Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “fairy tales”

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #19 Fables: Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham et al.

I know I’m not the only one reviewing the Fables graphic novels on CBR4, so I’m sure most people know the basic gist.  If not, here’s the quick summary.  Fairy tales are real and some of them have settled in our world when theirs was invaded by the Adversary.  The Adversary was revealed a few books ago, but I’ll try to stay away from spoiling as best I can.

This volume really just tread water.  After the exiled fables government sent Bigby Wolf back to the Homelands to strike a blow to the Adversary, after he sent the wooden soldiers into their world, the Fables in NYC are cooling their heels, while the Adversary plots end of their world.  For all the plotting, which takes up several pages, he decides against a direct invasion. I know the writers wanted to show off the power that the Adversary has backing him up, but I know enough about story telling that if you give me this long spiel about what could happen, it’s not going to really happen.  Why would you essentially retell the same story?

The one-offs were really hit or miss as well.  The one where Bigby Wolf and family go to visit Grandpa North Wind was redundant.  We all know Bigby and his father don’t get along.  Bigby threatens to kill him and we all know by now that Bigby’s bark is worse then his bite (unless you’re the Adversary or threaten his cubs).

However, the stories that dealt with other, lesser Fables were quite good.  They didn’t rehash old plots; while the story didn’t move forward, at least it didn’t move backwards.  The Christmas story was quite enjoyable.  Jack of the Tales’ attempting to hoodwink Santa Claus makes me realize how much I’ve missed Jack’s ego, his selfish ambitions and his get rich quick schemes.  Come back to Fabletown, Jack, the stories need some spicing up.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #16 My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer

If your the type of person that loathes it when another band covers your favorite song, you might not enjoy this book.  If you’re like me with thirty different covers of Across the Universe on you iPod, you still might not like this book.  The premise of the book is great – take some big names in short stories these days and have them “cover” a fairy tale.  The execution, however, is akin to giving a group of first graders crayons and telling them to draw some fairy tales.  You may be able to see a castle, a big bad wolf, here and there, but if you don’t have the ragamuffin artist over your shoulder explaining the bits and pieces to you and how they remotely relate to fairy tales, it might as well be in a Polluck gallery.

Luckily there are short segments after the stories were the author does explain things a bit.

The Quorren Award for Best Short Story goes to The Mermaid in the Tree by Timothy Schaffert.  Instead of the mermaid, it’s the “prince”, a rich boy going to boarding school with a girlfriend from the delinquent girls’ home next door to his school, that gives up everything he has for love.  It was a pretty obvious shake up of the story, but still well-appreciated that one author realized that in today’s world, women, mermaids and princesses usually aren’t going to drop everything for love.  Integrating modern touches into fairy tales was part of the assignment, if you will, as I understood the introduction.

The Quorren Award for Most Creative Short Story goes to Orange by Neil Gaiman.  This story required active reading, instead of passive, as part of the story has to be created by the reader.  The story is present as a set of answers to some sort of interview, again up to reader interpretation.  What the questions were is up to the reader to deduce.  A teenage girl is obsessed with tanning and drinks an orange liquid that makes her glow, levitate and boss her family around.  Eventually she’s abducted by aliens.  The table of contents states that Gaimen based his story on The Odyssey.  To me, he seemed to have based the story on what can be considered our modern day fill ins for fairy tales.  Our culture uses the public failings and flaws of female celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan as morality stories.  (I know Snooki is the reigning Queen of Orangedom, but I believe the first orange glows were ushered in by the celebutauntes of the early 2000s.)  And aren’t chemicals the new big bad wolves?  What’s going to be the next thing that science finds is cancer causing?  And our fear of the unknown isn’t a patch of scary woods where some crazy old women has a home made out of homemade sweets anymore, it’s outer space, where the aliens are armed with anal probes.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #21: Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Marya Morevna is the fourth youngest and fourth prettiest daughter, and spends her childhood in Revolutionary Russia. In turn she sees three different birds turn into men and take her sisters away as wives. She expects the same for herself, but when her husband finally does show up, he is Koschei the Deathless. He takes her away in a car that turns into a horse at night, and feeds her and clothes her and nurses her when she gets ill, to his castle in Buyan. Yet Marya Morevna discovers that despite what he’s told her, she is not Koschei’s first mortal bride, and there are challenges for a mortal girl wanting to marry the Tsar of Life. Koschei’s sister, Baba Yaga, sets her three tasks that she must complete, or become soup for the old witch’s stock pot. And if she does succeed in the tasks, how is she to hold Koschei’s interest and to convince him that she won’t be faithless to him like the endless Elenas and Vasilisas that came before her, now stuck in a factory, never aging, making yarn soldiers for his endless war with his brother, the Tsar of Death?

Deathless is one of the strangest books I think I’ve ever read. It takes a number of themes, characters and creatures from Russian fairy tales and weaves them into a strange mix of romantic fairy tale re-imagining, feminist treatise and history lesson. Marya Morevna’s relationship with Koschei is both a romance and a power struggle, set against the backdrop of Russia and later the Soviet Union in the first half of the 20th Century. I loved the fairy tale aspects of it, although readers must be warned that this is NOT a young adult book, unlike so many of the other fairy tale retellings I’ve come across. This book is definitely meant for grown ups (and most teenagers would probably find it rather confusing and boring).

Valente has a marvellous grasp of language, and frequently describes things poetically, without the book becoming twee and saccharine (it’s often very dark and bloody things that are lyrically depicted). The first part of the book is magical and strange, probably helped by the fact that I’m not really very familiar with Russian folklore, so every new aspect that was revealed was fascinating to me. The last third of the book, where it seems to me that Valente is using Marya Morevna to make some sort of feminist statement, didn’t really work as well for me, mainly because most of the characters stared acting in a way that seemed to go against the way that they’d first been established, and the whole story seemed to turn on its head, and not in a good way. The ending is very ambiguous, and I can see how some people might find it a bit off-putting. But the book is well worth reading, because the first two thirds are so excellent, and the book presents something so different from what you normally find in fantasy.

Originally posted on my blog: http://kingmagu.blogspot.com

Jelinas’ #CBR4 Review #15: Fables, Volume 12: Dark Ages by Bill Willingham

dark ages

Dark Ages is my least favorite volume of Fables so far. I thought there were a lot of wasted opportunities in this book.

Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #15 Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

While I’m not completely out from under the weather, I’m a bit more lucid, so hopefully I can write a better review than the last two have been.

Witches Abroad occurs in Pratchett’s Discworld, which I’ve waxed on about before.  (The link should give you a basic gist of Discworld.)  One of Discworld’s reoccurring characters is Granny Weatherwax and her “coven”, but don’t tell her I called it that.  Granny is a no-nonsense witch.  She believes all a witch really needs is a good black peaked hat.  A wart or two on the face helps, but the hat is where the real “magic” is.  Granny doesn’t believe in using magic for most things in life; instead, she relies on what she calls “headology”, which is her version of psychology.  She usually passes out colored water for those that are ill that seek her help; just knowing a witch gave them a remedy is enough to convince people to get well again.    She hangs with Nanny Ogg and Magrat (nope, not a typo, much to Magrat’s chagrin).  Nanny Ogg’s is a grandma that you could go down to the bar with on a Saturday night and pick up men.  She’s the supreme matriarch of her family, but loves a good amount of alcohol and a bawdy song.  She also has a rapscallion cat, named Greebo, who plays a small part in this story.  Magrat can be seen as the traditional white witch of the bunch; she’s a hopeless optimist that believes magic can solve everything.

When a fairy godmother in the area dies, she sends her wand and her final instructions in the god mothering business to Magrat.  She tells Magrat to get to the kingdom and stop the girl from marrying the prince.  She also tells Magrat not to bring those other two old biddies (using “headology”, of course, because she knew it was the only way she could convince Granny and Nanny to go would be to tell them that they can’t).  The three witches set out for their trip, arguing all along the way, of course.  They find that they must stop the other fairy godmother who believes that all life should be a fairy tale.  She currently ruling over the kingdom and has strict laws about how the citizens in fairy tales should behave.  The castle cook must be fat and constantly covered in flour, for example.

The book dovetailed perfectly with my on-again-off-again book, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, a modern collection of short stories with a fairy tale vibe.  Fairy tales have been having a comeback lately, with two Snow White movies due out soon and two TV shows.  I love being an armchair sociologist, so I’ve been fascinated by the past recent years trying to figure out why something in our collective subconscious was drawn to superhero movies.  And what is now pulling us towards fairy tales?  The two genres do have their similarities, namely being a conflict between good vs. evil, but what has changed that makes us favor magic, which underlines most fairy tales, instead of strength, with physical strength underling most superhero movies?  Or is the attraction because the two genres have been blending recently?  Stills from the Kristen Stewart Snow White show the fairest of them all comes in armor.  Thor in the new Avengers movie, while having the strength of a god and the body, still has a mythology background (yes, I think mythology can fit into the fairy tale genre quite easily). So far my only theory has been that those of us raised on Disney’s white-washed fairy tales are entering into that Holy Grail of demographics, the 18-34 age range, are meshing with the nostalgia trend (can we, collectively, all agree to let the 80′s lie in peace already?) to create a perfect storm for a fairy tale resurgence.

Mrs Smith Reads The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, #CBR4 Review #6

I originally picked up The Snow Child as a possible read for my daughter, but once I got it home and took a peek at the first chapter I was hooked. Eowyn Ivey writes a sweet, gentle tale about Mabel and Jack, an older couple who have moved to start a new life together in the rough wilds of Alaska in the 1920s. They have no children and both of them yearn for a sense of togetherness that seems to be slipping ever further from their grasp.

Malin’s #CBR Review #16: Entwined by Heather Dixon

Azalea is the heir to the throne of Eathesbury, a kingdom once ruled by a wicked sorcerer rumoured to steal people’s souls. Her long-time ancestor was part of the rebellion against him, and succeeded in defeating him. While she may be a princess, she has ten sisters, and her family eat oatmeal for breakfast most days. Still, Azalea has come of age, and is looking forward to balls and suitors and most important of all, dancing, which she and all her sisters adore. Then her mother dies in childbirth, after a long illness, and while Azalea has yet another little sister, she and the other princesses are overcome with grief.

Their grieving is not made easier when they are told they have to wear mourning black for a year, all the windows and mirrors must be covered, the clocks must be stopped and there will be no socialising, balls or dancing for the entire year. The king, their father, grows distant and dismissive, and rides off to war for the first few months after their mother’s death. While he is away, the princesses find one of the magical hidden passages the castle is riddled with, and a beautiful pavilion surrounded by silver trees, where they can dance the many dances their mother taught them, to their hearts’ content. In the pavilion, there is a mysterious, handsome black-clad man, who calls himself the Keeper. He claims to have been trapped there by the wicked sorcerer, but invites them to dance as long as they wish. While they dance, they both remember their beloved mother and forget their grief, and the princesses all swear an oath not to tell anyone of their nightly escapades, or of the Keeper.

As the year progresses, and the king returns, it becomes harder for them to keep their dancing in the mysterious Keeper’s pavillion a secret. Yet the oath they all swore keeps them from telling their father the truth, even after his demeanour towards them becomes warmer and more affectionate again. Their tattered dancing slippers bears proof of their dancing every night, but their magical oath keeps them from revealing anything about the secret passage or the Keeper, who takes such an interest in their family, and Azalea in particular. Their oath binds them even when it becomes obvious that the Keeper is not entirely benevolent, and has been stealing away little trinkets from each of the princesses. He needs them to find a magical artifact left over from the rule of the wicked sorcerer and destroy it, so that he can finally be free of the pavilion, and he’s not going to let the princesses stop dancing until they do.

Way back in Cannonball II (the first one I participated in), I read Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball, which was also based on the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses. While the books have some similarities, there are obviously 12 princesses, who sneak away to dance every night, they’re all named after flowers (although in this one they’re also named in alphabetical order, which is pretty impressive), and there’s magic that keeps them from telling the truth and a quest set for suitors to try to figure out their mysterious nightly escapades – the stories are really quite different. The tone of Entwined is generally darker and more sinister. Both books do an excellent job of creating distinct and diverse personalities for the twelve girls – no easy feat, although it must be said, some of the princesses get less “screen time” than others.

Azalea is a great heroine, sensible and strong and caring, and sisters Bramble and Clover (the second and third oldest) are also fun and engaging supporting characters. All the girls are understandably deeply hurt by their father’s cold dismissal of them after their mother’s death, and when he returns from war, they are at first determined not even to share meals with him. The descriptions of the tiny kingdom, where the royal family are not really showered with riches, but only get fancy food on special occasions, through grants from parliament, create a lovely setting for the story. There are remnants of magic and magical objects, due to the distant past, but mostly, the princesses lives are rather mundane. The various courtly dances described are a nice touch, and the Entwine, which gives the book its title is especially evocative and given sinister significance when Azalea has to dance it with the Keeper.

Of the two fairly tale retellings of the same story, I think this is my favourite. Jessica Day George’s book was very sweet, but Azalea and her sisters, and the very sinister villain of this one, win it for me. My biggest complaint is that Azalea and Clover’s suitors never even get first names, which seems a bit silly, and makes parts of the book overly formal. But it’s a minor quibble, and I shall be eagerly looking forward to more books from Heather Dixon – this was her debut novel.

Originally published on my blog: http://kingmagu.blogspot.com

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #09: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I picked this book up because of the cover, and because I love fairy-tale re-tellings. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised at what I found once I started reading, and pretty soon I couldn’t put the fool thing down.

Cinder is a sci-fi re-telling of Cinderella. It has cyborgs, moon-people, and a plague that is devastating the Earth’s population. It also has young Linh Cinder, orphan and cyborg, who is a mechanic in New Beijing a long ways into Earth’s future. The basic bones of the traditional Cinderella story are here: dead father (in this case, adopted father), “evil” step-mother and step-sister, a handsome prince, a ball, and there’s even a thing with her foot, although it’s not what you’d expect. There’s also a ton of stuff in here mined from Meyer’s imagination (and inspired by her favorite things, judging by the globalized China setting, one of which is obviously Firefly). Notably lacking? A fairy godmother. Cinder doesn’t have a fairy godmother because she doesn’t need one. She’s kind of a badass.

There were a lot of things I loved about this book. I loved Cinder herself. (Come on, Cinderella as a cyborg? How cool is that?) Obviously I’m a big fan of the whole moon people concept (even if it does need some development), and the plague that is plagueing Earthens (as differentiated from the moon people, who are called ‘Lunars,’ which is a less cool name than ‘Moon People,’ but that’s just like, my opinion, man) is genuinely terrifying. I like that the plague is not some vague concept. It affects Cinder’s life and her family and friends in awful ways that we see firsthand through her eyes. (I don’t want to get more detailed than that.) I really liked Dr. Edlund, the man in charge of finding a cure for the plague. He’s crotchety and complicated. I also really, really liked Cinder’s tiny android Iko, with the funky personality. I also think that Earth vs. Moon is a great structure for a book series, and the next four books have the potential to be awesome.

But as much as the story benefits from the Cinderella framework, at points Meyer’s narrative seems tied down by the concept. I’m excited to see what she can do with this world she’s created now that she’s got the fairy-tale conceit out of the way (spoiler alert: pretty much all of the Cinderella narrative, except for the happy ending, occurs in this book, which is the first of four planned volumes in The Lunar Chronicles). I want to see more depth to New Beijing and its citizens, more world-building, more character work. I assumed while reading the book that all of this stuff would be getting more development in later volumes, and that was enough for me for now, but I do need to see it all fleshed out in the next book.

There was lots of stuff that had to take a back seat to Meyer’s plot as it ran its course: most of the characters, including Prince/Emperor Kaito, the evil moon queen, her stepmother and one “evil” stepsister were all underdeveloped, as Meyer just kind of relied on the fairy-tale trope to carry those characters through. Also underdeveloped in this book? The moon people, the history of the dystopic world she’s created (how did it get to be that way? how far into the future are we?), an explanation for why the culture of New Beijing is so conspicuously Americanized (I gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was due to globalization and cultures assimilating with one another over thousands of years, but it could also be an actual oversight). I wanted more development of the social structure in New Beijing. Cinder mentions several times that cyborgs are seen as second class citizens, but the only real instance of it we have is her stepmother’s hatred of her, which could just be chalked up to the usual stepmothery reasons.

The only other complaint that I have is that the plot “twist” near the end is completely predictable. In fact, I predicted it from the first moment I possibly could, and I’m betting 95% of readers will do the same (either because they’re smart like that, or because they’re so used to these types of stories and how they play out that it never had a chance of being a surprise in the first place). Meyer would have been better off acknowledging the twist from the beginning, and letting the tension come from us wondering when Cinder would be clued in as well.

So even with all that whinging up there, I give this four stars. I’ll probably be harder on the sequels than I’m being on Cinder, but I’m forgiving of all this stuff because I liked what was there very much, and it wasn’t really until I started thinking about the book after I’d finished it that other stuff came to light for me. In fact, most of that complaining up there can be boiled down to three simple words: I wanted more. And that’s not the worst complaint to have, really, because it means I’m invested enough to care . . . have I mentioned before how much I hate waiting for sequels? Because I really hate it.

[Link to original review here.]

pyrajane’s #CBR4 review #1: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin

I get sad when a book has potential but doesn’t quite make it.  A book that’s pure suck is also sad, but after a few pages you canchuck it because you know it’s pure suck.  But a book with potential?  You stick with it because you know it has the chance to pull up and be awesome.

Hollow Chocolate Bunnies didn’t pull up for me.  And I really wanted it to.

Read more about the book and my sadness.

Kinda Fancy’s #CBR4 Review #03: My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: 40 New Fairy Tales edited by Kate Bernheimer

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me is a collection of stories inspired by classic fairy tales written by a wide array of contemporary authors.

The title of the collection is a phrase borrowed from the Grimm’s Tale of the Juniper Tree, reinvented in this collection in Alissa Nutting’s story, The Brother and the Bird.  It’s an excellent title as it calls to mind so many of the dark and complicated threads that make up the fairy tales we all know so well: family, betrayal, murder, violence, and complicity.

The stories within the collection, each “riffing” on some extant bit of folklore, explore the marrow and whimsy of the genre with varying degrees of success.

Most of the writers deal in creative retellings or explorations of familiar themes, but a few seem to delight in simply wallowing in the grotesque, describing evocative but disconnected images and happenings in a truly esoteric and brutal phantasmagoria.  These few did nothing for me.

I like the shit, blood, and viscera in my fairy tales to be a menacing undercurrent that bubbles over and bursts vividly to the surface of the narrative from time to time, not a stagnant pool that the author feels compelled to drown me in.

Still, there are instances of the sublime in the collection that make it well worth picking up.

In the previously mentioned, The Brother and the Bird, Alissa Nutting creates one of the most terrifying step-mother’s you are ever likely to find in a genre that is rife with them.  When she describes the woman, perpetually clad in hairnets and bright yellow cleaning gloves, you can practically see and smell a toxic curl of cleaning poisons hissing off of the page.

I enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s story, Orange very much.  It is a tale of self tanning gone fantastically wrong and it is told cleverly and exclusively through the answers to unheard questions in a government interrogation.  I’m not always a fan of Gaiman, but I found this to be delightfully funny and blessedly short in a collection of heavy and lengthy tales.

The real stand out in the collection for me was Aimee Bender’s The Color Master.  It is an exploration of the doings of some unseen side characters in the classic French tale, Donkeyskin.  The entire thing is so gorgeous and lyrical, I won’t embarrass myself by trying to describe it any more than that.

I’ve enjoyed my near constant immersion in fairy tales these past few months, but I am definitely ready for something longer and with a steadier plot.

Onward!

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