Friday, July 10, 2009

Fairy Tale fun

Y'all know how much I love a good fairy tale retelling. Today, for your reading pleasure, I give you three, all of which I loved.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow Jessica Day George

Rejected by her mother, the lass remains unnamed and a target for trolls, but she bonds with her eldest brother, Hans Peter who returned from the sea a broken man. Then, the bear comes and demands she spend a year with him at his ice palace, where the unknown she controls everything and kills anyone who gives the lass any information.

A most excellent version of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." This version doesn't set it someplace new or put a new spin on it (although there are some echoes to "Beauty and the Beast" but I think that's mainly because the original tales are fairly similar) but it takes the Nordic tale and expands it, embroiders on its edges and paints us a vast and frozen landscape. George's time spent in Norway, and her minor in Scandinavian studies clearly shine in this book, but not in a way that's annoying or gets in the way of the story. There's too much ice and snow for me to describe this as "lush" but... that's still the word I want to use, so I'm going to just go with it.

Beastly Alex Flinn

Kyle Kingsbury is the most popular, hottest guy at school. And he knows it. After playing an unoriginal and cruel trick at an ugly classmate, just for fun, he gets turned into a Beast. He has two years to find a girl to love, who will love him in return, despite his appearance.

An excellent retelling of "Beauty and the Beast." Flinn really gets inside the beast's head, and it's refreshing to hear the tale from his point of view. Kyle is a believable character that goes through a drastic transformation (literal and metaphorical) that Flinn makes completely believable as he learns to get beyond appearances. An extra touch is the chat room he visits where he talks to other transformed people, mainly the bear from "Snow White and Rose Red," the frog prince, and the Little Mermaid. It was a nice (if quick) glimpse into how the transformed characters thought about their transformation and their prospects for escaping it.

A must read for all fairy tale fans.

The Diamond Secret Suzanne Weyn

Oddly, the latest installment from the Once Upon a Time series isn't a fairy tale at all, but rather urban legend and rumor. Diamond Secret is about Anastasia Romanov, who was gunned down with the rest of the Imperial family in 1918. For years, rumors swirled that the youngest daughter of the Tzar had survived and many claimed to be her. Recent discoveries, however, have placed her remains near those of the rest of her family.

I'm not a fan of recasting history as a fairy tale (Disney-- I'm looking at you and your horrible version of Pocahantas!) History is an interesting enough story in itself, we don't need to rewrite it. (Now, historical fiction that is true to the history is awesome, as are speculative histories like books that explore what would have happened if... I don't read a lot of those, but I once saw a really cool show in England about what might have happened if the Germans had successfully invaded and taken England in WWII. Fascinating stuff.)

Anyway, I digress. Just, at the offset, I want to state my displeasure with the entire premise of the book. However, I love this series, and I like many of Weyn's offerings to the series. (Especially The Night Dance). So, I told the history major in me to shut up and sat down and just ate this up.

Ivan is a Red Army deserter, the violence he witnessed on the night of the Imperial family's murders turning him away from Communism.

Sergei is a Count who lost everything but the clothes on his back during the Revolution, desperately trying to find his wife and son, who were supposed to flee to Sweden but never arrived.

The two are friends, trying to find a girl they can pass off as Anastasia to collect the reward money that her grandmother is offering. They figure they have a leg up on everyone else, given that Ivan has actually seen Anastasia on a few occasions, including the night he saw her die.

They happen upon Nadya, a tavern waitress who knows nothing before her time in an insane asylum the year before. She has something that Ivan recognizes--Anastasia's certain je ne sais quoi and they take her to Paris to pass her off as the missing Grand Duchess.

Adventure and complications ensue.

My favorite part of the book is also my main complaint. Weyn's omniscient narrator doesn't focus on just one character, but rather shifts between the three. I loved seeing inside everyone's heads, but at the same time, it kept me from getting attached to the characters, because I also saw them at the same distance their companions did.

Weyn does include an author note with Anastasia's true story and some of the political background for those unfamiliar. She states "This story mixes true history with imagination to create a possible ending to the Anastasia tale. It is a story that the author would love to believe is true."

So, I did like it, even if I'm not wild about the idea of it.

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