled in the latter half.

Unfortunately, the other romance between Marian and her other suitor, Guy of Gisborne, put a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not opposed to her finding another romantic partner on principle, but the fact that he is opposed to everything she stands for and the execution of his supposed defection is handled in a completely unconvincing way made the relationship hard to buy into.

It’s a great attempt at writing a feminist, gender-flipped Robin Hood, but it is still a bit flawed. The writing style is engaging, and the plot is fun, centering on a great characterso I feel like it’s still worth giving a shot if this book appeals to you.

Review of “The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan” by Sherry Thomas

Thomas, Sherry. The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan. New York: Tu Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $19.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1620148044 | 348 pages | YA Historical Fiction

4 stars

I was incredibly excited for The Magnolia Sword, in part because Mulan is one of my favorite Disney Princesses, for all the reasons listed in this video and more, and because I loved hearing about the unique journey Sherry Thomas went on finding out about the original tale and the time period in which it’s believed to be set in, which went beyond even her scope of knowledge as a Chinese immigrant, which she documented during the writing process on social media, also touching on briefly in her author’s note.

And ultimately, her work pays off, sending readers on a similar journey to hers with these book as she presents a story not inspired not only by the “original” Mulan, but also capturing the era of fifth century China in all of its political complexity in an easily digestible way that also pays respect to the historical period, while also making it very much her own with her sensuous and evocative writing style.

I loved delving into Mulan as a character and her place in relation to the familial and gender politics, which play a role in the story. It’s great to see her as a genuinely good fighter from the start, in keeping with the original, yet she also feels like a real person with real flaws, which makes her easy to root for.

While the romance wasn’t the main element, I found myself rather underwhelmed by the “princeling” character. His “secrets” do leave an impact for the broader story, but I just didn’t care for him as a romantic interest, and as much as I love a good romance, I think it would be great for Mulan, of all folktale characters, to end up alone in certain iterations…or at least give her a more interesting love interest, if you must have romance.

This is a wonderful retelling of Mulan, for the most part, and one I recommend to all Mulan fans, whether their entry point was the Disney movie, the original retelling, or something else.

Review of “The Lady in the Coppergate Tower” (Steampunk Proper Romance #3) by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. The Lady in the Coppergate Tower. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629725543 | 354 pages | Steampunk Romance

4.5 stars

I happened to find The Lady in the Coppergate Tower on the shelf at my local bookstore peculiarly early, and despite my initial plans to delay reading it until release week, my dissatisfaction with some of the books I had been considering reading got the better of me, and I was looking for a purely fun, exciting read.

And it is indeed that. A Rapunzel retelling with some elements of Dracula, Allen once again provides an original spin on a classic tale. The way she interweaves the elements of the original, with some of the connections only coming to the forefront at the end, was incredibly satisfying. And while the villain is incredibly obvious, even prior to the full reveal of his intentions and identity, due to all the hints dropped over the course of the story, it did not detract from my enjoyment.

The characters and their arcs are also great, particularly Hazel’s. While she is by no means a naive heroine at the beginning of the book, I love that this experience allows her to grow in terms of her understanding of herself, through her discovery of her long-lost twin sister. And while the story begins with Sam often playing the role of savior, I like that, in true Rapunzel fashion, it is she who saves him at the end.

This is a great book on three counts: a book in its own right, as part of Allen’s Steampunk Proper Romance Fairy Tales series (which I hope she plans to continue), and as a truly engaging and original retelling. I would recommend this to other fans of fairy tale retellings.

Review of “Stepsister” by Jennifer Donnelly

Donnelly, Jennifer. Stepsister. New York: Scholastic Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1338268461 | 342 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

I was intrigued at the idea of a story from Cinderella’s stepsister’s perspective that seemed to subvert our expectations that we had from the original tale, in spite it following in a trend of rewriting fairy tales that has been constant for the last several years in various forms of media.

One of the things I appreciated was it went back to the roots of the original stories, combining elements of both the Perrault and Grimm versions, and also added some much-needed historical context to re-examine these characters and flesh them out, to understand the perceived importance of marriage for all the characters, before working to subverting it.

It was also an interesting choice to see Isabelle as the adventurous one, who didn’t really fit the mold of a proper lady, when some of the other progressive adaptations of Cinderella, like Ever After (which I do still love) paint the Cinderella character as the tomboy.

On that note, I really loved the exploration of Ella’s relationship with Isabelle and Octavia, and how things ended up not being a one-sided jealousy after all. While it is a bit cliche, it was nice to see that Ella is flawed and prone to jealousy too, in spite of her outward beauty and appearance to have it all physically, and this complemented Isabelle’s own journey going from wanting to be pretty to finding out what really matters to her.

This is a wonderful retelling that expands and reworks elements of Cinderella in just the right ways. I would recommend this to other fans of fairy tale retellings.

Review of “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge” by Lisa Jensen

Jensen, Lisa.Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018.
Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0763688806 | 337 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

Trigger warning: This book contains a two-page rape scene rather early on in the book.

Normally, I don’t read books with rape scenes, particularly if the rapist is being presented as the hero of the book. However, the promise that the book put a new spin on Beauty and the Beast made the book almost impossible to pass up. And while I was still prepared for the worst, given the variety of reviews, I ended up absolutely adoring the book.

For one, I love how this story adds layers to the Beast’s past and discusses the duality between the selfish aristocrat and unexpectedly kind Beast in a refreshing new way. In a lot of versions of the story, his true crimes as a cruel prince are glossed over or only discussed briefly and in vague terms, but in this version we get a fuller picture of the vile nature of Jean-Loup, providing a contrast with the sweet natured Beast, as if they are truly different people.

I also love the heroine, Lucie. One of the common features of the original tale and many retellings is that the “Beauty” figure is endlessly good-natured, but Lucie is definitely not that. She is a sympathetic character, but she has a dark side, from being an instrument in an act of revenge against Jean-Loup to thinking petty thoughts about Rose on occasion, and even behaving a bit badly to her at one point (although she is unaware of it). However, it is still easy to root for her, due to the fact that she has this growing love for Beast, and longs to do what is best for him (just as he wants to do what is best for her). While it was a little strange to have quite a bit of the book follow the love story between a beast and a candlestick, I somehow loved it.

I would recommend this to fans of darker fairy tale retellings. Due to the aforementioned trigger warning, it is definitely not for the faint of heart. But if you like retellings that not only turn your favorite stories on their head, but add further moral ambiguity to the mix, then I think you would love this book.

Review of “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns” (Rise of the Empress #1) by Julie C. Dao

Dao, Julie. C. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. New York: Philomel Books, 2017. 

Hardcover | $18/99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524738297 | 363 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stara

I discovered Forest of a Thousand Lanterns completely randomly on the shelves, and was taken by the concept: an Evil Queen origin story reimagined in an East Asian-inpsired setting? Yes, please!

And all my expectations were fulfilled and more. I love Xifeng as a character, and how she starts off on the traditional path we often see in love stories where the oppressive parental figure doesn’t approve of how they’re conducting their life, running away from her vindictive and often abusive aunt, Guma. But over the course of the story, as opposed to rising above this, I love how it is shown how Guma and what she wanted for her haunts her, to the point of sending her on a path where she becomes a completely different person, unafraid to get rid of anyone standing in her way. But it feels like a natural progression. with there still being elements about her that we can root for even at the end of the book, even if we don’t necessarily agree with all her actions.

The secondary characters also felt very real as well, and despite it being a fantasy, I could see parallels between the court environment presented in this book and the intrigue- and betrayal-ridden ancient Chinese courts I had read about in similar books, with lots of backstabbing among the women to get to the top, even if initially some might act friendly.

And with the way things ended in this one, setting up for the actual Snow White story in the next book, I can’t wait to see what comes next. I recommend this book to fans of stories with anti-heroines, or to those who, like me, also love twists on fairy tales.

 

Review of “Kiss of the Spindle” (Steampunk Proper Romance #2) by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. Kiss of the Spi, ndle. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2018. 

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629724140 | 370 pages |Romance/Steampunk

5 stars

After reading and loving Beauty and the Clockwork Beast, I was excited soon after to find out there would be a sequel of sorts, and that it would be based on “Sleeping Beauty,” which despite not being one of my favorite fairy tales, was a refreshing change due to being one of the fairy tales that gets retold less often, especially outside the straight-up fantasy genre. And I loved Allen’s take on the story, making it her own, while imbuing it with just enough from the original tale (and the Disney version) to please fans of fairy tale retellings.

I love that Isla is a strong heroine, in spite of the curse being placed on her, and I love seeing the way she takes initiative in working to solve the problem, and I love that the curse leaves her vulnerable in a unique way. And she is complemented perfectly by Daniel, who is able to watch out for her, but also has his own vulnerability. The unique cast of characters, consisting of shifters and witches, make for some great twists and turns. I especially liked Nigel as he developed as a character, especially when his past with the witch who cursed Isla was revealed.

I would recommend this book to those who love refreshing new takes on fairy tales, whether they are familiar with the Proper Romance line or not. It is truly a treat that is not to be missed.

 

 

 

Review of “Beauty of the Beast” (Fairy Tale Retellings #1) by Rachel L. Demeter

Demeter, Rachel. Beauty of the Beast. [United States]: Rachel L. Demeter, 2017. ISBN-13: 9781542972567. $13.95 USD. 

5 stars

As a longtime lover of both the original “Beauty and the Beast” tale and both of the Disney films, I was excited to find this book. And while my excitement dimmed somewhat when I noticed that this one did not have the magical elements, as some of the other historical romances that have attempted to adapt the tale have fallen flat, I found I took a chance on this book, and fell in love. This has enough of both the original story and the Disney version to please fans of both iterations, but it is  different enough to be original and worth the read.

I am normally not a fan of broody heroes, but Adam is a rare exception. He is such a wonderful person, and despite all that he has been through, and his urge at first to punish Isabelle and her father, you see him feel remorse, especially as things take a tragic turn and he is reminded of his own losses and how they impacted him. And Isabelle is a great partner for him, inspiring him to feel again, and opening him up to the world.

Demeter also should receive props for her development of the villain character, Claude Dumont, crafting someone who, while we hate for his behavior, can understand to an extent. As there has been some discussion in the Disney theory community regarding the way nature and nurture played a role in the way Gaston and the Beast with similar personalities going down two different paths, I like how she took this concept and fleshed it out by giving us more insight into who Dumont is, and how despite both of them dealing with darkness in their lives, we see Dumont and Adam making drastically different choices, due to the influences in their lives.