Six Crimson Cranes is an Asian retelling of the fairy tale The Six Swans. Magic is forbidden in Kiata. The protagonist, Princess Shiori, is born with magic which she tries to hide from her family. That includes her father the Emperor, her step-mother Raikama, and her six brothers. Shiori is betrothed to a lord from a smaller kingdom, and she has no interest in getting married, let alone being shipped off to a cold northern land with “that barbarian lord of the third rank.” In trying to hide her magic, she misses the betrothal ceremony, meets a dragon, and gets the attention of her stepmother. This “evil stepmother” curses her and her brothers. Her brothers are turned into cranes. And Shiori herself is cursed to have a wooden bowl stuck on her head. The bowl is made of walnut, which conceals objects inside from prying eyes and contains the magic. So Shiori is unrecognizable and cannot use her magic. She is told that if she utters a sound, one of her brothers will die.
I find it very interesting that the majority of the book our protagonist cannot speak. She can mouth words, and write (as long as it does not reveal her identity). And she does have a companion she is bonded to that can hear her thoughts. The first person point of view really gets us into her head, so we as a reader can hear her voice and her intentions, and see how that communication often falters. It provided great conflict.
As in the original tale, our princess is given a difficult task to perform to free her brothers from their curse. I like how Lim wove that aspect in and really made it part of the mythology and magic. The mythology is really well done, so rich and thought out. There is magic, and demons, and dragons, and enchanters. Though the curses are broken by the end of the book, there are greater threats that have been revealed which set us up for the second of the duology (The Dragon’s Promise).
I really enjoyed the romance as well. While still cursed, Shiori encounters the man she was betrothed to. They are given the chance to fall in love gradually, and without the pressures of betrothal or royalty, as Shiori is going by the name Lina. That helped counter a problem in other fairy tales, where often the couple find each other at the end, but have no time for a real romance to grow within the story.
Overall, the story was very satisfying and enjoyable. I look forward to reading the sequel.
Thorn is a retelling of Grimm's The Goose Girl. The original is a strange story with a lot of elements that I wasn't sure a new telling could make sense of. But Khanani surprised me. More on that in our upcoming book club discussion. I hadn't seen this tale done before, so that was refreshing as well.
Alyrra is a princess in a small kingdom. She is not happy in her royal life, and when she gets betrothed to the greater neighboring kingdom's prince, she fears her life will get worse rather than better. I would warn a trigger for physical abuse. Not very many described, but much in the emotional aftermath and state of mind. Alyrra understandably does not trust men, especially those in power. So when circumstances, magical as they may be, give her the opportunity to live out life as a mere goose girl instead, Alyrra struggles with that desire for freedom conflicted with any responsibility for duty that she might have.
Alyrra has to learn a new way of life, in a new city and country, where she doesn't speak the language. I really felt for Alyrra's character, and enjoyed watching her growth as she learned to care and trust for others. The book deals with differences in caste, and what is justice. The ending was well done and satisfying. This is the first in the Dauntless Path series, but it is a standalone. The subsequent books are a spinoff featuring a new character. I definitely recommend this, both as a Goose Girl retelling and as a fantasy.
In exchange for saving her father from dying in the freezing winter wilderness, Echo Alkaev agrees to stay with the white wolf in his house under the hill for one year. Echo North weaves together the the tales of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Beauty and the Beast, and Tam Lin. All have in common falling in love with a beast. Meyer combines these so expertly it is as if they were always meant to be the same story.
I read at least 57 books in 2021 (probably missed tracking a few picture books or graphic novels). You can see My Year in Books on Goodreads for additional stats and the full list of books.
My Favorite Reads from 2021
T. Kingfisher is the nom de plume for Ursula Vernon for her adult fiction. Kingfisher once stated that, regarding The Raven and The Reindeer, she was "kind of worried that no one who isn't familiar with the source material will find this story even remotely readable". I have to disagree. Though I am familiar with some of the basic elements, I have yet to read the original Hans Christian Anderson tale (I will be doing so before our official discussion). I found The Raven and the Reindeer to be very steeped in fairy tale and accessible at its basic elements.
House of Salt and Sorrows is a haunting, gothic tale steeped in lore and the sea. This is a retelling of the Grimm tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Erin A. Craig does a magnificent job elevating this story. Each of the sisters is given a name, but collectively known as the Thaumus Dozen. The family lives at Highmoor, a manor on the sea. Their life and religion revolves around the sea, and the sea god Pontus. I could hear the sea and smell the salt.
The story begins with their mother and four of the sisters tragically dead. Rumors begin that the Thaumus family is cursed. The point of view of the story is Annaleigh. She is convinced that this latest death was no accident, and seeks to find the truth. She meets a mysterious man not from the islands, and also reunites with an old childhood crush. Tired of years of mourning, the sisters find an escape to dance away their woes.
One part ghost story, one part mystery, one part romance, and all fairy-tale. This was a completely new retelling of a familiar tale, yet manages to still be very recognizable as such. I was thoroughly enchanted and swept away. Craig's descriptions are immersive, the characters come to life, and the mythology seeps through the pages. You can tell she did a lot of world-building, with each region having its own deities and culture. The world felt very alive and that it had a history, it didn't just exist for this story alone.
I highly recommend this one. It felt very Haunting of Bly Manor - both haunting and romantic.
The June book for our Enchanted Garden Book Club is Towering by Alex Flinn. This is a Young Adult, modern retelling of Rapunzel. The story is told in two perspectives, both first-person present-tense, of the main characters Rachel and Wyatt.
Rachel, 17 years old, has been kept isolated by her Mama, cut off from the world in an old tower. What she knows of the outside world are old memories of her youth and books. The books are all older, classics, so she has no knowledge of the workings of the modern world.
Wyatt is the same age as Rachel. After a tragedy back home, losing his closest friends, he moves out to the country to live with Mrs. Greenwood, mother of his mom's childhood friend. There he comes across a diary of Danielle, Mrs. Greenwood's daughter, who had disappeared seventeen years ago.
Wyatt is able to hear Rachel's singing and finds a way to track the voice and meet her. The two end up saving each other, and solving a mystery of missing people in town.
This book wasn't a must-read for me. I was hoping to enjoy it more. Despite the first-person perspectives, I didn't feel connected to the characters. Some of the writing, especially in the early chapters, was confusing, with thoughts interrupting actions and conversation in odd places. Rachel is of course very naïve, due to her protected nature. I felt the romance was rushed, very much a fated, love at first sight, with no weight behind it. There were magical aspects to the story that didn't really get explained. I had hoped for possibly a connection to the Fae, but that didn't seem to be the case. There is a prophecy with nothing to support it, and no reasons given for Rachel's magical properties.
I have not read any of Alex Flinn's other titles, so cannot say how it compares. This does not seem to connect to the Kendra Chronicles. This met the basic premise of a Rapunzel retelling, but I'm sure there are better ones out there. Do you have any you would recommend?
This is our December book for The Enchanted Garden Book Club. Toads and Diamonds is a retelling of a Charles Perrault's tale. This is the first novel length version I have read, and I highly enjoyed it. Rather than taking place in a European setting, this book takes place in a fictionalized India. The two religions central to the story are both fictional but still feel authentic. Tomlinson did a wonderful job bringing the cultures and characters to life. I felt like I could step into their world.
Another refreshing change to to the tale is the family relationship. Like the original, there is a step-family. Diribani lives with her step-mother and step-sister, Tana. Unlike most fairy-tales, they all get along and care for each other. There is no wicked step-family here. The other big change that surprised me was the gifts the sisters got. Both went to the well and encountered the goddess, who listened to their hearts desire. One sister came out speaking flowers and gemstones, the other speaking toads and snakes. Yet both here are blessings, and not curses. They may not always see them that way, and of course other characters react in their own manner, but there is no clear "good sister" "bad sister" here.
Both sisters have their unique trials and tribulations as a result of their gifts, and must learn how to make the best of them. Despite the differences in their individual journeys, there are many echoes between the two that I enjoyed noticing.
The only thing I felt lacking was the end. I would have loved a short epilogue showing what came after. It still felt satisfactory, and I highly recommend this book. For a deeper discussion, check back later this month on our Enchanted Garden blog. In the meantime, come join us in our Facebook group to discuss this book and all things fairytale.
This is a story about bargains and debts. The threaded elements of Rumpelstiltskin are told thrice over. Spinning Silver follows the intertwined stories of three daughters. All flawed, not traditionally beautiful, and each finding their own strengths throughout the tale. Each has their life bargained away, yet they fight for their values and beliefs, don't give in to the patriarchy, and make their new lives better for it.
The main character is Miryem, a Jew in Lithvas, a fictional country in late medieval Europe. Her father is a money-lender, a traditional occupation for Jews, but he's not very good at it. After a hard winter and mother sick, young Miryem takes it upon herself to go out door to door and collect debts. She soon gains a reputation for turning silver into gold. But there is a fae-like race, the Staryk, who come with winter and are always seeking gold. The winter-king hears of her boast and wants her gifts for his own. He gives her Staryk silver to change into gold.
You can see the heart of the tale is definitely Rumpelstiltskin, but Novik truly makes it unique in the telling. I really enjoyed all the different character viewpoints and aspects. There were also some nice twists in the character motivations of the villains. What starts out as a good vs evil isn't so clear in the end.
I loved the magic elements. There is a strong fire vs ice theme throughout. Fire and ice, silver and gold. There is no name guessing like the original fairy tale, but there is an emphasis on the importance of names.
Spinning Silver started out as a short story, included in The Starlit Wood anthology. I re-read the short story before beginning the novel. The short only follows Miryem, and ends when she fulfills her bargain to the winter-king. The novel introduces more viewpoints, and continues the tale much further. I would definitely recommend just going straight for the novel. The text of the short story is included almost word for word as it is woven in, just expanded on in much more depth.
I can't really comment on the accuracy of the Jewish community, as my main knowledge is from Fiddlers on the Roof. The book doesn't go into a lot of depth on their religion/culture.
If you don't like first person point of view, or are easily confused by multiple point of view characters, then this book isn't for you. There are the three main characters, and a couple of side characters, that get viewpoints, and all in first person. It could definitely be disconcerting to some. I did find that I could identify who's head we were in within a few lines. Each character voice was different enough and quite well written.
Though this is marketed for adults, I believe the content is also appropriate for young adults. It is a longer book, 466 pages, so that may turn off some. The plot never dragged, it held my attention the whole way and was hard to put down. I definitely recommend this not just for fans of Rumpelstiltskin, but for any who enjoy a satisfying fantasy with strong female lead characters.
"...magic that came only when you made some larger version of yourself with words and promises, and then stepped inside and somehow grew to fill it."
If you're interested in discussing this or future titles with us, come join the Enchanted Garden Book Club group on Facebook.
Mary W. Jensen. Author, poet, gamer, library shelver.
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