Blog Banquet: Guest Post on The Bookworm Chronicles

PFF Orange Grove Cover - SmallToday is our first stop (first course?) in my Blog Banquet book tour for The People the Fairies Forget.  Today you’re invited over to The Bookworm Chronicles, where hostess Jessica blogs.

Jessica posts frequent book reviews, and is a dedicated responder to comments from lovely readers!  She frequently participates in the Tough Traveling meme, looking at fantasy tropes.  So for my guest post, I wrote a bit about the fantasy/fairy tale tropes I made use of in my novel–characters especially.

Head over to The Bookworm Chronicles to read the post and find out more about my Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming and Fairy Godmother. 🙂

Book Review: Curse of the Thirteenth Fey by Jane Yolen

I grabbed two fairy tale retellings close together recently, and read two very different versions of Sleeping Beauty. I reviewed Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters last week, and today I’m looking at Curse of the Thirteenth Fey by Jane Yolen.

Gorse is the thirteenth fey of the title, the youngest in her large family of Shouting Feys. She grows up in a clannish circle, in an idyllic valley—and even if the folly and belvedere and other buildings the family lives in are a little run-down, Gorse loves her home. But she also loves reading about other places in her father’s library, and is horrified to learn her family is under a Vow to never leave their home. When the king Bids the Shouting Feys to come to his daughter’s christening, thirteen-year-old Gorse sets off late—and meets an accident along the way that traps her with two fairy princes who need her help to escape.

I think Jane Yolen is one of those authors people know, right? Wizard’s Hall is what comes to mind for me, but I suspect she’s known for lots of other books too. And that’s one reason I really wish I had liked this more than I did—and I really think I should have liked it more than I did! The problem was the subtitle, describing this as “The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty.” Any story claiming to be the “true” version of any fairy tale can smack a bit of arrogance…but the real trouble here is that most of the story wasn’t about Sleeping Beauty.

I liked the first hundred pages or so quite a lot. Yolen set up an interesting world, I enjoyed Gorse and her family, and there was enough mix of world-building and obstacles to keep me engaged. And then we got to the part about the christening, with the delightful additional note that this particular baby princess is known for her unceasing crying. But Gorse gets interrupted en route to the christening, and while her resulting adventure is interesting too…it took far too long for me to realize that this wasn’t a delay or distraction from the main plot, but actually was the main plot.

Most of the novel is spent with the two princes belowground, as Gorse figures out their history, and realizes that neither prince was what he seemed to be on first impressions. I liked the character development here, of the princes and of Gorse, as she learns about the limits (and opportunities) of her abilities, and the importance of her own confidence.

I think if I had come into this looking for simply a fantasy story, I would have liked all of it just fine. Except…it was supposed to be Sleeping Beauty! And we didn’t even get to the christening until nearly the end of the book. Which left me spending too much time wondering when we were going to get on to what was (theoretically) the main event.

I have to cautiously recommend this one. It’s a genuinely good fantasy! It’s just not a very good version of Sleeping Beauty, considering that story became little more than an epilogue. So don’t go in expecting more than that on the fairy tale, and you will probably like this just fine—maybe more than I did!

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
Charlotte’s Library
Quixotic Magpie
The Book Brownie
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Curse of the Thirteenth Fey

NaNoWriMo Day 28: End of the Tunnel

We’re coming in on the end of the month, and I am happy to report that I’m well on-track.  It’s been a busy writing week–of course, I made it easy on myself by working on the short story I knew I’d be able to make progress on!  This story may turn out to be nothing but a fluff piece, but I’m enjoying it.

And besides, as they say (and by “they” I mean Brenda Ueland), no writing in which the creative force is at work is ever a waste of time.  That’s not a direct quote, I’m not at home and don’t have her book with me, but something like that!

As things stand, I have about a thousand words left, which after 49,000 is hardly anything.  I will most likely finish tomorrow, a day early…and I find myself oddly reluctant to do that!  I remember I had the same feeling last year–I had a big push over Thanksgiving weekend and was well ahead the last few days…and I kind of hated to finish before the 30th.  I suppose because then the journey is over.

Which is silly, of course, because it’s not like I’m going to stop writing on November 30th, or December 1st.  I’m not even sure the short story will be over (most likely not).  But the loss of the goal takes some of the push out of things, and I rather hate to lose the impetus before the month is actually up.

Oh well.  I’ll most likely hit 50,000 on the 29th, and still carry on with the short story over the next few days in a slightly less intense way.

For tonight, hunting for an excerpt…and here’s one from the other short story, the one that got stuck–but that I’ll probably finish eventually and may ultimately be more useful than the fluff one I’m writing right now!  No context needed, it’s the opening page, and though it is with characters from my novel, it’s meant to be possible to read it independently…

            “So is it true that cats can see ghosts,” Jasper asked, “or is that just part of the air of mystery you put on?”

            “We don’t put on anything,” Tom said with an indignant twitch of his tail.  “We’re just naturally mysterious.” Continue reading “NaNoWriMo Day 28: End of the Tunnel”

NaNoWriMo Day 26: Curioser and Curioser

I continue making NaNo progress, though it continues to be in odd directions.  My novel draft stands around 35,000 words and is likely to remain there for the foreseeable future.  I worked on a short story for another almost-8,000 words.  I finished that up yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed writing it.  It was nice to have a focused story that began and ended with really only one plot-thread–even though I usually love juggling all the different threads!

After finishing the one story, I started another and made some progress yesterday.  But today I felt inspiration was at a low ebb, so to keep my word count up and my hand in, I wrote a scene for a different short story.  That gives me a total of three, one completed and two in-progress, all of them focusing on characters from my current in-progress novel draft, which is in the same world as my NaNo novel.  Follow all that?  🙂

As you can see, I’m getting a little scattered!  This would be a problem in the long-term, but when it’s just for the last week of NaNo, I’m not going to worry too much.  I’ll see where inspiration strikes tomorrow, and hopefully I’ll finish at least one of the in-progress short stories by the end of the month.  And whatever’s left un-done…well, that will give me something to do in between editing my in-progress novel.

Excerpt tonight from the completed short story…for those following along at home, that’s the one with the sleeping beauty curse on the castle, which captured Julie while leaving Jasper outside.  After a rather uncomfortable night in the woods…

Jasper creaked to his feet, stretching stiff limbs, and walked through the trees to the castle.  There were changes.  During the darkness, defying all normal laws of plants, the thorns had blossomed.  There were green leaves too, but far more noticeable were the endless, heavy red roses.  The color of blood, Jasper thought bitterly, and refused to acknowledge them as beautiful.

However Julie might want to tease him on the subject, the truth was that he had always stayed away from sleeping princesses—those girls inevitably expected marriage proposals the moment they woke up, which had always seemed rather like rushing things.  He had heard stories, though, and among the less plausible parts of the stories was the idea that the roses around the towers were intelligent. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo Day 26: Curioser and Curioser”

NaNoWriMo Day 23: Good But Odd

Happy Thanksgiving!  I am thankful that I get to spend lots of time this week with family and friends, I got to eat turkey and pumpkin pie, and I’ve still been finding time to keep up with NaNo.

As I told everyone who asked at Thanksgiving dinner, NaNo is going well, but oddly.  As I thought might happen, I got stuck on the novel.  Not in the way I feared though–I was afraid I’d run out of ideas.  Instead, I have, in a way, too many ideas.  As I mentioned, plot bunnies are multiplying and I don’t know yet how to fit them together, or how it’s all going to fit with the characters.  I could push ahead, but I’m afraid I’ll end up in a corner or just heading down a wrong path and have to throw a lot out.  It feels like the story needs to percolate a bit.

Obviously, NaNo is not designed for that kind of time.  So I’m putting the novel aside for the moment, at 34,000 words so far this month, and working on a short story instead.  I’m counting it all towards the total–because it is writing in November.  It’s even set in the same world as the novel, but with different characters.

The short story focuses on the main characters of my other current novel project.  It’s convenient writing a novel about a wandering adventurer–you can always do a short story about another adventure.  And if I end up publishing the novel on Amazon, I’ll be able to use the story in various ways for promotion.

For the moment, here’s an excerpt.  Jasper, Julie and Tom (a talking cat), who generally wander about having adventures, have decided to spend the night at an empty castle.  It appears to be Sleeping Beauty’s tower, after Sleeping Beauty has awoken and left–there’s even a broken spinning wheel.  Unfortunately, the curse isn’t quite as dormant as they might hope…

           The first Jasper realized something was wrong was when he heard a sound like thousands of branches thrashing together in a high wind.  The problem was that there was hardly any wind.

            The sound was coming from the direction of the castle—and he would have guessed that as the source of any problem anyway.  He started back that way, string of three birds slung over one shoulder.  At first he was moving at a fast walk, but as the sound continued, he was quickly at a run.

            He broke out of the trees into the clearing around the castle and came to a horrified halt.

            “Didn’t I tell you not to touch any spindles?” he yelled, futilely. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo Day 23: Good But Odd”

Fairy Tale Round-up: Sleeping Beauty

A look at another classic fairy tale this week: Sleeping Beauty.  Like Cinderella, it shows up in the Brothers Grimm and in Charles Perrault.  Grimm gives us a very brief story, “Little Briar Rose,” about a princess who is cursed at her christening, pricks her finger when she turns fifteen, and falls into an enchanted sleep for a hundred years, guarded by a hedge of thorns, until awoken by a prince.  Perrault gives essentially the same story in “The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods” with more detail, and an entire second act involving the prince’s evil ogre mother.  That part doesn’t seem to have filtered out quite so much!  But I have seen quite a few retellings of the first part of the story…

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley is my favorite retelling.  McKinley’s princess, Rosie, has a life and a personality entirely separate from her curse.  She is defiantly herself in the face of all her christening gifts, and she deeply loves her adoptive family of fairies, who are hiding her from the curse.  I love the way McKinley plays with the elements of the fairy tale to make characters and a story that, in some ways, feel completely original.  I’m not wild about the romance, but it’s a wonderful book despite that.

The Princess Series by Jim C. Hines features Sleeping Beauty as a major character.  His Sleeping Beauty, Talia, comes from a darker version of the story, from before the Brothers Grimm.  She does have fairy-given gifts, like grace and balance, which she uses to become a skilled warrior.  She joins up with Snow White and Cinderella, and together they’re a force to be reckoned with!  The third book in the series, Red Hood’s Revenge, while partially about Little Red Riding Hood, also delves much more into Talia’s past, and a new interpretation on the Sleeping Beauty story.

Sleeping Helena by Erzebot Yellowboy is an odd story about a family of sisters who enchant and then raise their niece, Helena.  The oddness comes in part from the fact that the aunts are all around 105 (and feel it) and partially from Helena’s own wild nature.  She’s fascinating, almost a slave to her christening gifts.  Some interesting concepts in this one, but also…well, odd.

The Wide-Awake Princess by E. D. Baker tells the story from Sleeping Beauty’s sister’s point of view.  Annie nullifies magic around her, so she’s unaffected when the rest of the castle falls asleep.  She goes questing through other fairy tales, looking for a prince to wake up her sister.  I LOVE the concept…but found the characters rather shallow and simple.  Probably a good one for younger readers, but don’t expect anything too deep.

The Healer’s Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson is a very loose retelling.  Rose is the healer’s apprentice of the title, trying to decide if she really wants to be a healer, while torn between the two handsome sons of the local baron.  The Sleeping Beauty part comes in because there’s an evil magician stalking the older son’s betrothed with a curse.  The princess has been hidden away…and it’s pretty obvious right from the beginning who she’ll turn out to be.  It’s a good story in its own right, even if the Sleeping Beauty elements are more of a hint than a major focus.

The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey, on the other hand, tosses around Sleeping Beauty elements with abandon.  This is a mash-up of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, in a novel that’s very willing to poke at the original fairy tales and have fun with the conventions.  It’s book five of Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms series, but I somehow contrived to read it first and it didn’t seem to matter.

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite classic Disney cartoons.  I like the song, “Once Upon a Dream,” and I like Prince Phillip.  I think it’s because he argues with his horse; it gives him a smidge more personality than most early Disney princes.  Although–in a very bizarre turn, Phillip doesn’t have a single line of dialogue after Rose falls asleep.  He’s in scenes, and people talk to him, but he doesn’t have a single line.  I really have to wonder about the decision process there…  But anyway, rather like Disney’s Cinderella (which is all about the mice) this one is also really about the “supporting” characters–the fairies.  They’re quite funny, and also a big inspiration for my own fairy tale world in my writing.  Watch one of their scenes some time: they are shooting sparkles out of their wands all the time.  Not just when they cast spells, but constantly.  Those women really ought to be awash in glitter…

I’m betting there are other versions of Sleeping Beauty I haven’t covered.  What are your favorites?

When Princesses Take Over the Fairy Tale

I’ve read many (many) fairy tale retellings, but rarely have I come across fairy tale crossovers, mixing characters from more than one tale.  That’s exactly the premise of Jim C. Hines’ Princess Series, of which I just read the second one for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.  This also goes towards my Finishing the Series challenge (two more books in this series to go!)  Since I hate to start out by reviewing Book Two, I’ll just tell you a bit about both, and try for a minimum of spoilers for the first one.

The Princess series books (so far, at least) are about adventures after the traditional fairy tale ends.  The main character is Danielle, also known as Cinderella.  The first book, The Stepsister Scheme, opens with Danielle recently married to her handsome prince, Armand.  Her stepfamily, however, is not ready to accept defeat, as becomes clear when stepsister Charlotte attacks Danielle, and kidnaps Armand.  Fortunately, Danielle finds valuable allies ready to help her rescue her prince.  Her new mother-in-law, Queen Beatrice, likes to take princesses-in-need under her wing, and has a kind of secret service made up of Snow White, a powerful sorceress (she doesn’t like the term witch) and Talia (Sleeping Beauty), who has used her fairy-given gift of grace to become a skilled fighter.  Together, the princessess set off for the realm of fairies to rescue the prince.

Book Two, The Mermaid’s Madness, brings in another fairy tale–and this is definitely not Disney’s version.  In the original story, the little mermaid can’t marry her prince, and instead sacrifices herself to save him.  Hines’ mermaid killed her prince, and went mad as a consequence.  With Queen Beatrice mortally wounded and a war brewing between humans and merfolk, the princesses have to find a way to capture the mermaid, the only one with power to save the queen.

There’s so much to enjoy about these books.  I love the interpretation on the princesses.  Their abilities are grounded in the original fairy tales (Talia gets skills from her fairy gifts, Snow White’s magic revolves around mirrors), but reinterpreted to make the girls so much stronger and more powerful than they ever were in the originals.  I love the gender reversal of the first book–not only are these princesses not sitting around waiting to be rescued, they’re setting out to rescue the prince!  When I was around ten, I started writing a short story about a knight who was rescued by a girl.  The story never went very far, but I feel like it was motivated by some of the same impulses that make me love this series.

The girls are complex characters as well.  We get bits and pieces of backstory for them all, and it becomes clear that these girls didn’t live Disney movies, and maybe not even the Brothers Grimm stories.  Talia, at least, is coming from an even older and much darker version of Sleeping Beauty.  They have tragedies and they have complexities.  But there’s also humor in here too.  The relationship between the three girls is often a lot of fun, and it’s nice to see a story focusing on female friendship.

Much as I enjoy that, it also brings me to the one thing I don’t like as well.  I feel like Armand is under-developed as a character.  With Danielle as the lead (though occasionally Snow or Talia will narrate as well), I feel like her husband should have a bigger part!  He’s in it just enough for me to notice that he’s not in it enough, if that makes sense.  I love the focus on the girls, but I’d like a little more balance to give Armand and Danielle’s relationship some time too.

That’s a minor complaint about an excellent series, though.  If you like fairy tales and strong heroines, these are the books to read.  They’re from the grown-up section (is there a proper term for that?) and I’d probably classify them as appropriate for older YA, because of some of the darker themes.  I’d recommend starting with the first book, as a better way to get to know the characters, though the plots are independent.  I think I enjoyed the second one a bit more, but more because I was getting to know the characters better than because it was an inherently better book.  They’re both great!

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
Shiny Book Review
Bookshop Talk