Tag Archives: fairy tale

The Door in the Hedge

Title: The Door in the Hedge

Author: Robin McKinley

This is a collection of longish short stories, all with a fairy-tale feel.

The Stolen Princess – In the last mortal kingdom bordering the realm of the faeries, children go missing relatively often. When a princess is stolen, the balance begins to change between the two countries. This has a familiar setup, with a bit of a twist on the conclusion.

The Princess and the Frog – I liked this take on the princess, the jewels she drops, and the frog himself. It sets the tale in a more concrete kingdom, and brings in a seemingly unstoppable evil, and gives the princess more to do with the ending. It is a bit confusing, though, why the frog actually turns back into a human. It doesn’t seem what happened would have been something to break a curse.

The Hunting of the Hind – This one also takes elements of several fairy tales and weaves them together. A golden hind which drives men mad has struck down the prince, who vowed to stop it from affecting his people, and his little sister steps up to save him.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses – This is probably the best-known fairy tale of the set, and there aren’t any huge surprises here, except for the challenger being an old, retired soldier instead of a young and handsome prince. I liked this one best, because of the way the old soldier approaches life, and how he’s not swayed by the young and beautiful in quite the same way as everyone else. He feels more sorry for the princesses than anything, and even wonders if they want to be saved from their enchantment.

As much as I like these (and I have read this set before, though I can’t think if it’s been more than once), I don’t feel the same draw to them as some of the other books McKinley wrote. These are interesting stories with beautiful language, but they also leave me feeling like I’m done when I finish, rather than feeling like I want to go back and read them again.

Overall, though, it’s a quick read, and worthwhile if you’re at all a fan of fairy tales. I rate this book Recommended.

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Rose Daughter

Title: Rose Daughter

Author: Robin McKinley

Beauty remembers her mother’s scent more than her mother’s face: a strange perfume she later learns is made of roses. Beauty has always liked gardens, flowers, and helping the helpless. But when her father’s business implodes, her family must move to Rose Cottage, a home inherited by chance, a tiny house in the middle of nowhere. A house near a town that’s said to be cursed . . .

This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but has no relationship to any of McKinley’s other books. I think this one does a better job in a few ways, although overall it makes less sense than the earlier book titled Beauty.

The world building and character building remains top-notch. Beauty herself doesn’t change much throughout the story, but it’s interesting to see her sisters lose their biggest character flaws as poverty teaches them to think of themselves more humbly and treat others with more respect. Similarly, their father’s fall and recovery is well done.

This book has a lot of details on gardening, particularly how roses work. It’s fun to see Beauty wonder what those strange thorny bushes are that are planted all around Rose Cottage, and when she does fall in love with their blooms, how she works to reclaim both her roses and the Beast’s wild garden.

The story gets confusing when it tries to explain the origin of the Beast and what exactly happened, as three somewhat similar versions of the story get presented back to back. And the end isn’t exactly clear on what happened with the Beast, either. Those bits are annoying, but the thing I find most puzzling is that Beauty isn’t experiencing the passage of time normally, and therefore is only a scant handful of times acquainted with the Beast before deciding she loves him enough to marry him. It feels like there should have been more story to get to that point.

Overall it’s still a book I enjoy reading, though it isn’t my favorite McKinley book. I find the earlier version of the fairy tale, Beauty, to be better put together, but this one has its own moments of charm. I rate this book Neutral.

The Eye of the Warlock (Further Tales #3)

Title: The Eye of the Warlock

Author: P. W. Catanese

Series: Further Tales #3

Rudi is the son of a woodcutter, and distant cousins to the famous Hansel and Gretel. He even lives in their old house. But when a stranger comes, hunting for the rest of the treasure supposedly left at the witch’s house, Rudi ends up hunting for the origin of those stories. If he can find treasure, he can leave home, and take the two girls living with their family with him, away from the cruelty of his stepmother. The legends, though, hide a sinister reality . . .

I liked what this did with the story of Hansel and Gretel, from what it kept, to what it twisted somewhat, to what storytellers added on to embellish. The gingerbread house, for example, was an ordinary house enchanted with an illusion of sweets to put the children at ease before they were lured into captivity. It feels a lot more solid this way.

Another strength of the book is strong characters. From Marusch and her solitary existence to Hansel and what became of him, the characters feel like real people, struggling with real issues. Hansel and the cottage, for one. He’s bold enough setting the whole thing up, but when confronted with a place where he was once captured and expected to die, he’s assaulted by flashbacks and can barely follow through.

Overall this is an interesting look at what came next. Once again, readers of the Happenstance books are likely to recognize a few things (and will probably find Umber’s tiny role much more amusing). I rate this book Recommended.

The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle (The League of Princes #2)

Title: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle

Author: Christopher Healy

Series: The League of Princes #2

I tried, but ended up quitting this one halfway. Briar Rose just got way too frustrating. Her sociopathic nature is given full reign and although I would hope the ending includes a suitably embarrassing comeuppance, I couldn’t stomach getting there. Liam (my favorite character from the previous book) not only lost the will to stand up to her, he ends up MARRIED to her and doing her bidding . . . I also disliked that characters said flat-out that marriage was something that could be “worked around.” Especially considering that the most honor-bound character of the lot would then have to renege on his vows, even if they were made to an absolute harpy while under duress. What, then, does your promise MEAN?

It’s also a bit frustrating that there are several strong and capable women (Lila, Rapunzel, Elle) but the only man who could remotely make that claim (Liam) has had that taken away from him. I’m all for strong female characters but when it reads like all the men are incompetent or evil and the women are the ones who have to get things done then it’s just silly.

So, not finishing. And Not Recommended.

Talking to Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #4)

Title: Talking to Dragons

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Daystar has lived all his life near the Enchanted Forest. But when a wizard comes after his mother, she sends him off into the forest with a sword, telling him only that he’ll figure out where to go and what to do. This doesn’t sound promising to Daystar, but he obeys. Along the way he meets a rude fire-witch, a young dragon, and several helpful but stubbornly uninformative friends. And wizards. Lots and lots of wizards, all of them after him or his companions. Can Daystar figure out what his mother wanted (and not get killed or enchanted) and defeat the wizards?

I never quite liked this one as much as the other three, although it’s still a good book. Maybe the shift to first-person when the rest of the series is told in third, or the fact that the reader should, going in, know so much more than Daystar about who he is and what he’s supposed to do that it isn’t funny. In fact, Daystar is SO ignorant about his own place in things that this would be a perfectly acceptable place to start a reader new to the series.

That being said, it is interesting to get a ground-level view of life in the Enchanted Forest, or what a typical quest might look like. Daystar has a sword with peculiar magic, but it doesn’t always work for him, or do what he expects. He has his wits and his etiquette, though, and etiquette goes a long way in a place like the Enchanted Forest. Shiara is blunt enough for the both of them, and what etiquette won’t get done, rudeness might.

Also due to the way the book is set up, the end is basically a long explanation of everything Daystar didn’t know but anyone who read the first three books would. But at least Antorell appears to be gone for good.

Overall, this book wraps up the plot begun in Calling on Dragons, and serves as a decent cap on the series. As said, it’s ironically also a good point to enter the series, since it’s so different from the previous. I rate this book Recommended.

Calling on Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #3)

Title: Calling on Dragons

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

When Morwen finds traces of wizards in the Enchanted Forest—evidence despite the impossibility that the wizards have somehow found a way around the restrictions King Mendanbar and Telemain set up—she knows something major has gone wrong. And how. With the wizards at least partially able to drain the Enchanted Forest again, Morwen, Cimerone, Telemain, and Kazul (along with two of Morwen’s cats and an enchanted rabbit named Killer) leave to hunt down the solution.

This book shifts to Morwen’s point of view, which allows for a lot more depth to her character, as well as a chance to hear what all her cats have to say. Morwen’s cats almost steal the spotlight—whether it’s the not-so-bright Fiddlesticks trying to help or the running commentary on the quest from Trouble and Scorn. And Morwen, Killer, and Kazul are the only ones who can understand the cats.

I also really like the understanding-if-exasperated relationship between Telemain and Morwen. The details of their history are never explored, but the way they interact in the present is a lot of fun. Morwen, far more than Cimorene or Mendanbar, can recognize Telemain’s genius for what it is, and her much deeper knowledge of magic allows for more insight into some of the magical problems that crop up along the way.

Like before, the plot skewers a few choice fairy tales (the farmer is particularly funny both for his unexpectedness and his contribution to the fairy tale economy), and a more serious plot takes the focus. The main difference this time, though, is that the series veers into darker territory about halfway through and hasn’t recovered by the ending. If the first two were light, fun reads, this one is more heartwrenching. And where the first two are standalone, this one has a pretty bad cliffhanger.

It isn’t a bad direction for the series, though it might throw off people who expected another mostly-happily-after ending. And some very¬† satisfying justice finds a few annoying characters. But this is definitely a book to read with the sequel in hand. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Searching for Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #2)

Title: Searching for Dragons

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Mendanbar, the King of the Enchanted Forest, has a problem. Well, that’s nothing new, but this time the problem involves dragons. And possibly wizards, but definitely dragons. Something is burning out large sections of the Enchanted Forest, and he found dragon scales at the site. But getting a straight answer out of Kazul, King of Dragons, is harder than he expected (the King being unexpectedly missing), and soon he and Cimorene, the dragon King’s Cook and Librarian, are hunting Kazul down.

Mendanbar is almost more of a favorite for me than Cimorene. Where she’s sharp and direct, he comes off as absent-minded, although really he’s just distracted by watching the flow of magic. Being King of the ENCHANTED Forest means dealing with a lot of magic anyway, so the job comes with a few perks, such as being able to see and deal with the magic in the forest. But it also means he’s completely tuned to the way the Enchanted Forest does things, and has a lot of trouble sensing, for example, how active his own magical sword likes to get.

And if Cimorene hates the typical princess, Mendanbar hates them even more, since he’s being pressured pick one to marry. Their mutual dislike for other royalty leads to a lot of amusing moments between the two of them, as they’re figuring out the other is anything but typical.

In addition, if Mendanbar isn’t enough of a treat (and I adore both his character and the way he uses magic; I realized on this rereading how much Mendanbar’s magic influenced how I WANT to see magic in a fantasy book—both sensible and mysterious), we have Telemain. Telemain is a magician, fascinated with learning all about magic, and chronically unable to express himself in short, understandable words (unless a dragon is asking, because they eat people). The obvious history Telemain has with Morwen only deepens the amusement.

Like the first book, this one has a wealth of fantasy tropes to cheerfully turn on their heads, alongside the more serious plot about what happened to Kazul. Mendanbar has much the same sensible outlook on these things that Cimorene does, although I get the sense he doesn’t hate tradition so much as finds it inconvenient.

Overall, this is just as much fun as the first (perhaps more so, if you prefer Mendanbar’s more easygoing nature). I rate this book Highly Recommended.