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Posts Tagged ‘fairy tale’


Winter is coming — and it plans to stay in Naomi Novik’s shimmering new novel Spinning Silver (Random House, purchased hardcover). And while a sleigh ride on a frozen river might sound appealing in the midst of a sultry summer, Miryem, the moneylender’s daughter, really isn’t interested in being the bride of the king of Staryk. But she was the one who boasted about turning silver into gold, and now the icy fey monarch plans to hold her to her word. Meanwhile, servant girl Wanda and her brothers seek safety after confronting their drunken and abusive father and stumble on a mysterious cottage in the forest. And over at the castle, Irina, the shy daughter of a duke, discovers her new husband the tsar is literally possessed by a powerful fire demon. Novik, who also wrote the fantastic Uprooted, masterfully weaves these stories into a rich and original tapestry, drawing threads from classic fairy tales, medieval folklore and her own Russian Jewish heritage. With its themes of female empowerment, prejudice and class divide, Spinning Silver is timely and timeless.

C.L. Polk’s imaginative first novel Witchmark (TOR, library e-book) takes place in a country called Aeland, which resembles Edwardian England circa WWI — only with magic. The ruling mages hide their supernatural powers from the lower classes lest they are marked as witches and sent to lunatic asylums. Nevertheless, they secretly “sing” the weather, controlling the climate so there are no extremes. But Miles Singer didn’t want to be a human battery for his older sister, so he ran away to war and reinvented himself as a doctor. Working in a veteran’s hospital with shell-shocked soldiers, Miles hides his healing powers until an encounter with a man who has been poisoned is observed by a handsome stranger. Tristan is actually an angel in disguise and the one person who can help Miles track down a murderer and confront the machinations of his aristocratic family and their friends. Polk creates an entrancing world where magic can be used both for good and evil, and the fate of Aeland hangs in the balance.

 

Other recent fantasies range from dystopian tales to alternate historical adventures. Peng Shepherd’s dark and fable-like The Book of M: A Novel (HarperCollins, digital galley) reminded me of The Passage, American Civil War and Station Eleven. In the near future, the Forgetting is a plague that robs people of their shadows and then their memories. When Max loses her shadow, she leaves husband Ory but takes a tape recorder of shared memories. Both end up traveling to New Orleans, where a mysterious figure is rumored to have a cure for the shadow-less, but not without great cost. Raymond A. Villareal’s genre-bending The People’s History of the Vampire Uprising (Little Brown, digital galley) is a clever take on medical mystery/alien invasion as a vampire virus begin turning humans into “gloamings.” As they multiply, they begin demanding equal rights. A CDC investigator and a FBI agent are among those contributing to this oral history, which also includes “official” reports and documents. Rachel Caine continues her stirring Great Library series with a fourth book, Smoke and Iron (Berkley/Penguin, digital galley). The young group of scholar/soldiers who rebelled against the Archivist Magister are back in Alexandria to try and save the Library from the inside. Jess Brightwell is pretending to be his twin Brandon planning a betrayal, Wolfe is again a prisoner, Thomas is building a weapon to take on the fearsome automatons as the Great Burning approaches. And — wait for it — there’s a fifth book! I really loved Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids, now out in paperback, but I had trouble getting into This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley) despite its nifty premise: brother and sister P.I.s with opposing personalities in one body. Too many puns and general silliness overwhelms the wit.

 

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In her enchanting first novel The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey reimagines a Russian fairy tale and sets it in her native Alaska. So “once upon a time” is the 1920s wilderness of the Wolverine River, where middle-aged Jack and Mabel have come to reinvent their lives as homesteaders in beautiful but unforgiving solitude.

The couple’s only child was stillborn years ago; they still grieve. Mabel had hoped to be Jack’s helpmate as he carves out a farm, but he leaves her to cabin chores, and she now feels more alone than ever. But one night in the flurry of the year’s first snowfall, they remember their youth and fashion a snow child complete with scarf and mittens. The next day, the little figure is gone, but small footprints lead into the woods, and they begin to catch glimpses of a small blonde girl among the trees.

Is the girl real? Or is she just a dream? Perhaps a bit of both. Gradually, Faina, as they call her,  comes to be a part of their lives, “the child born to them of ice and snow and longing.” But only during the winter, and even then Jack sees her “like a rainbow trout in a stream” flashing her true self. “A wild thing glittering in dark water.”

Over the same months and passing seasons,  Jack and Mabel come to know their nearest neighbors, George and Esther and their three hearty sons, who won’t take no for an answer when it comes to helping out. Young Garrett, who hunts and lays traps, becomes a frequent visitor. He doesn’t see Faina.

Ivey’s story reminds me a bit of Louise Erdrich’s novel Tracks, with its fragile balancing of the realistic with the mythic. Her Alaska is nature red in tooth and claw, and she never shies away from the brutal challenges her homesteaders confront. “Wherever the work stopped, the wilderness was there, older, fiercer, stronger than any man could ever hope to be.”

Mysterious, too, what with its dance of Northern Lights and snowflakes that somehow fail to melt on Faina’s eyelashes.

The Snow Child goes on a bit too long for so fragile a magic. Less would be more. Remember, too, that not all fairy tales end happily-ever-after. And be careful what you wish for.

Open Book: I borrowed a hardcover copy of The Show Child by Eowyn Ivey (Little Brown) from the Orange County Public Library. I promise I’ll return it soon; I know other readers are waiting.

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“She was cyborg, and she would never go to the ball.”

Laugh if you want. I admit to a chuckle upon reading that sentence early on in Cinder, Marissa Meyer’s first novel, a YA SF reboot (sorry, couldn’t resist) of the familiar fairy tale. It’s an inventive adventure, but most of the humor is inadvertent. Meyers immerses readers in the future dystopia of New Beijing, whose teeming population is threatened both by the mind-bending residents of the moon, knows as Lunars, and by a dreadful deadly plague.

So, Cinder has more to worry about than going to the ball and dancing with handsome Prince Kai. And it’s not just because her wicked stepmother won’t pay for a party dress for her, like those being fashioned for her stepsisters Pearl and Peony. Nor is it just because Kai doesn’t realize that the pretty, if grease-stained, teen-age mechanic repairing his android has a steel-plated foot and other non-human parts and wiring.

Cinder is cyborg, which means she has no human rights and is thus vulnerable to being drafted as a guinea pig for palace researchers testing for a new plague vaccine. Once drafted, the “volunteers” are never seen again, much like the human plague sufferers who are quarantined and warehoused.

The exception is Kai’s father, the emperor, who is dying in isolated splendor in the palace. Beware evil Lunar Queen Levana, who comes bearing the gift of a possible antidote. She wants to marry Prince Kai in exchange for the secret. Pity her niece Selene didn’t survive girlhood or she could have rightfully assumed the Lunar throne and set free her enslaved people. Now Levana plans on conquering Earth, starting with New Beijing.

Don’t worry. I’m not giving away anything that Meyer doesn’t within the book’s first 50 pages. And the mash-up plot isn’t Cinder’s strong suit, anyway. That would be the world-building, which is just fantastic, from the crowded market streets of New Beijing, with omnipresent net-screens blaring the latest headlines, to the cold palace labs where doctors use holograms to decipher the exact cyborg make-up and biometric engineering of second-class citizens. Then there are the sophisticated androids, although Cinder’s assistant Iko is a little too girly R2D2 for me.

Cinder is the first of four planned volumes of “The Lunar Chronicles,” so, of course, it ends with some cliff-hanging. Hope my nails last until the sequel. Or I maybe I’ll just get some fancy fake ones.

Open Book: I picked up an advance readers edition of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan) at SIBA last fall. It’s just one of several new YA books I’ve been reading. Definitely the best cover.

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The circus is coming . . .

Thrilling news, but only the reveurs — the dreamers sweetly obsessed by the mysterious night circus —  hear it ahead of time. Otherwise, the circus appears without warning, its black-and-white tents suddenly there. Le Cirque de Reves:  Opens at nightfall, closes at dawn.

 Step right up! This way to the Hall of Mirrors, that tent for the Cloud Maze! Get lost in the Labyrinth, pause in the  Garden of Ice! Marvel at the flying kittens, the living statues, the contortionist in the glass box, the illusionist with birds of feather and fire! Follow the Tunnel of Stars to catch the Carousel! Right this way, past the towering clock and glowing bonfire! Have a sugar flower, or a caramel apple! Step right up!

Prepare to be enchanted by Erin Morgenstern’s extravagantly imaginative debut novel The Night Circus. Magical and mysterious, it is indeed the stuff that dreams are made of. The turn-of-the century villagers who wander spellbound from tent to tent are unaware the circus is really an arena in which two sorcerers,  trained since childhood, compete against one another in a duel of magical skill.  That it is a duel to the death even the adversaries, Celia and Marco, do not know. Of course they fall in love, and the fate of the circus — and all whose lives are entwined with it — hangs in the balance.

This is the major plot of  The Night Circus, but its various storylines are overshadowed by the authorial flourishes. You become so entranced by the scenery, Morgenstern’s phantasmagorical images and poetic prose, you almost forget the play and the players.  Intriguing characters such as clockmaker Frederick, the twins Poppet and Widget, dreaming farmboy Bailey, and fortuneteller Isobel, become lost in the shuffle of flashbacks, the swirl of smoke and mirrors.

Morgenstern characterizes The Night Circus as a fairy tale, and it is by way of  such modern masters as Angela Carter, Ray Bradbury, Susanna Clarke, Peter Beagle, and Neil Gaiman, as well as the Victorians and Grimm. But that you can see how she does it  doesn’t make her magic less impressive. Step right up!

Open Book: I first read a digital galley of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday) provided by the publisher through NetGalley. But then when it came out in hardcover a couple of weeks ago, I bought a copy because it is such a beautiful book, inside and out.

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