fairy tale retellings


The fifth book in the fantasy romance series set in the Five Hundred Kingdoms.

Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 and 5 minutes
Narrators: Gabra Zackman

Princess Rosamund has just turned 16 and is the sole heir for her father the king of Eltaria. She also knows about the Tradition, which is the power of the fairy tales who steer people into the most, well, traditional paths. Her mother has died recently and she knows that according to Tradition, her father will now marry an evil woman who will hunt down Rosa. So, she runs away. But she’s chased by a murderous huntsman and her fragile plans to out the window. She manages to evade the huntsman but foolhardily promises to seven dwarves to do anything they want in exchange for a place to stay. But these dwarves are mean and evil: they keep Rosa as a slave and expect her to cook, clean, mend, and do everything else too, in exchange for a bit of food and a sleeping place in the kitchen. She’s close to desperation because they’ve chained her to the little, dirty cottage.

She also doesn’t know that the local fairy godmother Lilly already had a plan. She and the king realized the path that the Tradition was likely to take. So, they decide to side-step the Tradition’s demands: Lilly will impersonate an evil sorceress and wed the king. They hastily do that because war is near and the king is forced to go out and defend the kingdom. However, they haven’t told anything about this to Rosa. Lilly manages to find her with her magic mirror and devises a plan to get Rosa away from the dwarves. That plan involves making Rosa appear dead magically and then revive her magically.

However, unbeknownst to Lily or Rosa two princes are nearby. One of them is Siegfried, a Northern prince and a demi-god who grew up with his extended family of gods, goddesses and demi-deities. He’s a sell-sword hero trying to escape his doom: a maiden sleeping in the middle of flames who needs to be kissed awake. That maiden may also be his half-aunt or something… The other is prince Leopold who is more of a roughish prince who laughs and jokes often. He also gambles a lot.

This book mixes up Snow White with a little bit of Sleeping Beauty and a big dose of the Ring of the Nibelung. The beginning was more fun, though, the string of contests for the princes, which takes up most of the book, were fun, too, and riff on the traditional contests in fairy tales, of course.

Like all the other princesses in this series, Rose is quite level-headed. Her mother was a shepherdess and she taught her daughter a lot of useful skills. Lilly has been a godmother for 300 years so she’s also very capable. She has a close friendship with her loyal mirror servant Jimson. Siegfried was also great fun and so was Leopold and their friendship. Not the best of the series for me but quite enjoyable. I’d also love to see the further adventures of the main couple.

I’ve really enjoyed Gabra Zackman’s unhurried narration in this series and this book was no exception.

The next, and the last, book is Beauty and the Werewolf. I might track down the Snow Queen at some point, which is not available through Audible.

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The third book in the Five Hundred Kingdoms fantasy romance series.

Publication year: 2007
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 and 36 minutes
Narrators: Gabra Zackman

Katya is the seventh daughter of the Sea King. The King is a sensible man and knows about the Tradition (the way that fairy tales want to impose their own way onto people and entire nations. So, he’s made sure that none of his children are idle or have cause to complain. All of them have their own careers and important duties according to their talents and interests. Katya, Ekaterina, is a warrior and a spy. She loves to travel to other places and meet new people. She also loves shoes and clothing which aren’t practical in the sea. She’s also very aware of her role as the first line of defense to her nation and family. So, she’s happy to spy.

Sasha is the youngest son of the king of Belrus. As a seventh son, the Tradition takes an exceptional interest in him. Sasha is the Fortunate Fool. His family treats him badly in front of others but amongst themselves they know the very important role Sasha has maintaining the stability of the kingdom. He travels around making sure that the Tradition doesn’t twist anyone to a too bad end but at the same time he knows that the lands can’t be too safe. It’s a balance.

Their romance isn’t dramatic. There are no jealous current or former boy/girlfriends, no misunderstandings that could be solved by one honest discussion, no mooning from afar because the other person can’t possibly be attracted to me or any such “romance” troupes. Nope, they just get together. Great! However, that doesn’t happen right away. Before meeting each other, Katya and Sasha have their own adventures first. Sasha is also trailed by unicorns which were very hilarious in this book.

Both Katya and Sasha are quite dutiful towards their families. If the plot had been different, that could have been a tragedy. But this is feel-good romance and adventure without tragedy. The lovers are very compatible and very cute together. This book immediately jumped into my top courtship romances list (which is very short, anyway). However, I’d love to see them working together now that the whole courtship thing is done.

The book is set in vaguely Russian nations which means that certain old witch makes an appearance. She’s the most terrifying aspect in the book. I thought this story was based on the Little Mermaid but happily, that was not the case. Instead, it does weave together several fairy tales from Japan, Russia, and Arabian Nights. That does feel a little too much at times. Otherwise, I loved this book!

The first in a humorous fairytale series aimed at younger readers.

Publication year: 2005
Format: Audio
Running time: 6 hours and 9 minutes
Narrator: L. J. Ganser

The parents of Sabrina and Daphne Grimm vanished without a trace about a year and a half ago. The orphanage has sent them to a couple of families who turned out to be rotten. Now, an elderly woman has sent for them, claiming to be their grandmother. However, Sabrina knows that they don’t have any living relatives, their father said so. So, 11-year-old Sabrina is determined to keep her guard up and escape with her younger sister as soon as possible.

But Granny Grimm seems like a cheerful person willing to feed them very well, even though she is somewhat odd at first. But soon Sabrina starts to think the Granny’s insane. For one thing, she thinks that giants are real and that she’s some kind of detective. Sabrina is more determined than ever to be the voice of reason in this madness.

Then there’s Mr. Canis, a tall and thin old man who helps take care of the strange house Grandma Grimm lives in.

In this book, fairy tales are real, or at least some version of them. Fairytale characters (called Everafters) are also real but they’re confined to one town. The Grimm family is kind of sheriff types to them. Magic is also real. The characters aren’t just confined to fairytales, though. However, most of the Everafters are pretty unpleasant characters, even those who should be nice. For example, Mayor Charming continually verbally abuses everyone around him, unless he’s fishing for votes. Also, this book is quite reminiscent of the Fables comics. The foster care system is presented as pretty much a criminal system where children are abused, more or less systematically.

It takes a long time for Sabrina to accept that people aren’t lying to her and at first she tries to furiously deny it all, like, you know, a sane modern person would do. I liked her stubborn streak a lot. She’s also determined to protect Daphne and be “strong” for her, which is a lot of responsibility for a girl who is almost twelve.

Daphne accepts everything far quicker, too, quickly in Sabrina’s opinion. Daphne has a lot sweeter personality than her sister.

This is a fun and funny book. Unfortunately, there are some glaring holes in the background. But this is apparently the first in a series of books, so maybe they’ll be explained at some point.

Quotes:
“New York City is a place where everyone lived on top of each other, and that was exactly how Sabrina liked it. Living out in the middle of nowhere was dangerous and suspicious.”

The second book in her Five Hundred Kingdoms fantasy/fairy tale retelling series.

Publication year: 2006
Format: Audio
Running time: 9 hours and 32 minutes
Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Princess Andromeda is the only child of Queen Cassiopeia of Acadia. The king died several years ago. The ambitious and extremely beautiful Cassiopeia rules the country with the help of her adviser Solon. Andromeda, Andie, is 19 but is still considered a child without responsibilities. This frustrates her because she would like nothing more than her mother’s approval. Unfortunately, Andie is plain and her eyesight is so bad the she needs oculars which disappoint her vain mother even more.

However, Andie is very smart and a scholar. When she’s able to prove to Solon that she can research well enough to be useful, Cassiopeia finally starts to treat her as an adult. Andie even finds out that in recent years there have been strange weather patterns along the coast and more shipwrecks than usual. But Andie doesn’t have long to enjoy her new status because a dragon appears in Acadia, for the first time in known history. Andie researches ways to get rid of it but the only thing she finds out is Tradition: the dragon eats a virgin girl every week until a champion arrives to slay it. The queen sends for a champion and meanwhile a virgin girl is sacrificed every week.

But weeks go by and no champion arrives until Andie herself is tied to the stake. Then suddenly a champion appears. He rescues her but doesn’t manage to kill the dragon which just flies away. Andie can’t return home and she persuades the knight to take her with him, which he does but only as long as she won’t be a burden.

This is another enjoyable twist on fairy tales. It’s a mix of St. George, misfit princess tales, and even a dash of Robin Hood. Andie isn’t a traditional princess: she’s plain and bookish but smart and loyal to a fault. She enjoys the company of ordinary guards more than nobility. She knows all about the Tradition and how it tries to change people and things into storylines and so she also knows ways to try to subvert it. Such as it tries to make maidens fall in love with men who rescue them. I was delighted with how this was subverted.

While this book has a romance (it’s a Luna imprint after all) it’s very much down-played. I enjoyed this story almost as much as the first one and especially enjoyed the dragons and the characters who showed up after the half-way point.

The next book, Fortune’s Fool, is apparently based on the Little Mermaid. I’m actually not very familiar with it so I think I’m going to reread it first.

The sequel to Indexing.

Publication year: 2016
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 18 minutes
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal

Henrietta “Henry” Marchen and her team continue their fight against story lines who encroach on people’s lives. This story continues right after the ending of “Indexing” so Henry is in some hot water with the ATI Management Bureau with the things she had to do in “Indexing”. But when their previous foe escapes from the Bureau’s supposedly secure prison, the team has to be ready again. However, Henry’s unorthodox strategy means that a new character joins the team: Sierra who is Bluebeard’s wife and has a few peculiar abilities. The team isn’t thrilled.

Most of the book is narrated by Henry in first person but a couple of chapters are from Sloane’s point-of-view in third person. We also get to know Sloane’ backstory and see more about Henry’s and her brother’s relationship. McGuire also digs deep into the Snow White story. We get a few new stories, such as “the House that Jack built” but mostly we revisit most of the ones in the first book, such as “Cinderella”, “Snow White”, and “Hansel and Gretel”.

This was a great continuation to Indexing but you need to read the first book first.

The first book in the Five Hundred Kingdoms fantasy series. Each seems to be a separate story with different characters.

Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio
Running time: 12 hours and 59 minutes
Narrator: Gabra Zackman

Elena Klovis’ mother died some years ago and her father married a woman who already had two daughters. When Elena’s father died, her stepmother took over the household and promptly made her stepdaughter a servant. Elena was forced to become a maid, a cook, and a cleaner while her stepmother refused her even a pair of shoes. Her stepsisters only made her more miserable. Her only friends were the two older women living next door; they help her when they can. The others in the town call her Ella Cinders.

Elena waited for a prince, or any man, to take her away. But the current prince is only eleven years old, and other men are not interested in her. And Elena’s 21st birthday went by without a prince in sight. The story starts when the stepmother and her daughters are leaving. They are heavily in debt and take everything they can from Elena’s home, leaving her behind destitute.

And Elena concocts a plan: she will sell herself as a servant to anyone (kind) who will take her. But nobody wants to cross her stepmother so nobody will hire here. But then a strange woman asks for her services. She turns out to be Madam Bella, her Fairy Godmother. Bella is the Godmother to whole kingdoms, too, so she has a lot on her plate. But she has been following Elena’s life and thinks that Elena will be a capable apprentice and eventually a Godmother on her own. Elena is used to hard work which is good because she will have her work cut out for her, even though it’s different sort of work than before. As she grows more accustomed to fairy servants, flying horses, and all sorts of magic, the only thing still bothering her is that there isn’t a Tradition for a Godmother having a consort. Will she have to be alone all her life?

This was a fun read! I haven’t read Mercedes Lackey before, but I’ve of course heard of her. I didn’t know quite what to expect but thankfully I liked this book quite a lot. It’s a Luna imprint so there’s a romance and couple of sex scenes, too, but they’re later in the book. This sort of romance, where we get to really know the characters well first, suits me much better than an ordinary romance book.

The first half we spend with Elena and learning about the Tradition, which is the power of fairy tales. The Tradition steers appropriate people into traditional (heh) storylines but sometimes something goes wrong. Elena was supposed to be Cinderella but her prince is too young for his role so magic just built around her without any place to go. If Bella had not rescued Elena, she could have become an evil sorceress. (Although I doubt it: Elena is too good-natured for that. But perhaps if she had grown bitter later.)

I really enjoyed the Tradition and the various side characters, such as Madame Arachnia. The unicorns were a lot of fun, too, and the various fairy characters. Elena is also in charge of testing Questers and rewarding the kind knights and teaching a lesson to the arrogant and cruel. If only we could have something like that in the real world!

Gerda Zackman was a great narrator and captured Elena well.

It seems that each book in this series has a different main character. I’ll certainly try the next one which is apparently based on Saint George and the dragon.