Two Monarchies Sequence by W.R. Gingell

You may have noticed that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings.  So how about a whole series of them?!  W.R. Gingell delivers with the Two Monarchies Sequence, a lovely fantasy series with many fairy tale inspirations.  For the most part, these are not straight retellings, but rather stories that take a recognizable fairy tale concept and twist it all around.   The result is a series that feels comfortably familiar yet at the same time keeps you on your toes.

Also, if you judge books by their covers, these ones are gorgeous.

The series is set in the titular two monarchies, Civet and Glause, two countries whose history is…complicated to say the least.  There is also some time travel involved in several spots, which does not help clear things up! The series begins with Spindle, obviously inspired by Sleeping Beauty, in which Polyhymnia is awakened not by a prince, but by an absentminded-genius enchanter named Luck…and that’s just the beginning of her troubles.  Next follow Blackfoot (with some hints of Puss in Boots) and Staff and Crown, which follow unlikely hero Annabel’s path to the throne of New Civet.  

The last book, Clockwork Magician, will be released this week; it features Annabel’s friend and budding magician Peter, who is in truth a fairly annoying person, yet the author somehow manages to make him lovable.  That’s a kind of magic all on its own!

Also in the sequence is Masque, a murder mystery inspired by Beauty and the Beast; though this one is chronologically last, I actually read it first!  It’s one of my favorite BatB stories of all time. There is also a Little Red Riding Hood story, Wolfskin, in the same setting, though it does not cross over with any of the other stories.

What do all these great stories have in common?  Excellent quirky characters that will come to feel like friends, an intriguing system of magic, some mystery and thrills, and some lovely romance.  Occasionally it feels like the story or characters are moving a bit too fast to catch, but a touch of confusion is part of the charm of these books.

This series was my first introduction to Gingell’s writing, and it quickly made me a fan.  I’m sure it will do the same for my fellow fairy tale-lovers!

Spinning Silver: From Short Story to Novel

Back in December 2016, I read a nice compilation of fairy tale retellings called The Starlit Wood, which was anchored by Naomi Novik’s Rumpelstiltskin tale “Spinning Silver.”  It was one of my favorite stories from the collection.   So I was a bit confused when I heard last year that Novik had a new novel out, called…Spinning Silver.

I read the book’s description and realized it was the same story: the short story had been reworked into a novel.  This was fascinating to me!  It made me even more interested in picking up the novel.  (I had also enjoyed Novik’s original fairy tale novel Uprooted.)

The short story was kind of a twisted take on Rumpelstiltskin (hence the title, referencing the original tale where the miller’s daughter must spin straw into gold).  Miryem is a young Jewish moneylender who turns silver to gold for an elf-like Staryk using her business sense.  There is no overt magic in this version, and Miryem ends by outsmarting the Staryk and taking charge of their bargain.

The first quarter or so of the novel is this same story, sometimes even using the exact same text.  But at the end of it, Miryem and the Staryk make a different bargain in this version, and the rest of the novel spins out from there.  It actually ends up being pretty epic, with the fate of two kingdoms at stake.

My first hint of differences came with the inclusion of new viewpoints in the novel.  Wanda, a village laborer, and Irina, the duke’s daughter, join Miryem to give a trio of female viewpoints that form the backbone of the story.  All three women are struggling to gain control of their own fates, rather than being controlled by men (fathers, husbands, the Staryk, the tsar).

Eventually we get even more viewpoints: Wanda’s brother, Irina’s old nursemaid, and even the tsar himself.  Though the chapters aren’t labeled with the narrator’s name, I was always able to tell who was speaking within a sentence or two, so well-defined were the characters.

photo of snow field near trees
Photo by Burak K on Pexels.com

I was intrigued by the way Miryem and Irina have parallel storylines, the differences informed by their different religions and stations in life, yet they are tied together by their shared sense of justice and strong wills.  The book makes an interesting distinction between justice and fairness.  The idea of “fair value” comes up frequently, mainly from the Staryk, which reminded me of Lundy’s world from the Wayward Children novella In An Absent Dream.  But even if a bargain is fair, it still might not be right; Miryem is concerned with both these things.

I also liked the way Miryem and Wanda gather a blended family around themselves.  It was wonderful to see how a family was created by all the members giving from the heart, whether it was reciprocated or not.

Though there are further hints of the Rumpelstiltskin story throughout (the power of names, bargaining away a child), Spinning Silver moves away from the original tale to incorporate other fairy tale tropes, like a mother’s spirit in a tree and a cottage that exists in two worlds.  It also brings in some arcane magic as a method of turning silver to gold.  It almost seemed closer to an original fairy tale in an Eastern European tradition, like Uprooted.  I actually think I liked it more than Uprooted, because I liked the Staryk and the tsar better than the Dragon, and I really enjoyed how incredibly understated the romance was.

Rumple

And I guess it’s kinda fitting that I had pictured the Dragon as looking like Rumpelstiltskin…

In short, I would recommend both “Spinning Silver” and Spinning Silver, especially if you love fairy tale retellings; each has its own strengths, but the excellent characters, themes, and writing they have in common.

GeekyNerdy Book Club: The Starlit Wood

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The cover is beautiful, and even has some raised details.

Welcome back to the bi-monthly GNBC; this time our selection was The Starlit Wood, a collection of short fairy tale retellings.  Check out GeekyNerdyGirl’s original post here.

I finished all the stories, but it was a near thing.  It’s been a while since I’ve read short stories, so I really enjoyed getting back to that.  But the content of these stories was so diverse in terms of tone, style, setting, and fantasy and sci-fi elements that it was very hard to read more than one story in a sitting; I’d get really into a story, then have to completely switch gears to start the next one.  It’s a great collection, but it made for a rather long read.

There are few things that I love to read more than fairy tale retellings.  I took a whole seminar on fantasy in children’s literature during university, and the first thing we looked at was fairy tales.  These types of stories have a universality to them that I think explains their popularity across cultures and throughout the ages.  Some of the stories here hew closer to the originals, and some I really struggled to figure out what the original tale was.  (The authors’ notes at the end of the stories were wonderful!)

There were several Westerns, several set in other countries, several in space, and of course some in that took place in that typical “magical realism” fairy tale setting.  I want to pick out a few to talk about more specifically.

The two stories that I found the funniest were by “Even the Crumbs were Delicious” by Daryl Gregory (a Hansel and Gretel tale involving a druggie and his lickable wallpaper with drugs) and “The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest” by Charlie Jane Anders (an obscure Grimm Brothers tale turned into “a kind of Adventure Time fanfic”).

The most depressing stories actually came towards the front of the book: “Underground” by Karin Tidbeck and “Familiaris” by Genevieve Valentine.  Both of these had a lot to say about the state of women in fairy tales, and it’s pretty bleak.  They paint some interesting parallels to the state of women in modern life: no agency, trapped in their roles, expected to bear children they may not even want.  I appreciated that they made this think about that but whoa, they were downers.

My favorites turned out to be ones that didn’t deviate too much from fairy tale territory, but still managed to breathe new life into the original tale.  “Seasons of Glass and Iron” (Amal El-Mohtar) is actually a mash-up to two tales, brilliantly done, that ends with the heroines saving each other by pointing out the truth of each other’s stories.  “The Briar and the Rose” (Marjorie Liu) likewise has two great female protagonists that help each other.  And anchoring the book is “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik, a nice take on “Rumpelstiltskin”; if you only read one story from the book, I’d recommend this one…then go read her original fairy tale, Uprooted.

There were several other good ones as well (shout out to “Penny for a Match, Mister?” by Garth Nix–one of the Westerns–and “The Other Thea” by Theodora Goss).  If you like fairy tale retellings, I think you will enjoy this collection also.  One nice thing about collections like this is that you can sample some new authors in addition to ones you’ve already read and loved.  I definitely want to check out more works by several of these authors.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our GeekNerdy Book Club selections this year; stay tuned for more in 2017.

 

Ash and Team Excerpt #4

This month I’m sharing excerpts from my WIP from previous NaNoWriMos, working title Ash and Team.  It is inspired by the Mi’kmaq-French Cinderella story called Oochigeaskw.

Dramatis Personae:
  • Ash (our Cinderella character)
  • Azula (her older sister)
  • Team (our “prince,” an invisible spirit)
  • Meg (his older sister, our narrator)

Out of sight of the village, she broke into a skip, reveling in her new found freedom.  Once inside the forest, she greeted the trees as she walked among them.  “Hello, fir,” she said, touching their trunks she passed.  “Hello, hickory.  Hello, birch.”  She grinned as she felt them respond.

She heard footsteps and the occasional splash of water through the trees ahead of her; someone was standing on the bank of the creek at our meeting spot.  Ash picked up her pace so as to not make me wait any longer.

But when she entered the clearing it was not me she saw.  Team was standing with his back to her, tossing stones into the creek.

She just couldn’t seem to stop smiling today.

Continue reading

The Lunar Chronicles/Sailor Senshi team

When I started reading Cinder, the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, I knew that it was a sci-fi take on the Cinderella tale.  What I did not know was that it was also partly inspired by Sailor Moon!

I can’t say that I’m as obsessed with Sailor Moon as other girls my age (including Meyer!) because I was never able to watch it when it was first broadcast in the US.  But I’ve since read the manga and seen a few episodes of the dub and Sailor Moon Crystal.  It’s definitely a classic shoujo manga for a reason.

sailor-moon-crystal-group

As the Lunar Chronicles series progresses, Cinder picks up companions on her quest, eventually assembling a team that reminded me greatly of the Sailor Scouts, or Senshi: four girls all with Lunar heritage (and one very excitable android).  As I was reading, I had a lot of fun pairing up characters with the Sailor Senshi that they seemed similar to.

Mild spoilers ahead for all the Lunar Chronicles books.

Cinder — Sailor Moon

Image result for sailor moonOur protagonist Cinder is clearly the Sailor Moon equivalent of this story.  She is the heir to the Lunar kingdom, but has ended up on Earth (specifically in Asia) with no memory of her royal past.  Even her birth name Selene sounds similar to Sailor Moon’s other identities Princess Serenity and Serena (used instead of Usagi the Sailor Moon dub). (All these names have meanings related to the moon).

In terms of personality and looks, Cinder and Usagi don’t have too much in common, though sometimes Cinder’s ill-fitting prosthetics can make her as clumsy as Usagi.  (Meyer has actually said that Cinder is more like her favorite, Sailor Jupiter:tough on the outside, but soft and sensitive on the inside.”)

Random side note: I actually tend to think of Cinder looking like Princess Garnet from Final Fantasy IX.  I think it’s the gloves ~_^

Image result for ffix princess garnet

 

Scarlet — Sailor Mars

Image result for sailor marsScarlet was the next easiest to pin down; she is Sailor Mars through and through.  Her signature color, red, aligns perfectly with both Rei and the Martian planet that inspired her.  Sailor Mars wields fire, and as I mentioned in my review post, the bold and brash Scarlet fits the “fiery redhead” mold perfectly.  (Though I do think Scarlet’s physicality is also a bit like Sailor Jupiter.)

Scarlet is also the oldest of the group at 18, and her womanly independence and maturity reminds me a lot of Rei.  They both have limited contact with their parents, instead living with a grandparent.  They also share an affinity for shooting; Scarlet carries a gun her grandmother gave her, and Rei is an archer, which even features in some of her Sailor Mars attacks.

Rei is the second of the Sailor Senshi to be discovered by Sailor Moon; Scarlet is the second of the Lunar team that Cinder meets (Cress is the first, though only via vid link).

Cress — Sailors Mercury and Venus

Image result for sailor mercuryTo me, Cress is a mash-up of Sailor Mercury with a little bit of Venus thrown in.  As I said above, she is the first of the team to meet Cinder, and her geekiness with computer hacking skills, plus the way she experiences the real world through media, are very much like the shy, bookish Ami.

But there’s also another side to Cress shown in her effervescent crush on Thorne that reminds me of Minako, aka Sailor Venus, Guardian of Love and Beauty.  She loves to sing, and I can see her dreaming of being a J-pop idol, same as Minako. Venus actually has several attacks using the word “Crescent,” which is part of Cress’s full name Crescent Moon.  And the orange tutu that Cress wears to infiltrate the palace inImage result for sailor venus Winter gave me a little giggle as I recalled Venus’s orange skirt.

A few more characteristics also indicate Ami and Minako.  Cress’s hair starts off being very long and blonde (like Minako’s) but then is cut off short (like Ami’s).  Also, Cress enjoys video games and is very good at them from all her time spent playing them alone in her satellite.  Minako trains to be Sailor V by playing a video game of the same name, and Ami is later shown to be very proficient at the Sailor V game.  (Minako was actually already active as Sailor V before Sailor Moon even came along, and Cress had likewise being carrying on her surveillance and searching for Princess Selene well before Cinder knew her true identity.)

Winter — Sailor Saturn (with a little Pluto)

Image result for sailor saturnWinter’s beauty should probably qualify her as Sailor Venus, but the “other-ness” of her personality really stuck me as belonging to the Outer Senshi.  Specifically, she reminds me of Sailor Saturn, who has trouble getting close to any of her classmates because of her seizure-like episodes.  Winter does not have many close friends, because unlike most Lunars she does not use her powers and thus suffers from “Lunar sickness,” where she has periods of intense, crippling hallucinations.

Hotaru is the youngest of the Senshi, which pairs well with Winter’s child-like innocence, bordering on naïveté.  She also occasionally demonstrates healing powers, and Winter seems like she has a similar tendency: she cares for Scarlet during her captivity on Luna and sneaks her medicine disguised in apple candies.

Winter is only member of the group to have spent her entire life on Luna, which reminded me a bit of Sailor Pluto, who is kept stationed guarding the Space-Time Door.  And like Winter, Pluto is also depicted as having the darkest skin of the group.

Iko — Luna/Chibiusa

luna_2I almost stopped with the Lunar girls, but Iko is just as important a member of the team!

At first I thought of Iko as being like Luna the cat because she lives with Cinder and acts as her assistant in the repair shop.  She’s also small and has a very human-like personality despite being an android.  Though she didn’t always know Cinder’s true identity, I think she encourages Cinder to accept her destiny (she certainly wants her to go to the ball).

After Iko goes through some transformations, first as a ship’s AI and then getting anImage result for chibi moon humanoid body, I started to re-evaluate her role.  It was actually her continuing lighthearted crush on Kai that sealed my opinion of her as Chibiusa, the future daughter of Usagi and Mamoru, who appears during the second story arc of Sailor Moon.  Chibiusa and Usagi develop a relationship almost like sisters even as Chibiusa constantly tries to steal Mamoru’s attention away from Usagi.  Cinder and Iko are similarly close, and even though Cinder did not originally build Iko, she did help repair her (and continues to do so throughout) such that Cinder seems to have a bit of a creator/parent role.  Plus, Iko enjoys glomping on everyone and her android body sports an unconventional, brightly-colored hairstyle.

What do you guys think?  Do you agree with my interpretations, or did you see certain characters as different Senshi?