Tag Archives: fairy tale retelling

Castle in the Air (Howl #2)

Abdullah is a carpet merchant who dreams of being an exiled prince who meets a beautiful princess. But when he buys a flying carpet, and all his dreams start coming true, he quickly realizes dreams of adventure are much harder in reality. And when the princess he loves is kidnapped by a djinn, he seems to be the only person interested in rescuing her. From his home in the desert city of Zanzib to the northern streets of Kingsbury, Abdullah chases after her. . .

Where Howl’s Moving Castle is a skewering of traditional European fairy tales, Castle in the Air is a retelling of Aladdin. Or more precisely, Aladdin as it might be if the flying carpet were a beaten up rag, the genie horribly bad-tempered and prone to making every wish as disastrous as he can, and Aladdin himself a rather ordinary (if very polite) young man increasingly put out by the difficulties in rescuing his beloved Flower-in-the-Night.

As a standalone, I like it, though it isn’t my favorite Jones book by far. The ties to the first book come very late in the story, and in a surprising way, and Howl, Sophie, and the other familiar faces are very minor characters next to Abdullah and his quest.

Overall this is a decent read, though not much good if you were hoping for a lot more Howl. I rate this book Recommended.

To Hold the Bridge

Title: To Hold the Bridge

Author: Garth Nix

This is a collection of short stories from Garth Nix, some of which tie to novels and some of which are original (or have tie-ins to other established series, as the case may be). Overall it’s a pretty strong collection, and below were some of my favorites.

To Hold the Bridge – The story that gives the book its title is the Old Kingdom contribution for this book. But even if you’ve never read any of Nix’s Old Kingdom books, it’s still a winsome story. Morghan is hoping to join the Bridge Company, which is constructing what will become the great bridge leading across the river to the capital, mostly because he’s eager for the provided food and board. Although it wraps up well enough, it also makes me wish Morghan would get a novel, as I’d love to read more about him.

A Handful of Ashes – Mari is funding her college education in witchcraft though a servant’s position at her college, but not all of the high-born students like that tradition. I like the setting, and the little details in the magic and the college, which operates under various Bylaws. This is, like many other stories here, showcasing a world that teases a lot of depth.

The Heart of the City – France, in the time of Henri IV. A guard gets tangled up in magic and mayhem as a strange procession enters the city. Interesting magic system, which involves angels partnering with men, and I especially liked the end. It feels like a launching point for an alternate-history.

Holly and Iron – A retelling that blends a few different tales (saying which ones would spoil the surprise). Another interesting and completely different magic system, the holly magic of the Inglish and the iron magic of the Norman. And a shapeshifting squirrel. (That alone ought to sell the story.)

All in all, whether you’ve read Garth Nix before or not this is a great place to dig in. I rate this book Recommended.

The Book of Wonders

Title: The Book of Wonders

Author: Jasmine Richards

Zardi is a dreamer, dreaming of adventure and magic in a kingdom that does its best to stifle both. The sultan of Arribitha hates magic, and his subjects live in fear of his cruelty. But when Zardi’s sister is taken to be the sultan’s prisoner (which always ends in execution for the maiden in question), Zardi is determined to save her. Together with Rhidan, a strange orphan who has grown up with her family, she sets off to find something or someone strong enough to topple the sultan and save her sister.

I’m on the fence about this one. The parts I liked I tended to like a lot, but the rest of the book left me feeling rather meh. Rhidan’s arc interested me more than Zardi’s. He’s always looked extremely different from everyone around him (white hair and purple eyes being your first clue he’s not going to be normal), and he’s desperate to find out where he came from and what it means that he was abandoned with nothing more than an amulet and his name. And as the mystery unfolds, he’s still got more questions than answers. He appears to be a sorcerer, but in the end he’s got to rely more on his own wits and his friendship with Zardi to get anything important done.

Zardi’s side is more straightforward: her sister has been taken to be the sultan’s prisoner, and will be executed after she has fulfilled her 90-day term. She sets off to find something that can help her free her sister (and depose the sultan too, if she can manage it). Despite her name being Scheherazade, this isn’t a retelling of the storyteller. This is actually a retelling of one of the voyages of Sinbad, although in a somewhat condensed and altered form. Zardi’s interruptions at the beginning put me off her character for a long ways into the book, but by the end I liked her better.

The story reads like an odd blend of Arabic and Greek mythos mashed together. Perhaps because Sinbad borrows a lot from some Greek tales anyway. The Cyclops, as best I can tell, seems to be a Greek addition. I do like the Rocs. More gigantic intelligent birds, please (and there are hints Zardi hasn’t seen the last of them). But some things were just far too obvious, even if they were likely part of the original (eg, the password to open the door). And the jinni near the end made everything rather cheap, because despite her warning that her magic has limits, she grants an awful lot of wishes for not much reason. I would have preferred her to set a hard limit on what she was willing to do, in exchange for setting her free (three wishes, one wish apiece, something like that).

This leaves off resolving a few things (mostly for Zardi) and opening up for the next adventure. It took me a while to get into things, but once I did I enjoyed the ride. I rate this book Recommended.

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (League of Princes #1)

Title: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

Author: Christopher Healy

Series: League of Princes #1

Everyone knows about the princesses. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella. But what about the prince who broke the curse, slew the dragon, danced at the ball? Aren’t they all Prince Charming?

Such is the premise of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, which chooses to focus on those oft-neglected heros of legend: the prince. Of course, as the story is quick to point out, not all Prince Charmings are created equal. Some actually had to be heros for their princess, while others merely attended a dance. Kudos especially for remembering Rapunzel’s prince had his eyes scratched out by thorns.

Most of the book is character-driven humor as these four misfit princes scramble to deal with a wicked witch and some kidnapped bards. Liam, who was my favorite, is the closest to a real hero—even if it was built on false pretenses (his dismay at dealing with the other three makes me laugh). Duncan, the oddball, is probably second. He’s convinced he has magical good luck, and although the text goes out of its way to assure us this is NOT magic, he’s still uncannily good at working out the most bizarre situations. Then we have Gustav, big and brawny and with an inferiority complex because of his sixteen better-regarded brothers (explaining how they are all only a year or two older than him made me stop reading because I was laughing so hard I cried). And Frederic, the Cinderella prince, whose most dangerous encounter pre-story has been dust bunnies.

I also want to mention the illustrations. This book is peppered with fantastic little sketches that provide some visual humor to go along with the story.

Although some of the humor was hit-or-miss for me, the general quirkiness and upbeat plot made for a fun read. I look forward to the sequels. I rate this book Recommended.


Darksolstice (Lyonesse #2)

Title: Darksolstice

Author: Sam Llewellyn

Idris has escaped the regent Fisheagle and her son Murther, but the victory feels hollow at best, for his sister Morgan has been taken as a slave to Aegypt. Where Lyonesse and the surrounding countries are struggling against the monsters from Wellworld, Aegypt has creatures that make even the strongest monsters shudder. Idris is determined to rescue Morgan and take back his kingdom. He has until next Darksolstice, when Murther will come of age and inherit the kingdom.

I am still of two minds about the Aurthurian legend in this. Part of me wants this to be a wholly original world, as the names of certain characters like Gawaine and Galahad are a dead giveaway as to their role in the plot. The other part of me really likes the weird way this retelling reshapes all the familiar bits of legend around an inventive world.

I love Idris. He’s polite, kind, and humble, and although he has no idea how he’s going to take back his kingdom, he knows he must. I also liked the Knights. Only a few of them got a chance to grow beyond initial stereotypes, but I liked the flickers of magic in many of them, and the way they each had a particular skillset that is useful and necessary. One of my few regrets is that the Knights don’t get even more time. They are an interesting bunch, but a large chunk of the book has them not here yet, or off doing other things.

The prose feels both lyrical and languid. The pacing felt good all the way through, and the dangers range from action scenes to puzzles. I was surprised at the end, although I had caught the hint that foreshadowed it. It was yet another example of the Arthur legend intersecting in a strange way with the actual book.

This would probably stand decently alone, but several returning characters get virtually no introduction, so it’s better read together with the first book. This does appear to cap off a duology, so everything more or less wraps up. I rate this book Recommended.

The Well Between The Worlds (Lyonesse #1)

Title: The Well Between The Worlds

Author: Sam Llewellyn

Idris Limpet of Westgate is a happy, carefree 11-year-old who has no thought for his future until one of his friends lets malice go too far and Idris finds himself exiled from Westgate and lucky to be alive. Rescued by House Ambrose to be a monstergroom, he must master the craft of capturing monsters fished up from the Wells to another world. Even as he tries to make his place, he’s troubled by the poisonous waters that are flooding the land every time the Wells open, and the nobility that cares only for wealth and power.

This book was a surprise: a fantasy that blends a very ocean-oriented kingdom with an otherworldly ocean. I loved the sea-names for people and places, and the focus on water (and the monsters that lurk in the deep). These alien creatures can speak to minds, change (or appear to change) their shape, and burn when they dry out. And they burn very, very hot, so much more so than any known substance that an entire industry has grown up around using the monsters to fuel various bits of machinery. But to fish for the monsters, Lyonesse needs to let in the water, and the water is sinking the land.

And into this questionably moral structure tumbles Idris, a boy from a fisherman’s village who has no problem catching fish, but is more and more unsettled by the catching of monsters. His transformation over the course of the book is its main attraction: how can honor and justice and right prevail when most people simply aren’t interested in changing the status quo, or are actively working to preserve it?

But lest my words give the impression that this is solely an educational story, let me quickly add it is a fine adventure. The fact that the other world is an underwater one makes exploration difficult, but Idris comes to learn much about that place and its denizens. He has his own share of mindspeaking magic, and he’s not without allies as he navigates the treacherous streets of Wellvale.

Oddly enough, the story is also a retelling of the legend of Arthur. I’m of two minds about that part. It’s certainly the most innovative take on the mythos I’ve seen, but at the same time, certain characters who didn’t get names changed feel a little too predictable since I’ve read Arthur legend before and have a pretty good idea what’s going to be coming. Still, this is taking enough liberties with the basic outline that there are plenty of surprises (Idris getting attacked by a giant seagull, for one).

The ending was a little frustrating until I realized there is a sequel and this was never intended to stand alone. So overall it’s an excellent read. The setting is well-drawn, particularly with the way the little details line up across the story. Idris is noble without being stuffy, a boy and a true hero: someone who freely helps others and does it secretly, so that most of them don’t even realize he’s done anything special. And now I am going to have to see if I can’t get my hands on the next book to resolve that cliffhanger . . . I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Mirror’s Tale (Further Tales Adventure #4)

Title: The Mirror’s Tale

Author: P. W. Catanese

Bert and Will have always been trouble. Because they’re identical, they can play on their looks for even better pranks. But when they push their parents too far, the twins are separated for the first time in their lives. One of them will be sent to their uncle’s fortress. The fortress once housed the evil Witch-Queen, and an evil force lingers there still . . .

This is an interesting twist on Snow White. Set around a hundred and fifty years after Snow White lived and died, the characters from the original story have become faded bits of history to most folk. But one bit of history hasn’t died well enough. The mirror that seduced the Witch-Queen to evil is still around, and time has done nothing to diminish its power.

In terms of what it does with the original story, this is spectacular. The Dwergh (dwarves) are a nation at war with men, and these short-but-powerful diggers and warriors little resemble the cheerful Disney fare. The story can’t go too far into their culture but even the glimpses it can offer are intriguing. Similarly, the origin of the mirror, the story behind the cottage, and the relationship between Snow White and the dwarves are equally well-spun.

The only downside to the story for me was that it is based on Snow White, so it’s pretty obvious the mirror will be bad news, the Dwergh will be heros, etc. The original story was grounded and enhanced, not changed. So most of the characters follow the path you would more or less expect, but there were still surprises along the way.

I confess I read this story first of all the Further Tales because Bertram makes a later cameo in Dragon Games, and since I’d already met him there, I wanted to see his backstory. And it is nice having that bonus future glimpse, though the ending does point you in the same direction.

Overall, I think this is going to appeal most to those who like original takes on familiar stories. The gender-reversal of having a man fall under the mirror’s spell helps broaden the story beyond the traditional “jealous of her beauty” motive, the world is well-defined, and the plot keeps a fast pace. I rate this book Recommended.