Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sleeping Wrap Up

Sleeping Beauty Wrap Up

Well, our twelfth month of fairy tales has come to a close, and we’ll address the future of this project in a bit, but for now, let’s talk about Sleeping Beauty.

I think I mentioned that I took a class on this fairy tale in college? Yeah, the predominant conclusion from that class was that this was a supremely boring fairy tale, and we weren’t wrong. And I think that’s why this month, like Beauty and the Beast’s month, every novelization was an improvement on the original.

We talked at the beginning of the month about how this is a story defined by passivity. And so, the number one thing I was looking for was stories that made the characters more active, turning the story into one where characters make things happen instead of just having things happen to them.

Let’s look at our Sleeping Beauties –

Beauty Sleep
’s Aurore, who expresses to her father how she is defined by her need to go beyond the palace walls and live at least in part the kind of life that her subjects lead. Who leaves home in the middle of the night to get the curses plaguing her kingdom to follow her and allow peace to descend once more over her home. Who sacrifices seeing her parents again to do what is best for her kingdom.

The One Who Took the Really Long Nap
’s Rose, who was driven by her desire to find where her talents lay, outside of what was fairy-given. Who wasn’t afraid to try and fail, who even took pleasure in her failure. Whose curse at the end of the spindle came about out of this desire to find what she did well. Who had a secret part of the spell to work out before she could be free.

A Kiss in Time’s Talia, who was a spoiled brat in the beginning of her tale, whose growth and story arc became entirely about growing into a decent person and learning how to look at the world beyond herself. Who came to be the kind of person who wanted to help others succeed. Who had to relive her curse a second time and find a way to help her prince find her and fight his demons to free her.

Thornspell’s Rue, who was asleep for almost the entirely of the novel and still managed to keep her prince out of danger, guiding him through the spirit world and always being present at the right moment to ensure that he saw what needed to be done. While asleep, guys.

Spindle’s End’s Rosie, who spent the whole of her story fighting against the image of the princess she was supposed to fulfill, albeit unknowingly. Who was awoken and went out and sought out and faced down her evil fairy three times, almost died, and still found the energy to save her best friend’s life.

Those are five pretty active and kick-ass Sleeping Beauty’s. And their princes are just as active. Ironheart, the unnamed Prince, Jack, Sig, Narl/Rowland, they all were invested in the finding out and helping and breaking of the various curses. Each novel this month built SB and her prince into a unit, working with each other, helping each other, working in tandem to break curses and wake princesses, and I just love it so much.

And also across the board, we’ve got better explained motivations for the parents, more defined conflict, more clearly drawn worlds. Each novel this month got full points across the board.

And as I said, we barely scratched the surface in terms of the Sleeping Beauty novels out there. We’ve also got:

The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey, which places the story in Victorian England and is one of Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, which you all know I adore.

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen, which sets Sleeping Beauty during the Holocaust and is half-brilliant (the actual Sleeping Beauty narrative is wonderfully drawn; the modern-day framing story leaves a lot to be desired).

Briar Rose by Robert Coover, which is very post-modern and very meta and very not for everyone, but which is absolutely fascinating if you can get past all that.

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, The Wide-Awake Princess by ED Baker, and gosh, guys, so many others that I haven’t read. (And hopefully, one day, in publication for you all to read, a novel called Spinning Tales, Spinning Truth by yours truly. But that’s currently just a pipe dream).

Rankings are super hard this month, and don’t ask me to choose favorites; my answers will be super biased towards the novel that defined my adolescence.

But Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley, Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey, and A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn all come Highly Recommended, and Sleeping Beauty: the One Who Took the Really Long Nap by Wendy Mass and Thornspell by Helen Lowe are both Recommended.

And as for the future of Fairy Tale Reviews, well, don’t worry. I imagine I’ll continue to post reviews here, as there are tons of fairy tale novelizations out there and I’m sure gonna keep reading them. I won’t commit to any sort of schedule from here on out, but when I read one, I’ll review it. I’ll follow my checklists if applicable, and I’ll summarize the new fairy tale and throw a quick checklist together if not.

Until then, y’all, this is Cassie, signing off. :)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley

Target Audience: Adult/YA

Summary: When the evil fairy Pernicia lays her seemingly fatal curse upon the infant princess, the royal child's nanny entrusts the baby to Katriona--an orphan brought up by her powerful fairy aunt--to rear in the safety of her distant, cloistered village. In one of the many sequences that endow this novel with mythic grandeur, Katriona and her charge travel surreptitiously through the fields and woods, while the female animals of the countryside (vixens, a she-bear and countless others) suckle the royal baby to keep her alive. This unorthodox diet may be the reason the princess--whom Katriona and her aunt call Rosie--can communicate with all creatures. Unaware of her royal heritage (and bored by fairy-tale fripperies), Rosie makes a best friend of Peony, the wainwright's niece, and becomes an apprentice to Narl, the kind but uncommunicative village blacksmith. When the princess's true identity is finally revealed, and the fate of the realm hangs in the balance, Rosie, Narl and Peony fight a true battle royal to defeat Pernicia's schemes.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

So, I’m not sure I can adequately describe to you what my copy of this book looks like. Here's a picture:

That picture doesn't do it justice. Let me describe to you.

I’ve had my copy of this book since I was a sophomore in high school (which is, geez, almost 10 years, for those of you keeping count (please don’t)), and I’ve read it at least once just about every year I’ve owned it. This book has been loaned out countless times to people who have to read it, been shoved and carried around in backpacks with all a high schooler’s junk, survived several moves from home to dorm room to apartment and back again.

So, yeah, my copy of this book is pretty dog-eared. My copy of this book makes my friend Heidi cringe. It still has both its covers – mostly. The edges both front and back have started to fray and fold away, though. The upper layers on the places where the covers meet the spine have separated and started to curl in. The corners of the pages haven’t seen 90 degree angles for a long time, and the first few pages are almost as tattered around the edges as the covers. My mother keeps threatening to replace my copy of this book, and my response is always the same — over my dead body.

I love my copy of this book. I love the feeling of the pages softened by countless readings. I love the way there is no resistance from the cover when I open to the first page and roll it gently around the spine. I love what it smells like, and the way it feels in my hands. I have more of a sentimental attachment to this book (both this written story and this particular copy of this book) than just about any other book I own. And when I open it and read the first page that I know by heart, it’s like sinking into a warm bath. Settling into a soft bed on a chilly night. It’s like coming home.

Yes, I just rhapsodized for three paragraphs about a paperback. Deal.

We started this project with one of my favorite fairy tale novelizations. I hope it goes without saying that we’re ending the project with the novel that sits at the very top of that list. And like last week, it is incredibly complex (but this time around I wouldn’t change a single word), so I’m going to keep this as simple as I can.

Which means circumventing, slightly, McKinley’s fantastic narrative structure. She writes in a style that jumps ahead and projects occasionally, beyond what’s happening, just for a few pages, a glimpse that the world survives and extends beyond the story’s end. And sometimes, she jumps forward with the narrative, then doubles back to catch you up on a scene that happened in the interim, and that is risky storytelling, ladies and gents, because if you do it poorly, your novel is a burden to read, and it is very easy to do poorly. But McKinley happens to be a master storyteller, so it is not once an issue.

But for purposes of this summary, I’m gonna work linearly, by starting off telling you that the evil fairy of this story is a woman named Pernicia. Many generations before, the last time that an heir of this kingdom was a girl, Pernicia and the Queen in question faced off, and Pernicia was bested. But she swore that she would work her revenge on this family, and that when a Queen next inherited the throne, she would be back to take what was hers.

But enough time passes that everyone forgets this, mostly, and believes that Pernicia has died. And so when the current king and queen give birth to a princess, Pernicia isn’t invited. Just about everyone else is, though.

The Queen is from a small kingdom where everyone could be invited to every event. The kingdom of the story, though is much larger, so the king and queen send heralds to every town with lots to be drawn. One person per town will be invited to the princess’s name day. The person selected from a town called Foggy Bottom in the northernmost bump of this country, known as the Gig, is a young girl, maybe 15 years old, named Katriona.

It’s a long journey to the capital, nearly two months, but Kat gets there just in time for the ceremony. Something strange happens as she is sitting and waiting for things to begin, though. A guard comes over to her and gives her a very powerful amulet. He won’t explain why, but he tells her it’s important, and that he’ll come collect it again eventually.

And then the name day begins. Fairies, in this land, are pretty commonplace. Magic is everywhere, and it either leaves you alone or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, you become a fairy. There are far too many fairies to keep track of, so to navigate the difficult politics of inviting them to the name day, the king and queen chose 21 fairies to serve as the princesses godparents. They were supposed to give unobtrusive gifts. They don’t.

Kat is utterly aghast and dismayed when the fairies start giving the princess things like golden hair and ringlets and flawless skin and a laugh like a silver bell and the ability to dance and embroider and sing like a bird. She can’t believe that professional fairies are treating magic in this way. But as she sits, thinking of all the useful things the fairies could have offered the princess, suddenly the air goes cold and the people in the arena freeze.

And Pernicia appears. She has come, she says to claim her revenge, though she was hoping even until just that morning that she would be offered an invitation, which might have placated her slightly. She says that she came with the intention to kill the young girl, but that now, that seems too easy. So instead, she lays the curse – that on the girl’s 21st birthday, she will die. And then she decides that the girl will die from a cursed spindle. And then she claims that maybe she won’t wait 21 years. Maybe she will make it happen any time she wants.

The curse is laid, and Pernicia disappears, and everyone is frozen – everyone but Kat, who somehow finds herself past the barrier, at the cradle, the princess in her arms, trying to comfort the child, offering up her small gift of magic – the ability to talk to animals, just “baby magic” (magic that children exhibit occasionally, particularly children who will grow up into fairies).

And then she is taken away by Sigil, the queen’s personal fairy, who congratulates Kat on what she has just done, though Kat doesn’t know what exactly that is. And then Sigil tells Kat to take the princess away with her. Take her back to wherever it is she lives and raise the princess as her own child, hiding her identity and keeping the princess safe. She doesn’t want to know Kat’s name or where she lives, because the more she knows, the easier Kat will be to track.

So Kat takes the princess and goes. Along the way, she uses her beast-speech to get milk for the infant from all the animals they meet along the way, and this part of the novel reads very much like some kind of fable, and it’s wonderful.

The trip back to the Gig takes three months, and then Kat and her aunt, who everyone calls Aunt, set about raising the princess, hiding her. Protecting her. They tell everyone that the baby is another niece of Aunt’s whose parents died, like Kat, and as Aunt has eleven siblings, no one really questions this. They call the princess Rosie, and Rosie grows up without any idea who she is.

I’m almost positive that McKinley is pulling a bit from Disney here, the idea of the princess being whisked away from her parents to be raised by fairies (for both Aunt and Kat are very powerful fairies), but McKinley, unlike Disney, does this beautifully. We spend a lot of time in the novel on watching Rosie grow up, and it is just beautifully done.

Because Rosie, purely by being Rosie, manages to get around a lot of the gifts given to her. She hates her ringlets, so she cuts them all off and keeps her hair short. She thinks things like dancing and playing the flute and sewing are stupid, so she never learns to do them. She can’t carry a tune to save her life, so sounding like a bird doesn’t much matter. It’s amazing and wonderful, and I love the forceful personality of this child.

Kat watches Rosie grow up, and she spends each night before she goes to sleep imagining telling the Queen stories about Rosie and what she’s like, except that it turns out that, not having much control on her magic yet, she’s actually doing that for real, and her stories have helped the queen immeasurably.

Because no one in the country knows that the princess was taken away from the name day. They all believe that she is being hidden in various strongholds around the country, moved from time to time to keep Pernicia from being able to find her. So the country believes that the princess is in hiding, but also that the king and queen know where she is and are still getting to watch her grow up.

This is not, however, true. She is, instead, being brought up by two fairies in a backwater part of the kingdom as an ordinary little girl. Kat tells the Queen that her daughter is “as safe as ordinariness can make her.”

The other thing that is helping to keep Rosie safe and secret is that Kat did, in fact, pass along some of her magic to Rosie, and Rosie can speak to animals. This is mind-boggling to Kat because the royal family is, first and foremost, magicless. It’s almost a rule. Spouses are chosen to be without magic. The royal family has no magic. And yet, there is Rosie. Talking to animals.

She grows up a real tomboy. She hates dresses and girlish activities, preferring to spend her time befriend Narl, the blacksmith who everyone but Rosie is a little afraid of, or learning to whittle from Barder, Kat’s future husband.

And the more we see Rosie grow up, the more we gradually shift from Kat’s perspective to Rosie’s. It’s done very subtly and very well, until we are entirely viewing the story through Rosie’s eyes almost without noticing it. But by the time Kat and Barder are married and Rosie is fifteen, she is our sole story focus.

When Kat marries Barder, she and Aunt and Rosie move from their small cottage a ways removed from Foggy Bottom to the very heart of the town, because Barder is the wheelwright, and that’s where his shop is. So at the age of fifteen, Rosie finds everything changing, and as that happens, there’s a voice inside her head that constantly tells her she’s not who she thinks she is. She does her best to ignore it, but it sneak into existence when she least expects it, and it becomes worse with the move to town.

Another reason Rosie dreads moving to town is that now she no longer has an excuse to avoid Peony, the niece of the wainwright who lives next door to Barder. Peony is the very picture of a perfect child. She and Rosie are the same age, and Peony does everything perfect – she sings and dances and embroiders and plays instruments, and is polite and good with children and just a paragon in many ways, and she drives Rosie crazy. Because she’s too perfect, and she makes Rosie feel inadequate.

But the first day that Rosie can no longer truly ignore her, Peony makes some comment about Rosie’s eyelashes being the longest she’s ever seen, and Rosie snaps about how much she hates her eyelashes, and something in that exchange breaks down the barrier between the two girls, and they end up becoming the very best of friends.

I love Rosie and Peony’s friendship because they are such different characters, but they mesh together very well. Rosie’s strange family provides an escape for Peony from an aunt and uncle who don’t have much love for her, though they treat her perfectly well. But Rosie is able to give Peony a happy sort of family, and Peony helps to ground Rosie.

She also inadvertently wakes a couple of Rosie’s princess gifts. She convinces Rosie to try embroidery, since the only kind of sewing Rosie ever attempted was hemming and mending – not sewing she was gifted talent for. And the moment Rosie takes the thread, her gift takes over, which is a terrifying experience, and brings back in full force that pernicious idea that Rosie is someone other than who she imagines herself to be.

It is fascinating to read Rosie’s pieces of story where she considers the princess. Because the princess occupies this almost mythological place in this kingdom. No one has ever seen her. No one ever knows for certain where she is. And Rosie feels sorry for her – says more than once that the life of the princess sounds like a thoroughly unpleasant one, constantly trapped and directed by other people, with no real freedom. Knowing more than Rosie does, in those moments, is always fun as a reader.

As Rosie gets older, she becomes Narl’s unofficial apprentice – not of smithing, but of horse-doctoring. Narl is typically called on to do that, as a smith, but he teaches Rosie the skills, and she become well known for it. Being able to talk to animals helps.

But it’s in working at the forge with Narl that Rosie first meets Rowland. Rowland is a young man who comes to Narl to be apprenticed in the smith work. Rosie likes him well enough, but she finds him to be fairly boring. Peony, however, takes one look at him and falls in love with him, and he with her.

Which is problematic, because Rowland is promised in marriage. Turns out (though we don’t learn this for a while), that Rowland is actually a prince from a neighboring kingdom, out masquerading as a commoner to get a sense of the world before taking a throne. Whose throne? Well, this country’s throne, as it turns out, because Rowland is betrothed to the cursed princess. In other words, Rosie, though no one knows that. The fact that he is betrothed is communicated to Peony. The fact that he is a prince is not.

And the whole episode with Peony and Rowland falling in love exists, largely, to set up Rosie’s romantic story, because in watching it happen to Peony, and in talking to Narl about what happened to Peony, she comes to realize that she is in love with Narl, agonizing to her because she believes, after their conversation, that Narl is in love with Peony.

Complicated as all that is, it isn’t the focus, which is nice. It’s there, it informs the situations to follow, but it’s never the focal point of the story.

When Rosie turns 20, things start to happen. Bad omens are seen all across the country. Magic is much more in turmoil than usual. It’s like everything with even a semblance of consciousness is aware that this is the year whose end is to bring Pernicia’s revenge and the toppling of the kingdom. And because of that, halfway through the year, Rosie is finally sent for.

Because way back at the name day ceremony, when Sigil sent Kat away with the infant princess, she promised that someday, she would come and retrieve the princess. She never said when, but she promised it would happen. And now, Ikor, the guard who gave Kat his amulet and who happens to be a fairy, meant to be Rosie’s 21st godparent, in fact, has appeared in the Gig to tell Rosie who she is and plan for what must be done.

And this is where things get really complex. You may have noticed that the whole ‘changing the curse of death to a curse of sleep’ thing never happened, because in this novel, it doesn’t – at least, not on the name day. But Ikor and Sigil and Kat and Aunt spin together an intricate and complicated plan designed to help Rosie defeat Pernicia.

It involves a decoy princess – Peony, who looks so like Rosie. Who naturally has almost all the gifts that the princess was given by her godparents. Who is an orphan living with an aunt and uncle. Who would do anything for Rosie. Peony is announced to be the long-lost princess. A glamour is placed on her aunt and uncle to make them remember being brought the infant in the night to keep and protect, and Rosie and Peony are wrapped together in this spell and whisked away to Woodwold, the grand house of the Gig, where they will stay until the princess’s birthday celebration and whatever is going to go down with Pernicia.

The idea is that Peony and Rosie will be tied together so tightly to trick Pernicia into going after the wrong girl. Because the curse is tied to Rosie so specifically, if Peony is the one who pricks her finger, she shouldn’t die. Instead, she should simply fall into a sleep, a sleep that those four fairies will put on everyone else as well while Kat and Rosie go and face Pernicia and defeat her once and for all.

That’s the plan. But it goes wrong. Pernicia is able to find Rosie, though it is difficult, and through her magic, she draws Rosie toward her spinning wheel, in this room full of royalty and dignitaries and all these people who don’t even notice that she’s there. But Peony does. And Peony realizes what’s going on. So Peony fights against the magic trying to hold her in place, forces Rosie out of the way, and pierces her finger with the spindle.

This action throws everything into turmoil, because just as they had hoped, Peony taking the curse instead of Rosie thwarted Pernicia’s plan somewhat. But the magical sleep that falls over the assembled affects fairies the worst, and so there’s no way Kat is going to be able to go with Rosie.

In the end, it’s Narl who takes her on this journey, and it’s Narl who brings Rosie back to life, too, since the rebounding of the curse hit her worse than most, and she wasn’t breathing. Narl managed somehow to escape the enchanted sleep, and he found Rosie and “kissed” her (mouth to mouth resuscitation, technically) and woke her, but since she’s not the princess the sleep is tied to, it doesn’t do anything to wake any of the other sleepers. For that to happen, Rosie has to find and defeat Pernicia.

This is the part of the novel that I’m not even going to try and touch. Suffice it to say, Rosie and Narl and most of the animals Rosie has befriended free themselves from Woodwold, find Pernicia, tear down her castle, and drive her, with Peony, back to Woodwold, where Rosie attacks her and, with the help of Woodwold itself, defeats her once and for all. The enchanted sleep is broken on everyone but Peony, and in the end, it isn’t Rowland or Narl or any sort of prince who kisses Peony awake – it’s Rosie, because in order to break Pernicia’s hold and the spell weaving her and Peony together, she has to transfer to Peony what of the princess exists inside her.

In other words, she gives it up, and there is something magical that happens in that moment. There truly, legitimately, is a transfer, and after that kiss, Rosie is no longer the princess. She was once, and she was born to the king and queen, but what was princess inside her isn’t there any longer. Peony will go and marry Rowland and rule the country, because Rosie never wanted to do any of that. Rosie never wanted to be the princess. Peony is much better suited, already loves the prince, and will be a much better Queen.

And Narl and Rosie live happily ever after, too, because he wasn’t in love with Peony. He was in love with Rosie. And screw you, everyone who says the age difference makes them uncomfortable. Their relationship is awesome. I don’t care that he’s at least 18 years older than she is. It’s a fairy tale world. Things like that happen. Read that confession of love and tell me those two aren’t meant to be. Just try.


I adore this book. I love it so, so much and I haven’t even come close to doing it justice here. You just, you have to read it. So much of this book exists in the narrative structure. It is beautiful and intricate and masterful, and so much more amazing than any summery will ever make it sound. This is a book you have to experience. Please. Just go read it. If you slog through no other book this year, slog through this one.

Anyway. Checklist.

Make the characters more active in their story? Definitely. Kat and Rosie, our two protagonists, are just wonderful. I adore Rosie as a reimagining of this princess. She is defined by her activeness, both as a princess and just as Rosie. I adore that she fulfills both the role of Sleeping Beauty and that of the prince who rescues her. She is awoken from her slumber, and she has to go out and find Pernicia. She confronts her three times, almost dies, but doesn’t let that stop her from then going to save her friend. If that’s not active and kickass, I don’t know what is.

Introduce more conflict? Definitely. Pernicia is a deliciously evil character. She rivals Maleficent for my favorite portrayal of this role. If you’re going to make the fairy evil and not just a petty old lady holding a grudge, this is the way to do it. I also love her caveat that maybe the curse could happen at any time, because that really does increase the tension and the conflict. We never know where Pernicia is. We never know what she’s up to. The novel is full of moments where she almost finds Rosie, and only doesn’t because of a quick-thinking action from Aunt or Kat. It really ups the stakes in a wonderful way.

Explain the actions of the parents? The king and queen really aren’t huge players in this novel, and that’s the point. Their actions were explained by being taken away from them. Their daughter was taken away from them in what was the only real way to hope of keeping her safe. I love the glimpses we get through stories and rumors of how the king and queen cope with this fact, and I love how strong and wonderful the queen is in the few moments we see her. When she meets Rosie and Peony for the first time, she knows Peony isn’t her daughter. She knows Rosie is. She knows because Kat sat on her bed and told her stories of her little girl. She is so smart and so strong, and I love her.

Flesh out the world? Oh my good Lord, guys, this world. I. Love. It. It is rich and intricate and fully realized, but unlike other fantasy world builders I could mention, McKinley introduces us to this world piece by piece in a way that isn’t overwhelming and always enhances the story. The little details that get thrown in and keep being referred back to are magnificent. The way that McKinley very subtly connects this world to another kingdom in another fairy tale novel of hers is magnificent. Everything about the way this world is built and explored and unfolded is magnificent.

This novel has a very strong Disney influence, but what I love is that it reads like McKinley took the Disney movie and reworked it to address its shortcomings. It focuses on how growing up not a princess influenced and defined Rosie, and Kat and Aunt, and her parents. It made the characters into real people with flaws and virtues and dreams and desires, and it played with every expectation you have with this story. And I adore it.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the Sleeping Beauty wrap-up and a little about the future of this project now that our year has come to a close. But for now, I want to let this review stand for a little, because this is how we’re going out, y’all. I couldn’t think of a better book to end on.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Thornspell by Helen Lowe

Thornspell by Helen Lowe

Target Audience: Middle Grade/YA   

Summary: Prince Sigismund has grown up hearing fantastical stories about enchantments and faie spells, basilisks and dragons, knights-errant and heroic quests. He'd love for them to be true—he's been sheltered in a country castle for most of his life and longs for adventure—but they are just stories. Or are they?

From the day that a mysterious lady in a fine carriage speaks to him through the castle gates, Sigismund's world starts to shift. He begins to dream of a girl wrapped, trapped, in thorns. He dreams of a palace, utterly still, waiting. He dreams of a man in red armor, riding a red horse—and then suddenly that man arrives at the castle!

Sigismund is about to learn that sometimes dreams are true, that the world is both more magical and more dangerous than he imagined, and that the heroic quest he imagined for himself as a boy . . . begins now.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling with a perspective shift

So, this is a change, you may notice. Originally, this week’s novel was A Long, Long Sleep, but after reading, though that one tries really hard to be Sleeping Beauty, it isn’t. And I figured that there were enough actual Sleeping Beauty novelizations out there that I probably ought to focus on one of those. So I picked Thornspell, one I hadn’t read before.

This was a pretty intricate and complex novel, and while I do have the complaint that even after reading the whole thing, I’m still avoiding ever having to say this prince’s name aloud because I honestly don’t know how to pronounce it, for the most part, I enjoyed this book.

I’m gonna keep the summary pretty light this week, though, because the novel is so complex.       

So, Sigismund (which tells me is a variant of Sigmund, but doesn’t give me any sort of pronunciation for) is a prince who has grown up at an isolated castle in the west of his kingdom for as long as he can remember. He was taken there by his father when he was a very young child, after his mother died suddenly and his father was needed to fight in the southern wars.

His rules have always been simple – don’t leave the palace walls. He has free run of the grounds within them, but he is never to step outside the walls, and he shouldn’t even think about setting foot anywhere near the Wood, which can be seen from West Castle, and which was placed under interdict almost a century ago.

The older Sig gets (yes, that’s what I took to calling him in my head so I wouldn’t stumble over his name every time it appeared), the more he starts to notice strange things happening. And it is around this time that his father sends a master-at-arms, Balisan, to teach and train him in the way of weaponry. Sig knew he was coming because he dreamed it, a dream that turned out to be true, as many of Sig’s dreams have.

Shortly after Balisan arrives to start teaching Sig the sword, Sig has an encounter with a woman outside the gate. She is very beautiful, almost hypnotically so, and she tells Sig that she has bought a castle nearby, and in the midst of their chit-chat, she attempts to give him a ring. He has to reach through the bars of the gate to get it, though, and as he does so, he catches a glimpse of a girl on the palace grounds, which startles him so much that he drops the ring to the dirt, and then something happens.

It’s a magical something, and it makes Sig go all fuzzy and faint and fall into a feverish . . . fancy, just because I want to keep the alliteration going. But no, the kid gets seriously ill, in illness nothing can touch until a woman in lilac appears in a dream and heals him. Sig is convinced she was real, despite everyone telling him when he wakes that there was no such woman. They ask him what happened at the gate, but hard as he tries, he can’t remember.

All of this makes Balisan very suspicious, and he’s smart enough to figure out what’s going on. He takes Sig down to the lilac garden, and there he summons the very woman from Sig’s dream – she’s a fairy named Syrica who has hidden herself inside the West Castle garden for close to a hundred years, and she’s the one who explains who the woman at the gate was.

Turns out, that was an evil fairy (I know you’re all shocked at this revelation) named Margravine zu Malvolin, who has been trying to infiltrate West Castle for almost a hundred years. Because almost a hundred years ago, this fairy laid a curse on a young princess, and by now, you all know the story that Syrica tells. Margravine is the evil fairy with the curse, Syrica is the good fairy with the attempted solution, but what this book allows us to see is what happens in the interim, after the spells are enacted, while our Sleeping Beauty waits to be awoken.

The evil fairy’s motivation here is stronger than just wounded pride. She wants the kingdom of the princess for reasons that have to do with power, and she wants to destroy Sig’s family for the same reason. In this world, once magic has been set in motion, not even the spell casters can affect how it will play out, which makes all magic a risk. But what both fairies here know is that Sig’s family will be connected, and that Sig himself is very likely to be the prince meant to break the spell, as he will come of age in the year the spell is to be broken.

The end result of all this knowledge is that Balisan begins to teach Sig magic and how to use it. It’s a complicated process, and I won’t get into it, but I will give you one more pertinent fact – in this world, there are places where the human world and the world of Faerie overlap and exist in the same space, if you know how to move between them.

Jump ahead to the year Sig turns 16. His father (still away at war) has decided that the prince maybe shouldn’t be hidden away at a far off castle anymore, so he has Sig brought to the capital to meet the people. The king promises he will join him there soon.

Sig falls in with a group of boys his own age, led by one named Flor, who is casually arrogant in a way that makes Sig uncomfortable, but generally seems to be a good sort.

About a week before his father is due to arrive, the boys are invited to go on a board hunt in the West. Balisan agrees that Sig should go, but he warns the prince that he might be in danger, and he should be on the lookout constantly and be careful who he trusts.

And sure enough, once on the hunt, Sig is separated from the rest and pursued by the board, who is larger and smarter than boars ought to be. One of Sig’s men is killed by the beast to save Sig’s life, and Sig, using his magic, is able to kill the boar. He is so numb and in shock on the ride back that he doesn’t even notice when his horse is led off course. The next thing he knows, he is in the Faerie realm, and shocker, Flor is the one who betrayed him.

Turns out, Flor is actually the grandson of the Margarvine zu Malvolin, and he befriended Sig for just this eventuality, but what he and the Margarvine hadn’t counted on was that Sig had been studying magic with Balisan. It’s the most difficult thing Sig has ever done, but between his magical gift, luck, and the helpful presence of the girl he saw that day by the gate (who is mute but who Sig has come to call Rue), he is finally able to slip between worlds and emerge on the human side. Somewhere along the way, he gains a sword, but we’ll get to that.

He emerges in his father’s private war room to discover that two years have passed for his father and the kingdom, while only a single night has for him. This means that the year of Sig’s destiny is much, much closer. Sig crippled the Margarvine while he was in Faerie – inadvertently, but still – but as the time for the breaking of the curse comes closer, she will be getting both more powerful and more desperate.

So, Sig figures, why wait for the time to come to him? If the spell is tied to him, he should be able to manipulate it. So he plans to leave in secret, since his father refuses to give him permission to go tackle the curse in the woods, but Balisan finds him out. Instead of stopping him, though, he helps Sig get away.

This is where the story gets really complicated, a bit more complicated than it needs to be, honestly. On the one hand, you have Sig, torn between this duty he thinks he has to the sleeping princess and the way he has come to feel about Rue, the mute girl trapped in a magical world. (Spoiler – they’re one and the same). And then, you have this whole complicated bit with Margarvine and her motivation and why no one has stopped her, and Syrica’s plan to get her to act against humans in the human world because that will . . . do something important.

Sig’s first attempt to breech the wood fails, and he’s pretty badly injured in the attempt. The second time, he makes it through, through the wood and the briars and into the castle, and to the side of the sleeping princess. He wakes her with a kiss, and then realizes that he’s led Flor and the other servants of the Margarvine right to her, and though he tries to fight them, he fails, and she is taken away to the evil fairy.

Except that that wasn’t the real princess. It was a simulacrum, and the real princess is hidden in a place Sig has visited in his dreams without understanding its significance. Rue appears to lead him to it, and once she has, he realizes that gasp and shock! Rue is actually the princess! He wakes her, and then there’s this massive battle between Sig and the Malvolin’s servants, and it gets really complicated really fast, and it turns out Balisan is really a dragon, and Syrica and Margarvine are sisters, and Margarvine does something wrong and the Faerie Queen finally arrives to sort it all out, and they do address the question of why she hadn’t done so before, but it’s not a terribly satisfactory answer.

But happily ever after has been achieved, even if there is entirely too much tacked onto the end beyond that in an attempt to make it feel like more than just a love story, I guess.

I liked the book, don’t get me wrong. I liked it, and I’m glad that someone decided to focus solely on the prince. But there was a lot going on in this story, and while it was interesting, I’m not convinced it was all necessary. But let’s look at the checklist.

Make the characters more active in their own story? Solid yes. Sig is actively training for this destiny throughout, rather than just stumbling onto the palace randomly one day. In this story, he trains and studies and prepares and knows the whole of things before setting out. The princess, too, is given a more active role, able to send her spirit out while her body is sleeping, to help the prince help her.  I liked that.

Introduce more conflict? Honestly, there was a little too much conflict. I never did fully understand what the deal was with the Faerie Queen and why she wasn’t stepping in to stop Margarvine’s power grabs a lot sooner. I also don’t fully get why Rue’s kingdom was so all-fired important. Like, power is one thing, but this seemed excessive. There was just a little too much going on, and it felt like overcompensation.

Explain the actions of the parents? We don’t actually see that much of them, as this isn’t the princess’s story, so this point isn’t really applicable.

Flesh out the story? Yes, again, a little too much at times. I enjoyed the world and its imagining, but there were times I felt a little overwhelmed by it.

All in all, I did enjoy this one, but I felt it could have been a little simpler and still been just as good.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Guest Post: Disney's Sleeping Beauty with Matthew!

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

or “Why Disney Didn’t Make Another Faerie Tale Movie for Over Thirty Years After This”

Let’s be clear. I’m not going to say that this movie has nothing to offer. I love the animation style, I love the good faeries, and I love the villain. The parts that are good about this movie are incredibly good. The parts that aren’t so good, on the other hand . . . well . . .

Now, to be fair, the original story doesn’t have a lot to offer. Girl is cursed to prick finger and fall into extended sleep, girl does this, is rescued in quite possibly the lamest rescue ever, they live happily ever after. Simple, straightforward, and about as dull as faerie tales ever get. And Disney made a good attempt at making it more interesting. They had a good thing going for a lot of it. But on the whole, they still focused too much on the things that were dull and uninteresting about the original story.

But let’s start at the beginning. We start with our storybook backstory, learning of King Stefan and his wife having a daughter named Aurora. We see the ensuing celebration, and we can already tell that this movie is going to be markedly different from the previous ones. The animation is a little more--for lack of a better word--artsy. Also, this movie draws a lot of inspiration from Tchaikovsky’s ballet adaptation of the story. It uses much of his music, and even a lot of the movements of the characters are very dance like. I think a lot of people found this shift a style a bit off-putting, which might be partly why this movie didn’t do nearly as well, but I really like it. I actually wish they’d taken it a bit further. How fascinating would a nearly silent animated version of this story be?

But I digress. Stefan asks for the three good faeries of the realm, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, to bestow their magical gifts on the child. Flora gives her the gift of beauty, and Fauna gives her the gift of song. (I mean, she’s gotta be able to sing. It’s a Disney movie.) But before Merryweather can give her gift, the shit hits the fan, and the evil faerie, Maleficent, appears in a torrent of green flame.

And, my GOD, but I love Maleficent. She is easily one of the most badass Disney villains ever created. Everything from her name to her outfit to her methods is just absolutely badass. Her motivation is the only thing that’s really lacking, as she still as the same motivation as her story counterpart: she was snubbed at the party. Only where the book faerie kind of lost interest, Maleficent actively tries to find and kill Aurora throughout the movie. But then again, she’s kind of one of those villains who defies motivation. She’s just evil.

So Maleficent does her thing, casts her evil spell, and leaves, and Merryweather does her thing, casts her not-really-terribly-helpful-at-all spell, and the King Stefan decides to solve the problem by burning all the spinning wheels in the kingdom.

The difference, though, is that it doesn’t end there. They don’t just put the sleep spell on her, burn the spinning wheels, and say “Well, that’s that, problem solved!” The three faeries in particular know that they’ve only delayed the problem, that it would be far better for the spell to never occur at all, and that Maleficent wants her dead, and won’t stop pursuing her until she is, one way or another. So, since Maleficent was very specific as to the exact time that Aurora would be pricking her finger, they come up with the bright idea of hiding Aurora in the woods and raising her as a peasant until that day passes. What’s going to keep Maleficent from just cursing her again, I don’t know, but one plot hole at a time.

So, they take her to the woods to live as a peasant, and . . . sixteen years pass. This, to me, is one of the moments when the movie missed a golden opportunity for some solid storytelling. The faeries have to live without magic in order to keep Maleficent from noticing them, and they don’t really know how to function without magic. The King and Queen have just given up their daughter and watching her grow up for sixteen years. And the princess is going to be living as a peasant, completely separated from all civilization and all people outside the three good faeries, while being hunted down by an evil faerie who wants to kill her. Does this situation not seem RIPE with interesting story ideas? But no. We’ll just skip ahead to her sixteenth birthday and pick up the story from there. Yeah, okay.

So, Maleficent has not been entirely idle this whole time. She’s had her little minions looking for the baby for sixteen years. But, as we learn in the next scene, they have literally been looking for a baby for sixteen years, not realizing that in the course of those years, the baby has grown up into lovely young woman with all the personality of a beige shower curtain.

This same woman, renamed Briar Rose to protect her identity, is actually a girl of sixteen at this point, though she doesn’t look like any sixteen year old I’ve ever seen, and the three faeries send her off to pick berries--because that’s what you do when you need distraction in the forest, right? Berries?--while they prepare for her birthday party, which will include the revelation that Briar Rose is actually the Princess Aurora, and she gets to leave the life of seclusion she’s always known and go to a life of having everyone know who she is and be required by law to obey and essentially worship her. That doesn’t sound jarring at all, does it?

What follows is hands down the most unspeakably dull scene in the entire movie, where Aurora does her Disney princess thing and sings and dances with her animal friends, who decide to dress up as a dance partner for her, until a real dance partner shows up! A mysterious man who overheard her singing, and decided to join her in a manner that is NOT AT ALL creepy! It’s just a man watching a girl alone in the woods and then pursuing her affections. No big.

But because Aurora is a complete idiot, she falls in love with this mystery man, and agrees to meet him that night at her cottage. So, not only does she not run away from this man, she tells him where she lives. Stellar. Also, she doesn’t know his name.

Meanwhile, the faeries realize that, after sixteen years, they still can’t cook or sew without the aid of magic. How they’ve managed to raise a small child during that time is anyone’s guess, but they eventually decide to do the party right and use magic for the first time in sixteen years to throw Aurora this party. This scene has some good animation and comedy, as Flora and Merryweather argue over whether the dress should be pink or blue, and subsequently get into a magical fight of color and sparkles that I’m sure is not in any way noticeable to Maleficent’s pet Raven, who is looking for any sign of the lost princess. Except that it totally is.

So. Aurora arrives home. She tells her “aunts” that she’s met a man, they tell her that she’s a princess, is returning home tonight, and is already betrothed to a prince from another kingdom named Philip. So, there’s drama all around, but Aurora’s despair has nothing to do with the fact that she’s about to experience a radical change of lifestyle. No, it’s just because she doesn’t get to meet up with the boy she’s only just met and has fallen in love with.

Meanwhile, the mystery man--who, in a twist of fate that could only come from Disney, IS that same Prince Philip that Aurora is betrothed to--tells his father that he’s fallen in love with a peasant woman. This displeases his father, King Hubert, because Philip has long been betrothed to the Princess Aurora from the neighboring kingdom, who is returning to her parents today, in fact. Philip doesn’t listen, and goes to meet his mystery peasant girl anyway, because TRUE LOVE!!!

Meanwhile, the faeries escort the moping Aurora back to the palace, where she is lured away by Maleficent, and compelled to touch the spindle and fall into the enchanted sleep . . . which kind of begs the question, if Maleficent is powerful enough to make her do whatever she wants, why go through all the business with the curse? Why not just have her throw herself off the highest tower or something? Would’ve been a hell of a lot easier. But oh well. The curse has come to pass, and the faeries put the rest of the kingdom to sleep as well, until the curse can be broken by--what else?--true love’s kiss.

And as it happens, the faeries learn through King Hubert that Prince Philip is the SAME GUY that Aurora fell in love with in the woods! Oh, happy day! Unfortunately, Maleficent gets to him first, tying him up and putting him through probably the most cruel torture ever devised by a Disney villain: instead of killing him, she’s going to keep him alive until he’s an old man, and THEN, she’ll let him go and break Aurora’s curse.

 . . . I mean, damn. Let’s all just sit for a moment and ponder that.

But, the three good faeries come to his rescue, arm him with the SWORD of TRUTH and the SHIELD of VIRTUE (also the PEN of SUBTLETY), and--let’s just be honest here--basically do all the work for him while he could charging through. I mean, on the one hand, I love the fact that three middle aged women are essentially the heroes of the story, but on the other hand, it’s a little disappointing to realize that your SWORD of TRUTH only slew the dragon because the faeries charmed it to do so. Ah, well, still better than just having the wall of thorns give way to the prince without him so much having to hack his way through, I suppose.

Oh, yeah, and Maleficent turns into a dragon. Badass.

Anyway, Maleficent is defeated, Philip enters the palace, breaks the spell with true love’s kiss, everyone wakes up, the prearranged marriage is okay because they fell in love with each other anyway, happily ever after, etc.

This movie has so much incredible potential, and yet falls so short of what it could have been. I won’t say it isn’t an improvement on the original story, because it most certainly is, but that’s not saying a whole lot, and I can see why so many people view this movie as a disappointment.

The checklist:

Have somebody do something? Well, the faeries certainly do. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are essentially the heroes of this story. They’re the only real active participants in it, it’s their idea to do more for Aurora than just burn the spinning wheels and hope for the best, and they fight Maleficent in the end. And Maleficent, far from just making a brief appearance at the beginning, is one of the most active characters in the movie, as is often the case with villains. However, the main characters still do very little. Prince Philip does do a little more than his counterpart, as he does actually have to fight his way to the palace to save Aurora. But Aurora is actually, in a way, LESS active. At least in the original story, the princess went exploring when she found the spinning wheel. This Aurora has to be magically compelled. So, seeing as how she’s still the main character of the story, half a point.

Introduce some conflict? Hells yeah! Ultimately, this whole story isn’t so much about the sleeping beauty as it is about the fight between the faeries, and Maleficent’s apparent vendetta against King Stefan and his daughter is so obsessive that it pretty much guarantees conflict. It’s one of the big things that movie’s got going for it.

Give the parents a reason for their stupid: Not really an issue, as Aurora is spirited away from the palace, and the parents are actually there to celebrate her sixteenth birthday. And the reason they didn’t invite Maleficent is obvious. I mean, she’s basically the devil.

Flesh out the world: Check. This is probably what Disney faerie tale adaptations do best. They remove the ambiguity of setting that’s natural for faerie tales and put them in a real life context. There’s still some ambiguity, of course, but I appreciate that there is a definite structure to the story. Two kingdoms with a definite political structure in place, the kings have names, magic exists with faeries, and the love interest is actually given a name other than “Charming.”

As far as an adaptation of a faerie tale, yes, this movie is a vast improvement. However, if you’re interested in how I think it could have been done better, well . . . read my review of Tangled.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn

A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Talia fell under a spell...Jack broke the curse.

I was told to beware the accursed spindle, but it was so enchanting, so hypnotic...

I was looking for a little adventure the day I ditched my tour group. But finding a comatose town, with a hot-looking chick asleep in it, was so not what I had in mind.

I awakened in the same place but in another time—to a stranger's soft kiss.

I couldn't help kissing her. Sometimes you just have to kiss someone. I didn't know this would happen.

Now I am in dire trouble because my father, the king, says I have brought ruin upon our country. I have no choice but to run away with this commoner!

Now I'm stuck with a bratty princess and a trunk full of her jewels...The good news: My parents will freak!

Think you have dating issues? Try locking lips with a snoozing stunner who turns out to be 316 years old. Can a kiss transcend all—even time?

Type of Adaptation: Combination retelling and modernization

Alex Flinn loves her modernizations, and thank goodness she does, because I love them, too. I am always fascinated by the prospect of putting classic fairy tales into the real, modern world because there are always issues you have to overcome, usually about magic.

So, how does Flinn handle Sleeping Beauty? By keeping Sleeping Beauty’s origin in the fairy tale world, but increasing the length of her sleep so that when she woke up, it was in the modern world with a modern boy, 300 years later. Her kingdom is no longer a recognized kingdom, Jack isn’t a prince, and at 16, he’s gonna get married over his dead body.

And let’s play our game, ladies and gentlemen.

This is such a fascinating idea to me that I’m surprised someone hadn’t done it already. But we start with Talia (nice throwback to “Talia, Sun, and Moon,” one of the oldest and most disturbing Sleeping Beauty stories out there), a princess in the 17th century of a country called Euphrasia, and she has been told from the time she was old enough to understand the words that she must never touch a spindle.

She is told this by everyone, constantly, but no one ever explains why, and no one seems bothered by the fact that she doesn’t really know what a spindle looks like, since there aren’t any anywhere in the kingdom. It takes her years of wheedling to get the story of ‘why’ out of her constant companion, Lady Brooke.

And here’s something I love – Talia may have been gifted with grace and beauty and talent and all that, but for all her fairy gifts, she’s kind of a spoiled brat, and she’s irritating as hell. It’s wonderful because in making her flawed, we both turn her supposed fairy “perfection” on its head and give her room to grow as a character.

And this book more than any others we’ve read so far really brings home the fact that this iconic character doesn’t know anything about the iconic christening except what people are willing to tell her. And in this case, that’s not much. She’s startlingly ignorant of the circumstances because no one tells her about them; they just say “Don’t touch a spindle!”

Anyway, her sixteenth birthday is approaching and all she can think about are the dresses that have been made for her. Her father has commissioned twenty tailors from countries around the world to each create twenty-five gowns for her to pick and choose for her birthday celebrations, and this scene is where we really see just how much of a brat Talia is. Surrounded by such wealthy extravagance and craftsmanship, all she can do is complain because no one has brought a dress of a green the exact shade of her eyes. I mean, you kinda want to strangle this girl and go “Are you freakin’ serious??”

Anyway, she manages to give her caretaker the slip as she goes to visit more rooms with more dresses, and she hears something from up in one of the towers, and so even though there isn’t supposed to be anyone up there, she goes up anyway, and finds a room full of gowns the exact shade of green as her eyes! And it will come as a surprise to no one that this has been orchestrated by Malvolia, the fairy who cursed Talia, and it was all to get her finger pricked on a spindle and bring the curse about.

Enter Jack. 300 years later, mind. Jack’s a teenager from Florida whose entire life is being controlled by his parents regardless of what he might want to do. So they’ve sent him to Europe for the summer because it will look good on a resume for college, but Jack thinks that if he has to walk through one more museum, he’s gonna scream. So instead, he slips away from his tour group, takes a bus to a random small town in Belgium and starts to explore.

And he finds something weird. There’s a great big briar hedge in the middle of this woods, and he works his way through it because he feels like it’s important that he do so. And when he gets through the briars, he’s in one of those fake Renaissance or Colonial time towns, and everyone’s asleep. He can’t wake them up, though he tries, and he keeps exploring, up into the castle.

It’s there that he finds Talia and she’s so beautiful that he decides he’s going to kiss her, but because he’s a modern kid and not a fairy tale prince, he does acknowledge that it’s a little creepy and probably morally wrong for him to kiss a sleeping girl. But he does it anyway.

His kiss wakes her up, but it takes him a while to talk her out of a frenzy, because Talia doesn’t remember going to sleep. And that’s another thing I like about this one – no one really knows what happened. In Talia’s head, she was just looking at all these dresses, and then this strange boy was here kissing her, and she has no idea that 300 years have passed.

And it’s fascinating to look at the fall out in this particular story, because this is not the happy ending anyone wants. Jack is horrified at the idea that he’s now supposed to marry this girl, the King is furious with Talia for doing exactly what she wasn’t supposed to do and sending the kingdom to sleep, and Talia is frustrated with the fact that no one will listen or believe that it wasn’t really her fault. And it all gets worse when the king finds out that he’s not technically a king anymore, that 300 years have passed and the world has changed incredibly. There are fights and arguments and Jack ends up thrown in the dungeon, awaiting execution.

But Talia is angry enough with her father that she grabs her jewelry box, sneaks Jack out of the dungeon, and they run away from Euphrasia. Talia blackmails Jack into taking her with him, and then Jack has to think on his feet because he’s got this girl who talks funny and dresses weirdly and doesn’t understand the first thing about modern technology or customs or anything.

But Talia has to go with Jack, and more than that, she has to make Jack fall in love with her; he woke her up, so he’s her prince, and the only way the curse stays broken is if Jack actually is her one true love. Malvolia has appeared to Talia and told her so. So Talia’s a bit desperate.

Jack uses her jewels to get money to buy her a fake passport and new clothes and plane tickets back to Florida mostly because he knows that bringing her home with him will freak out his parents and make his ex-girlfriend jealous. But it’s also a little because he feels sorry for her – he kinda got her into this mess, and the real world will destroy her if he doesn’t take care of her.

We depart a bit from the Sleeping Beauty narrative for a decent chunk of the book (but we get back to it at the end, which is why I’m still going), so I’m not going to go much into the antics that happen back in Florida. What I will touch on, though, is the way that this relationship between the two evolves. It is fascinating to watch, and really well done.

Talia started off our story as a spoiled brat who didn’t think much about the world around her or the other people in it. Jack helps her realize how important family is, what it’s like to have someone looking out for you and to be that person for someone else, and what talents and skills she has beyond being beautiful. She’s a natural diplomat, and being with Jack really helps her grow up.

Jack, on the other hand, started off our story as a sullen teenager rebelling against his parents, who didn’t want to take on any sort of responsibility, whose main goal in life was to find new ways to get his parents’ attention – usually through causing trouble. Talia helps him realize where his interests actually lie and what he really wants to do with his life, how to find the courage to stand up to his parents in a positive and productive way, and what it means to take responsibility for other people and himself.

They both grow in enormous ways because of the other, and it’s really well done. And Talia’s plan backfires a little. She meant to make Jack fall in love with her. But she found herself falling in love with him, instead. Of course, her plan also works.

But Malvolia feels she’s been cheated out of her ending, and she’s not going to let some immature teenage boy take her victory away from her.

When the curse broke, the hedge around Euphrasia started to disappear, and pretty soon the people could get out, and the King managed to find a reporter and start spreading the tale that his daughter had been kidnapped. The reporter is making a joke out of the whole thing, but it gets picked up by US news, and Jack’s family recognizes the portrait of Talia and demand an explanation.

And Jack is terrified of giving them one because it sounds crazy, but he has enough evidence that they do believe him in the end. And the plan is to take Talia back over to Euphrasia and try to work things out. But that’s before Malvolia steps in.

In the middle of the night, she magicks Talia away, back to her cottage in Euphrasia, and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that Talia and Jack will not be cheating her out of her revenge, that she will be delivering Talia to her father, dead, as was the original plan. Talia will sew the green dress she so envied, and once she has completed it, she will be killed and Malvolia will have won.

Using the skills Jack taught her she had, Talia gets Malvolia to talk about why she wants revenge on the king so badly, and it turns out that the story we all think we know isn’t entirely accurate. Malvolia isn’t a witch, as purported, but a fairy, and Talia isn’t her father’s first born child. There was a boy, born some years before Talia, named George, and Malvolia was the fairy chosen to create his christening gown.

She went to the palace one afternoon to fit it on him, and she was shown to nursery. It was empty. The prince’s nurse had stepped out, and when Malvolia entered, she discovered the baby dead in his crib. She did everything she could to revive him, eventually resorting to magic, which is of course when the nurse came back, saw the magic and the dead baby, and screamed for help.

The king was convinced that Malvolia had killed his son, and he wouldn’t let her defend herself. He called for her death, but she outwitted him and disappeared, and so instead, he had her title of fairy stripped from her, to be known instead as a witch of dark magic, a child killer. It was not true, she had done no such thing, but if the king was determined to blame her for the death of his child, then she vowed that she would one day make it true, hence the curse on Talia.

Talia uses her skills of diplomacy to try and reason with Malvolia, to convince her that her death will not bring justice, that her father was in the wrong, but that Talia being killed for it won’t fix anything. She promises to do what she can to clear Malvolia’s name and to truly see justice served. And because Malvolia isn’t evil, just hurt, and because she can see how Talia has grown and changed, Talia’s words have an effect. She asks if Talia truly loves Jack, and Talia answers truthfully: that she didn’t always, but she has come to, and she believes that the same is true of Jack. And so Malvolia agrees to a different kind of test.

She will put the sleeping spell back on Talia, and if Jack can find her, win his way to her, prove his love for her, then the spell will be broken, and Malvolia will never cause trouble again. But if Jack cannot do these things, if he fails, then Talia will sleep forever.

She agrees. And so, Malvolia puts Jack through his paces. And each of the obstacles is designed to have turned away the boy he was before. He has to walk for three days straight, each day making no real progress. The old Jack would have given up, not had the perseverance to keep going. The new Jack doesn’t. He has to answer a question about Talia every day. The old Jack wouldn’t have listened to know her dearest wish, but the new Jack does. And before he can make it to Talia in the cottage, he has to stand up to his father, take control of his own life, and commit to what he wants.

It’s hard, it’s a challenge, but Jack does it, and he kisses Talia awake, and he and his dad (who’s come with him) work out a plan to turn Euphrasia into a kind of theme park, like those old Colonial towns, and recreate the story to the tourists, and everything works out well for everyone.

Have I mentioned how much I love Alex Flinn’s modernizations?

Anyway. Checklist.

Make the characters more active in their story? Not initially, but that’s one of the things that I love. Both of these characters are passive and actively resisting taking any initiative when the curse is broken the first time. But over the course of the story, they grow into being active participants, and that is wonderful.

Introduce more conflict? Definitely. This wasn’t a case of jealousy or injured pride, but a real honest beef that Malvolia had with the King. She was out for revenge, plain and simple, and she didn’t just disappear once her curse was laid. She was around through the whole story and she had a much firmer motivation, and in the end, Talia and Jack had to prove their growth in order to move forward.

Explain the actions of the parents? This is where we fall a little short for me, just because I still find the King so aggravating, for blaming Talia because she acted as a curse promised she would. However, that characterization does fit with his actions throughout, and is part of Malvolia’s problem with him, so I’ll give the point.

Flesh the story out? Definitely. I love the double Sleeping Beauty. And watching this princess figure out the real world was very well done.

An excellent adaptation, all the way around.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sleeping Beauty: The One Who Took the Really Long Nap by Wendy Mass

Sleeping Beauty: the One who Took the Really Long Nap by Wendy Mass

Target Audience: Middle Grade

It's not easy being Princess Rose. Especially when a fairy curses you and you find yourself avoiding all sharp objects . . . and then end up pricking your finger anyway, causing you to slumber for a hundred years or so.

And it's not easy being The Prince. Especially when your mother has some ogre blood and tends to chow down at the most unfortunate moments. A walk in the woods would help, you think. Until you find a certain hidden castle . . . and a certain sleeping princess. Happily ever after? Not until the prince helps the princess awaken . . . and brings her home to Mother.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling with a perspective addition

Holy Unexpected Developments, Batman! Somebody included Perrault’s entirely unnecessary ending – and did it well, too! Color me utterly astonished!

But we’ll get to that.

So, as you may be able to ascertain from the title, this novel is from the same series as Rapunzel: The One With All the Hair. It’s called the Twice Upon a Time series, and it takes fairy tales and rewrites them for a younger audience, but in a way I can completely get behind because Wendy Mass knows how to write for this age group, and she does so very well.

Like Rapunzel’s, this is told in chapters that alternate back and forth between prince and princess, but for the sake of coherency, I’m gonna just do them one at a time, starting with Princess Rose.

Princess Rose is a Sleeping Beauty of the seven fairy godmothers variety, and the reason the grumpy fairy wasn’t invited is because there had been a rumor that she’d died, and as unpleasant as she was, no one was terribly heartbroken about it, or felt the need to poke around and see whether or not it was true. As soon as she arrived, however, a place was made for her, and one of the golden plates (specially commissioned for the event) would be made and sent to her as soon as possible.

But it’s no use trying to placate a fairy determined to feel slighted, so she lays her curse anyway – death by spindle. This one doesn’t give a time frame, either. Just, she’ll prick her finger on a spindle and die. Someday. Could be next week, could be when she’s 87. We’ll see.

Everyone’s in the typical uproar when the seventh fairy comes and makes her gift and changes the death to sleep, etc, etc. It’s all playing out pretty normally, including Father King outlawing spinning and weaving and sewing of any kind, but at least in this version, Mother Queen goes, “Dear? That’s a little bit overkill. People gotta make clothes, you know?” and they’re able to come to a compromise about bringing in clothes from other kingdoms to make sure everyone has something to wear.

And it occurs to me that, given that we don’t have a time frame, this could have ended poorly...

Anyway, like we saw last week, Rose grows up very over-protected, always supervised. It’s the way it’s always been for her, so it takes her a while to realize that anything’s amiss or different about the way she’s never alone. She has one friend who sticks by her, though, Sara, a peasant girl who becomes her lady in waiting.

Now, Rose was gifted with all the gifts traditional to Sleeping Beautys, and as a way to give thanks for it, she gives a performance every year, showing off her talents in dancing and singing and playing instruments, etc. But here’s what I love about this – Rose doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like doing this. She has never felt able to take compliments because it’s not really her. It’s just fairy magic, and she wants to know if she would have been good at those things without it.

So Rose sets off to find something she can do well. She takes up painting and horseback riding and cooking, and is miserable at all of them, and thrilled to be so. She may not be painting the most beautiful paintings, but at least they’re hers.

And in this way, she reaches 16, and at the age of 16, she goes on a trip to a summer home, and while exploring, she finds a visiting woman from another country who is weaving. Always eager to learn new skills, Rose asks if she can try, and she proves to be a natural. The woman asks if she’d like to try spinning, too, and of course, as soon as she does, she pricks her finger and falls into her sleep.

Fast forward 100 years.

Here we meet the Prince, who has no name. He is just The Prince because his parents couldn’t agree on a name, and then they just never got around to it, and by then, he’d been The Prince long enough that it was just easier to keep calling him that.

This isn’t the only unusual thing about The Prince – he also has to take care to avoid his mother on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. Why? Because she’s part ogre, and that’s when she feeds.

See? I told you Perrault got his crazy ending worked in!

Yes, the Prince’s mother is part ogre, and she can’t stand beautiful things, so when she became Queen, she had them removed from palace – all color and gilding and pretty servants. She can’t stand the sight of them. But other than that, and a need to eat people twice a month, she’s a perfectly lovely human being, and a very good Queen.

But all of this running around and hiding from his mother twice a month has given our Prince a pretty decent knowledge of the grounds surrounding his castle, and he has discovered something strange. In the middle of the forest, there seems to be another castle, identical to his, from what he can tell, but it’s surrounded by a huge hedge of briars he can’t get through.

The more he investigates, the more certain he becomes – that castle is just the same as his castle, and when he talks to the oldest people in the kingdom, it all becomes stranger. Seems that the king and queen of a hundred years ago had a daughter who just disappeared one day. And shortly after that, the castle moved about a hundred yards and the forest grew up overnight. The ruling of the kingdom then passed to another noble family, the Prince’s ancestors.

The Prince becomes obsessed with solving this mystery, and finds an account written and hidden in the library from the fairy who fixed the curse, and he becomes determined to find and rescue this sleeping princess.

And he does. On the day exactly 100 years since the curse was laid, the hedge of briars parts for him, and he is able to enter the castle, find the sleeping princess, and kiss her awake. And her really truly lovely response is, “Pardon my rudeness, but WHO THE HECK ARE YOU?” Which, if you think about it, is an appropriate response to waking up by a kiss from a complete stranger. Just saying.

Anyway, he explains everything, and Rose has to come to terms with the fact that the curse played out as planned, it’s 100 years later, and everyone she knew is gone. This is a pretty hard reality for her, but it is made easier by the discovery of Sara, waking up in the next room, who asked to sleep alongside Rose through her curse and be there when she woke (Rose’s parents asked the same thing, but the fairies gently told them that their destiny was to rule the kingdom while Rose slept).

So it seems we’ve reached the end, right? Curse is broken, girl’s awake, happily ever after? Well, there’s just one problem with that — Rose and Sara can’t leave the castle. The Prince can, but when the girls try, it’s like they’re being held back by an invisible wall. Rose has no idea what’s going on – this wasn’t part of the spell that she’s aware of. The Prince tells her to try and summon her fairy godmother, while he returns to his castle and investigates from there.

Rose has no luck, but the Prince does. The fairy appears to him, and tells him that there was, in fact, a second part to the spell that she didn’t tell anyone about (which, c’mon fairy, dick move, much?): Until both worlds unite/in welcome harmony/past and present as one/shall not grow to be. I agree with Sara – that’s a pretty sorry excuse for a rhyme, and geez, woman, hasn’t this girl been through enough?

Basically, what it means (pulling Perrault back into the mix) is that the Prince’s parents have to accept Rose before she can leave the castle. Which is a problem because Rose is the most beautiful girl ever, and the Prince’s mother is part-ogre and hates beauty. So Rose hacks her hair off and rubs dirt all over her face, and it works! I think less because of that and more because the Prince’s mother is a decent sort of woman who does want her son to be happy.

Now we’ve got our happily ever after, and the two castles actually merge back into one, and the forest disappears, and yeah. That’s that.

It’s a tale full of cheesiness, if we’re being honest, and there are parts where I rolled my eyes (like the name the Prince finally chooses for himself is “Princess Rose’s Husband” – gag me), but overall, I like what Mass has done with this one, and I like that she pulled elements of Perrault’s story and gave them a working and believable context. But let’s visit the checklist.

Make the characters more active in their story? I love that Rose wants to find what she’s good at beyond her fairy given gifts, and I love that she actively seeks those things out. I wish it had been integrated a little more, but at least it was there. For the Prince, I love how proactive he is. He’s curious and intelligent and seeks out the information about this castle and the princess and how to free her. So yes. Check.

Introduce more conflict? Yes, and by pulling Perrault in, too, which I feel like ought to get double points! The conflict didn’t come from the curse or the fairy, not really, it came from this ogre-mother and how she responds to Rose. Again, it could have been fleshed out a little more, but the conflict was there, and it was stronger than the original.

Explain the actions of the parents? Yes, largely by taking out the time frame. When you have no idea when bad things are going to befall, you kinda just have to let your kid live her life and deal with things as they come. I liked these parents. They seemed like good sorts.

Flesh the story out? Definitely. I was engaged and interested through out, and really pleased with some of the perspectives Mass offered.

Maybe it’s not the greatest work of literature you’ll ever read, but it’s a fun read, and it does some nice things with the story.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey

Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: The Princess Aurore has had an unusual childhood. Cursed at birth, Aurore is fated to prick her finger at the age of sixteen and sleep for one hundred years -- until a prince awakens her with a kiss. So, to protect her, Aurore's loving parents forbid any task requiring a needle.

Unable to sew or embroider like most little princesses, Aurore instead explores the castle grounds and beyond, where her warmth and generosity soon endear her to the townspeople. their devotion to the spirited princess grows as she does.

On her sixteenth birthday, Aurore learns that the impending curse will harm not only her, but the entire kingdom as well. Unwilling to cause suffering, she will embark on a quest to end the evil magic. The princess's bravery will be rewarded as she finds adventure, enchantment, a handsome prince, and ultimately her destiny.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

Oh, Once Upon a Time summary writers, what am I going to do with you? To be misleading is one thing. But to be factually inaccurate about parts of the book? Aurore didn’t spend time outside because she wasn’t allowed to embroider. In fact, her going outside coincided with learning to embroider. And it wasn’t just needles she was kept away from – it was anything that could be considered remotely sharp and/or dangerous. Honestly, do you even read the books you’re summarizing, or are you summarizing from a summary?

Let’s just jump right in.

So, this was one of Dokey’s first offerings to the Once Upon a Time series, and it was the first one that I read. I’ve talked in the past about how Dokey tends to open her novels to this series with some sort of commentary on the nature of storytelling? Well, this novel’s was the first of those that I read, and honestly, while I always appreciate what she has to say, this is the novel where that really fits the best. Because so much about Sleeping Beauty is about how stories evolve over time and turn into legend and myth.

This book is a first-person narration, from our Sleeping Beauty character Aurore, and you can tell from the way that she speaks that she is coming to tell her tale after the events have already happened, after she’s woken up and been filled in on what her story has become. And so this great evolution of her narrative is silly to her, the way details have been changed to fit a little neater into place, the way things get exaggerated and overplayed.

So in the preamble, as she calls it, she pokes fun at that, stating that she has to begin her story with Once upon a time because that’s how stories like this are expected to start, and she wants the reader to think her story is a good one, so she’d better conform to expectations.

Aurore’s voice is just wonderful. She is spirited and feisty, and she speaks her mind. But more than that, she is incredibly conversational. You are always aware that she is speaking this to an audience, telling her story in a way that feels very one-on-one. And a lot of the criticism that I’ve read of this book calls Dokey out for this. It’s not a narrative tone everyone likes.

And I can get where that criticism comes from. This is a very different tone than novels usually take, and it’s not something that goes away. It is present throughout, so if that’s the kind of thing you don’t like, you’re going to not like for the entire book.

Personally, though, I love it. Because Aurore tells stories the way that I tell stories, and I’ve had more than one person I’ve recommended this book to tell me that Aurore sounds like me. I can see it, I guess, and if it’s true, then it goes a long way to explaining why I adore this character and her voice so much.

There are a lot of books I read and love and cannot understand why everyone in the world doesn’t love them as well. This book isn’t one of those. I love it, yes, I adore it and it’s one of my favorites. But I do understand why other people might not like it. Just to get that out of the way.

Anyway, we wrap up the preamble with Once upon a time, and Aurore begins to tell her story. And the first thing Dokey does to make me love her even more is give a point to the whole “king and queen couldn’t have a kid” mention that just kinda sits there in the fairy tale. Here, in this scenario, the lack of a child meant the lack of an heir, which made the kingdom uncomfortable, and so eventually, the king had to go ahead and essentially give up hope of having a child of his own and name his orphaned nephew, Oswald, his heir. 

And then the queen got pregnant. Immediately, now, this gives us tension and conflict. Because Oswald has been being raised as if he would succeed to the throne, but now, here’s this baby, so what becomes of Oswald?

That will become a more relevant question as the novel continues, but for now, we have Aurore’s christening, which, as she tells us, we think we know the truth of, but we actually don’t. For one thing, there were no fairy godmothers present, because there were no fairies in Aurore’s kingdom. Aurore’s kingdom was a placed so steeped in magic that everyone had some and so there was nothing for the fairies to do. There were magic workers at her christening and there was a godmother who was a powerful magician, but no fairies.

Secondly, Aurore tells us, the so-called “evil fairy” was nothing of the sort. And she certainly wasn’t poosty about not getting this one invitation. No, the being who cast the curse over Aurore was her mother’s cousin, a woman named Jane who had been overlooked and overshadowed and forgotten her whole life. And as magic in this place made you into more of what you already were, magic made Jane even more invisible. And that resentment and abandonment built up and up and up in Jane, and so being forgotten in terms of being invited to the christening was just what made it boil over.

Aurore was cursed to die sometime in her sixteenth year, death brought by one drop of blood being spilled. This was to punish the Queen, giving her daughter sixteen years to live her life, as Jane was given sixteen years before being forced to follow her cousin to a foreign land. Jane casts the curse and disappears, for good this time, and the Queen, angry and hurt and scared, demands that someone do something.

But you can’t go around undoing the magic cast by others. Magic doesn’t work that way because if it did, everything would unravel. So the Queen’s demand cannot be met, and when Chantal, Aurore’s godmother and the Queen’s closest friend, steps forward to remind her of this, the Queen sees it as a betrayal and orders Chantal to leave and never return.

And Chantal does, but not before whispering another spell over Aurore, that she need not die from a drop of blood being spilled. Merely sleep, a hundred years, a spell to be broken with a kiss, though whether or not it would be the kiss of true love would remain to be seen. This is as much as Chantal can do to combat Jane’s curse, but she also whispers another key to the princess — that she will keep what she holds in her heart safe and strong.

And then Chantal does as she was ordered and leaves and no one ever sees her again. And thus we launch Aurore into her childhood, a childhood which her mother has decided will be much safer if she keeps her daughter away from anything and everything that might possibly puncture her skin ever even a little bit.

And if you’re under the impression that that doesn’t sound like a particularly fun existence, then you’re right on track with Aurore, who spent eight years under that cloud of ridiculous over-protection. The Queen’s argument is that any injury might bring on the curse. Aurore’s argument is that she’s bored and wants to go outside.

In the end, it was Oswald who turned the tide for Aurore by arguing that the more of the world she experiences, the less likely she’ll be caught off guard by something she doesn’t understand. The more comfortable she becomes with all that is in the world, the smaller the chance that she’ll be harmed by it. The Queen is convinced, and Aurore’s life opens up considerably, but more importantly, the incident changed how she viewed her cousin.

Before he became the reason she was allowed to go outside, she hated him entirely. She found him to be thoroughly unpleasant and believed that he was jealous of her, even though he was still her father’s heir, as the king hadn’t changed his declaration even after Aurore had been born. But then he went and helped her gain her heart’s desire, and he was actually the one who took her outside that first day and showed her the garden and named the plants and brought the world to her. And she could no longer quite hate him.

Aurore and Oswald have just a fascinating relationship throughout this novel, and I love it. They are both such different people — Oswald is charming and charismatic and the very image of a king. The nobles love him, and he is a true diplomat, but he is constantly aware that he is not fully accepted and that his position is a precarious one. Whereas Aurore is loved by the people of the kingdom because she is down to earth and straightforward, but she is clumsy and not charming and she has none of the social graces that everyone expects royalty to have, which makes her a very surprising Sleeping Beauty. She is not her father’s heir, but she is her father’s child, which she always used to rub in Oswald’s face.

And you never feel for Oswald more than the day that Aurore asks for permission to go beyond the palace grounds. Her father asks why she wants to, and she doesn’t have an answer beyond that she feels like she has to, has to see all of the kingdom and its people, not just the ones who live within the palace walls. She’s pulled to do so, she says. She has to.

It is in that moment that the king names Aurore his heir, even if she sleeps for 100 years. Oswald and his children, the king says, will be the kingdom’s stewards until Aurore is able to take the throne, but Aurore must be the person who succeeds him because she has expressed the desire that Oswald never has — to see and be part of all the kingdom and all its people.

Oswald is understandably hurt by this, because his uncle never communicated that this was what he was looking for, never gave any warning or indication that Oswald had been found wanting. And I just, I want to hug him so badly in this scene.

And so Aurore transforms into the most unlikely fairy tale princess ever. She goes out with her father to the villages and learns to take in a harvest and shear sheep and climb trees and spin and plant a garden. She gets brown from the sun and gains callouses on her hands from the work she does, and becomes more and more beloved by the people and more and more scorned at by the nobles.

And Oswald is constantly right in between, and she never has any idea what he truly thinks of her.

And then she reaches her sixteenth birthday. She’s put in a dress and fancy shoes and thrown a ball, and she’s never been so uncomfortable in her life, and she’s painfully aware of how at ease Oswald is when shown next to her. She overhears him speaking with the daughter of one of the most influential nobles, talking about her, and though Oswald won’t say anything against her outright, it’s pretty clear what the noblewoman’s opinion is, and Oswald doesn’t really refute it.

Aurore confronts Oswald about this conversation, and she’s angry and upset and uncomfortable and frustrated with the whole evening and the whole affair, and she says some pretty hurtful things, but Oswald doesn’t react the way she’s expecting. Before she has a chance to ponder this, however, the Bad Things start happening.

First blood rains from the sky. Then impossible heat kills all the crops. Then magic everywhere just starts going nuts. Everything is at odds, and no one can explain what’s going on, but Aurore has an inkling. The horrible things that are happening started on her birthday, and are the work of opposites pitted against each other — just like the two spells spoken over her.

She’s not the only one to come to this conclusion; several of the nobles do as well, and they go to the king and try to convince him to either send Aurore away or draw the drop of blood and bring on her curse. This is a poor choice, and to Aurore’s surprise, no one is more vocal in her defense than Oswald.

The king immediately dismisses the nobles and refuses to even consider what they had to say, but Aurore can’t stop thinking about it. And she knows, on some level, that they’re right. This is happening because of her, and it’s affecting her kingdom and her people and she has to do something about it. So in the middle of the night, she packs a bag and prepares to run away.

But Oswald, who knows her better than she likes to admit, is waiting for her. He calls her out on her cowardice and tells her if she listens to the nobles, then they’ve won. But Oswald doesn’t understand, so Aurore explains it all to him, why she has to do this, why she has to leave, and over the course of the conversation, they both learn some important things about one another. Aurore learns that Oswald doesn’t want the throne so much as he wants to be accepted as part of the family, not as a nephew but as a son. And Oswald learns that Aurore knows what she’s doing and has the potential to be a great ruler some day. And so, he promises to look after her parents and guard her kingdom well, and he lets her go.

She knows exactly where she’s going, too – to La Foret, a place that has long been forbidden to her, a forest where magic is almost sentient and ten times as strong as anywhere else because, long ago, two feuding magicians cast spells beyond their power, and the fairies, to save the lands surrounding, trapped all the magic within the forest’s borders. So time and magic are strange in La Foret, and unpredictable, and Aurore has felt a pull to the place for a very long time.

So into the forest she goes. She doesn’t know what she hopes to accomplish, and she doesn’t know why she’s there, but she knows that she’s meant to be, and from the way the Forest continually manipulates her in a specific direction, it knows more than she does.

Her first night in the Forest, she meets another person, which comes as a shock to her, as other people don’t venture into the trees.  The young man goes by the name Ironheart (an unfortunate nickname from an older brother), and he is awkward, impossibly cheerful, and very absent-minded-professor. He’s on a great quest – to find the princess who’s been sleeping in the heart of the Forest for 100 years and wake her up.

Aurore is stunned when he tells her this, because she is the princess in question, but she hasn’t fallen asleep yet, and she’s only been there for a day. She doesn’t tell Ironheart any of this though, largely because he’s convinced that this sleeping princess is his soulmate, his true love, and that would be a pretty awkward conversation.

So, Aurore and Ironheart venture forth on this quest, and it becomes very quickly frustrating for Aurore, because she thought it was going to be a lot harder. She thought quests meant obstacles and challenges and proving your mettle, and all they’ve done is walk through a forest for five days at a leisurely pace.

And what I love about this part of the book is how opposite and complementary these two are. When Aurore gets frustrated, she gets snappy, but instead of getting snappy back at her, Ironheart just smiles and is perfectly polite and at ease and not fazed in the slightest by Aurore’s sour attitude, which makes it hard for her to hold onto it.

And they have a great conversation at one point about how he can be so certain that this princess he’s going to wake up is his soulmate. She’s basically picking a fight with him, and he manages to identify why, even when Aurore didn’t know – she’s scared. She’s scared of the end of the quest because she knows that her destiny, whatever it is, is waiting for her at the heart of the forest, where Ironheart’s supposed sleeping princess waits.

And what I love about these two is that there is absolutely no romantic chemistry between them. None. I love it. They fall into a fascinating friendship, but it is not romantic in the slightest, despite the fact that you know this young man will be the prince who wakes Aurore up.

Anyway, on their sixth day in the forest, they reach the heart, and it’s a great maze of rose hedges. Ironheart charges in, knowing the secret to finding the center, but he says the thing you shouldn’t say when you’re a character in a novel (about how easy something is going to be), and gets whacked across the face by a rose branch, slicing open his cheek and forehead.

He’s determined to keep going until he reaches the center, but when they do, there’s no one there. There’s a bench, with a pillow on it, but that’s all. No princess. No tower. Nothing. Ironheart can’t understand it. He’s numb with shock, and Aurore tries to reassure him that they’ll find the princess, but she should really tend to his face first.

His cheek needs to be stitched, so she pulls needle and thread from her pack to do the deed, then sticks the needle through the fabric of her breeches while she ties off the thread.

And then, in possibly my favorite part of this retelling, she goes to stand up, bracing her hands on her legs, forgets that the needle is there, and stabs herself. Not destiny, not fate, just what her mother was worried about the whole time.

She draws the necessary drop of blood, has enough time to think, Aurore, you’re an idiot, and then she faints, the spells taking over.

She sleeps for all of . . . two minutes? If that? Because Ironheart is right there, and he does all the things you do when a friend of yours goes pale and keels over for no good reason right in front of you, and kissing her is one of those things. He wakes her up, and they have the very confused (on his end) conversation of yeah, hey, guess I was your sleeping princess all along.

The rose hedge parts for them, and they find themselves no longer in the heart of the forest, but at the edge of it, Aurore’s kingdom in the distance. She remarks that this is her home, and Ironheart says cryptically that he was afraid she was going to say that. She asks what he means, and he says he’s gonna wait and let his grandfather explain.

His grandfather was the one who sent him on the quest in the first place, who told so often the tale of the sleeping princess, who was very concerned that, 100 years after she started sleeping, someone be there to wake her up, who is the oldest living man most people know.

(Who is Oswald, I hope you all were able to guess. Spoilers.)

Because Aurore has been gone both six days and 100 years. Time moves differently in la Foret. While she was in the forest, 100 years passed in her kingdom, and Oswald has been waiting for her. And he says that he is so happy, that she will marry his grandson and become Queen, and it is all he ever wanted.

And then, because she’s wonderful, Aurore says no.

She says she’s sorry to disappoint anyone, but she isn’t going to marry Ironheart because while she has come to think quite highly of him, she doesn’t love him, and when she was in the forest and the spells went to work, Chantal’s last gift was made clear to her. She saw what she held in her heart, and she knows what that gift has the power to do. She kisses Oswald and restores his youth, because Oswald is the one she loves, and the only one she will marry.

And that might be squicky to some people, but personally, I love it.

Guys, I love this book. I love everything about this book. Checklist.

Make the characters more active in their story? Check. Aurore is an incredibly active princess, going out and doing things and being a part of her kingdom. And she’s also in charge of her own destiny. She actively seeks it out. Her father is the same. And Ironheart actively searches for his maiden; Oswald would have, if he’d been young enough, but because he can’t, he trains and sends his grandson in his place. Check check check.

Introduce more conflict? Yes, and so well done. I love that Aurore wasn’t cursed over a momentary slight, but over a lifetime of being forgotten. That Jane wasn’t evil, just embittered from constantly being overlooked. It makes her much more complex. I also love the conflict within Aurore, this idea that her curse wasn’t replaced by the good fairy’s spell, but that both spells were still there, warring over her her entire life. Conflict was added, and not a predictable sort of conflict.

Explain the actions of the parents? There is no burning of the spinning wheels. There is no being gone on the day of the birthday. And these two are incredible parents. The Queen is a bit overprotective, yes, but understandably so, and even so, she’s no fainting flower. And the king is honestly one of the best fathers I’ve ever read.

Flesh the story out? Beautifully. Absolutely beautifully. I love this land and the way magic works and la Foret and the twist and how it all came together. The world was fleshed out, the story was fleshed out, the characters were fleshed out. One of my favorite things about this book was how flawed a character Aurore was. Because she was. She snapped at people and had a temper and took her frustrations out on whoever happened to be around. But she was also brave and loyal and incredibly thoughtful. She felt real. Everyone did. Just beautifully done.