Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What we're reading: Fairy Tales Retold

“Once upon a time...”

Ah, I love hearing those words! When I do, I know I’m about to be transported to a place with which I’m familiar, but hopefully not too familiar. When Alethea Kontis’s first book in the Woodcutter series, Enchanted, arrived at the library in 2012, I checked it out within the first week of its arrival and happily devoured the retelling of not one, not two, but many, many fairy and folk tales, entwined in a delightful family saga of seven magical sisters, each one searching for her place in the wide world. The youngest, Sunday Woodcutter, as bonnie and blithe as her name implies in the nursery rhyme (below), was our heroine in that book, but the author introduced the reader to all seven sisters (and their three brothers, and their parents, et cetera, et cetera). And a good thing Ms. Kontis did, or I would have been lost in this second book of the series, Hero. So Reader, beware: Read the first book first!
Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.
This one, too, I nabbed as soon as I saw it, but I did not quite devour Hero as voraciously. Saturday Woodcutter, who “works hard for a living” felling trees alongside her brother and father, is the quintessential tomboy who hates dresses and parties and courting. She shuns her sisters’ paths to romance and marriage, and holds up her magical ax-turned-sword to show her family that her destiny is to become the stuff of legends, like her older brother, Jack Woodcutter. But a misplaced gesture towards her adopted brother, Trix, sends her on a quite different path--and on the ocean she has unexpectedly conjured, no less. Her magical “items” begin to reveal her to herself, and she finds she is not so dependent on magical things as she thought. Saturday finds herself in what is properly a hero’s journey, sailing on her sister Thursday’s pirate ship and then captured by an evil witch who holds some very interesting captives in her scheming clutches, high on the Top of the World.

Naturally, for it is a retold fairy tale, there is an interesting twist to these captives, and if you want a clue, I suggest you look at the cover of the book and recall that Saturday hates dressing up. So who is that young person dressed--and I stress, DRESSED--so elegantly, anyway? Hah! And therein lies another funny, almost enchanting tale. [I doubt that the cover artist intended this interpretation; the character is holding the magic axe, um, sword, after all. But really, folks, Saturday is a pants-wearing grrrl, not a prom queen as depicted here.]

I write “almost enchanting” because I had high expectations for this book that weren’t quite met. It is a fine adventure, with some charming, unexpected twists, two great new characters, and some heart-rending moments, but I felt there was too much time spent watching our captives trudge back and forth inside the dastardly witch’s cave with nothing much to show for it except witty banter, some necessary trials, chimera and brownies, sleeping dragons and bewitched crows, some interesting baths, and...well, I don’t want to give anything away. However, after the enormous amount of activity in the first book, it was hard to stay in the company of the dourest of the sisters inside a dark mountain for (what seemed to this reader) long stretches of time. Nonetheless, I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a good hero’s tale, spiced with a different kind of romance. And I do look forward to reading the third book.

Reviewed by Anarda

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