One of the Fairy Tale series of books.
Publication year: 1989
Page count: 273
This book is a retelling of the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. Apparently this is a Grimm story but I’ve never heard it before. It’s available here: http://www.bartleby.com/17/2/42.html . Indeed, the only time I’ve seen Snow White with a sister is in the Fables comics. This isn’t the traditional Snow White tale; no apples, no stepmothers, no unnatural sleep. In the afterword Wrede admits that the Grimm tale is rather disjointed.
The story is set in Elizabethan England and in a small village called Mortlak, near London. It has a couple of historical people, too: the Queen’s astrologer John Dee and his associate Edward Kelly. The characters also speak in Elizabethan English which seems to trouble some readers quite a lot.
The story has four group of people, working at cross-purposes and mostly ignorant of each other. Two of them are fairies and two mortals. The poor Widow Arden has two daughters, Blanche also called Snow White and Rosamund also called Rose Red. The Widow knows some magic and uses herbs gathered from Faerie lands to make medicines for the villagers. The girls gather the herbs from the forest near the lands of Faerie. Dee and Kelly are sorcerers and intent on getting power from the Fairies. To do that, they prepare a crystal and cast a spell in the All Hallows Night. By accident the two girls see them. But the mixing of mortal and faerie magic has unintended consequences.
The Queen of the Faerie has two half mortal sons. The older one is John whom his father baptized so he has a greater affinity with mortals. Even though he lives in Faerie, he often travels among the humans. The younger is Hugh who takes after his mother who loves him dearly.
A group of human hating faeries know about Dee and Kelly. The three faeries plan to use the sorcerers for their own ends but fail. The spell the two wizards cast, captures part of Hugh’s essence. The poor man starts to transform into a beast and is banished from Faerie. His brother tries to find some way to help him while the evil faeries scheme to separate Faerie from the mortal world forever.
Each chapter starts with a short excerpt from the original tale so it’s easy to compare them. The characters are little flat but that could be from the shortness of the book and from the general fairy tale qualities. Also, The Widow constantly berates her daughters when they show even a little bit of personality. Still, Blanche is timider and quieter than her sister who even (gasp!) talks back to males. Dee is more interested in doing good with his magical abilities while Kelly wants to escape his creditors and get power for himself. John is desperate to help his brother. And there’s a young faery, Robin, who steals every scene he’s in.
This was a fun little book. The evil faeries were very menacing and there’s mystery, danger, inevitable romances, and a happy ending. An excellent retelling which captures the feeling of a fairy tale.