December 20, 2009

Turning Pages: The Happily Ever After Girls

I have fought myself free from the clinging stickiness of pineapple upside-down cake and acres of ice cream and candy canes to bring you this reading report. Yes, I am still reading. I have to hunker down in the corner in the homes of friends and relatives, ignoring everyone, but I will embrace the hardship of finding a quiet place to read, in a houseful of people and squealing toddlers and yapping dogs, for you. Yes, it's all about you. And has nothing to do with the fact that I'd almost rather have dental surgery than be in a roomful of thirty ebullient, holiday-happy people. Nothing to do with that at all.

So, from the floor of the closet in my godparent's house, with my trusty laptop in hand, I observe that the Cybs SFF this year has seen a lot of girls in flounces and frills, a lot of girls in fairytales. Whether the tale was sort of time travel-y and modernesque, as in the lighthearted Prada & Prejudice, or more traditional feel, as in The Amaranth Enchantment, there are plenty of "happily ever after" stories for those who enjoy closing a book with a happy sigh.

Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard, introduces us to Callie, feeling out of sorts and lonely on her class trip to London. Feeling herself in need of a pick-me-up, she decides to buy some genuine Prada shoes. Of course, she doesn't really wear heels, but that's not the point. Money buys happiness, right? A trip and a sprawl takes our Prada-wearing heroine to a knock on the head -- and back in time -- in her jeans -- to Jane Austen's time. Callie is NOT a good fit for the time -- her inability to be a close-mouthed young maiden of the time ill-suits the matriarch of the family clan where she lands. They think she's an eccentric American cousin, come to be married off. Callie figures it doesn't hurt to play along... for awhile. In the course of her back-to-the-future visit, Callie performs CPR, plays the one song she can -- Heart & Soul -- on the pianoforte, and bravely takes on social convention to preserve a friend from marrying a man thirty years her senior. This novel is kind of predictable, but it's the perfect bathtub read, you can finish it in one setting, and smile.

The Amaranth Enchantment, by Julie Berry is a 19th century version of Cinderlla. Lucinda Chapdelaine was once the precious child of loving, wealthy parents, but when they went to the ball -- all asparkle in jewels and lovely clothes -- they never returned. Lucinda has grown up indebted to her aunt for taking her in, and she slaves for her in her jewelry shop, hoping for a day when things will change. Enter a handsome, mysterious buyer, a street thief, and a striking woman named Beryl. Oh, and a goat. And a dog... Lucinda manages to go on The Magical Mystery Tour of a fairytale, and after many, many, many loops and surprises, it all ends Happily Ever After. There was no chance it would not, in spite of the goat.

There were quite a few elements in this one which I was not sure about -- not to mention the cover with the girl holding an amaryllis flower, which is not an amaranth stalk -- but the cover is a small thing over which to quibble, and completely out of the author's control. I did wish for a simplified storyline with perhaps one fewer fantastical elements and a more straightforward relationship with Beryl as godmother-of-sorts, but even with these shortcomings, this was a new take on the Cinderella story, which is universally recognizable, and not easy to revise. And it does have that happy ending. And a big dress.

Ash, by Malinda Lo, also sets up the typical Cinderella story -- after the loss of her mother, a young girl gains a stepmother and stepsisters, loses her father, and her home. All Ash has left of her mother is stories -- and a favorite book of tales, which lighten the long, dark lonely hours. Fairies are alive and well in Ash's world, though there are those who don't believe in their existence. They are attracted to Ash's emotions -- her longing for her mother, her grief -- her vitality. Ash does indeed have an enchanted dress, and catches the eye of a fairy prince called Sidhean, but her "happily-ever-after" becomes something greater. The King's huntress, Kaisa, also has stories, and her world is firmly bound in the here and now. Ash, reawakening to herself after a long time of being lost in longing and grief, learns to stop chasing fairytales.

The Princess & The Bear by Mette Ivie Harrison is apparently a sequel to the Princess and the Hound, but reads as a stand-alone, which is always good. In it, a bear and a hound live in wordless harmony, once something more than they are, but staying together in an unusual way, sharing a cave. When it appears that the forest in which they live is being endangered by a magic-wielding cat-man, the bear and the hound find their way to a castle at the edge of the wood, where the prince knows the hound's speech and can understand the danger. The bear and the hound are un-enchanted -- the bear becoming the King he once was, and the hound who was once a woman becoming a woman once more. At times, each wishes again for the cloak of enchantment. The hound cannot run and hunt and smell as she had -- and the bear is terrified of making a mistake as a king. Hadn't things been easier when he was just a beast? The subtle love story for me takes precedence over the somewhat heavy-handed environmental message that is woven through, but it all blances in the end nicely.

In Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George, the story of the dancing princesses is revisited. I kind of hate the Grimm Brothers tale, but George reanimates the story in a plausibly satisfying way by introducing another character -- that of Galen, a career soldier who has been in a twelve-year war, and has returned home with only his honor, his ability to knit, and his all-round "hero" ness intact -- he's nice to old ladies and helps out. He becomes a gardener at the castle -- keeping an expensive horticultural legacy alive, while the kingdom wallows in debt and on the brink of disaster -- and there he meets Princess Rose, the eldest of the dancing princesses. To Galen the charge is given to find out how and why the princesses are wearing out their shoes so quickly. It is for Rose's sake that he tries with all his heart. Of course there's a love story there. And flouncy dresses.

Tiger Moon, by Antonia Michaelis, is an unusual type of fairytale, in the tradition of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Raka, a South Asian bride of 19th century India, is doomed, and she knows it. Her husband has "acquired" her as a perfect thing of beauty, and she's beautiful enough, but she's not what he thinks she is -- mainly, she's not a virgin, and the penalty for that is pretty much death. He's a busy man -- and with myriad other wives, illness, business concerns, etc., he hasn't yet had time to find out Raka's secret... so, while her life trickles down like sand through an hourglass, she finds companionship in a young servant, Lalit, and tells him the tale of Farhad, a sixteen-year-old thief who was told by the Hindu god, Krishna, to rescue his daughter Safia from being married to the Demon King. Aided by a sacred white tiger, Farhad, in ensuing stories, becomes a brave, capable character who is a hero and Safia a noble princess who is worth any price. Together with Lalit, the reader is transported from Raka's silken prison to Safia's, gifting the reader with lovely, lyrical storytelling that reflects colonial India in a way that Kipling would have envied. A real surprise in the crop of fairytale books -- don't miss the great GLW review by Steve Berman.

My final "fairytale" pick is really atypical, and I'm almost not sure that it fits, except that in the end, young Kipp is no longer an ordinary guy, but a prince among men. And you can have fairytales with princes who don't wear big dresses. Just sayin'.

Stealing Death by Janet Lee Carey begins with death - accidental, stupid deaths, which are the worst kind. Kipp leaves his little brother to watch the stove while he chases a beautiful white stallion, and when he returns, he is left with only a little sister, after his brother and family are consumed in a house fire which could only be his fault. Despite the loss, life must go on, for Kipp's family were indentured to a Zolyan Lord, and there are debts to be paid. He and his baby sister become the lowest servants -- but Kipp has been given a gift. At the height of his grief, the power of his people, the Naqui, has come upon him. He sees things others don't -- including the being who takes his family away -- Gwali, the Stealer of Souls, with his magical sack that sends souls to Kwaja.

Kipp wants that sack, badly. He might not be able to get his brother and parents out and back from Kwaja, but he can darned well make sure that his sister doesn't go into the sack, or the girl he loves, who is the daughter of the Zolyan Lord whom he serves. After all, it only seems fair to take back from death what he's stolen from you.

Of course, nothing is that simple, and once Kipp has the power of the sack... well, things change.

Like Tiger Moon, this novel has a massive scope and lush characters set against the backdrop of loss and the harshness of a land and culture. Another unexpected gem in the fairytale haul, and you'll enjoy this one too.

Books make great Christmas -- or after-Christmas gifts, and you'll be able to find The Amaranth Enchantment, the surreal Prada & Prejudice , and Ash; the very subtle The Princess & the Bear, the traditional Princess of the Midnight Ball, the desirably different Tiger Moon and the not-quite-in-this-category Stealing Death -- all at an independent bookstore near you!

4 comments:

adrienne said...

I keep thinking to myself that what I really want to do on Christmas is sit in a corner and read. I haven't had a chance to sit and read anything besides bits of the newspaper and magazines for a couple weeks now.

a. fortis said...

Now that I finished the longer holiday visit, I'm SO GLAD to be able to just be in my house and sit and read!

Funny how a lot of these covers with princesses are very similar...and also funny, I had no idea Krishna's daughter was named Safia (one of my cousins is Safia). Anyway, Tiger Moon is one of the ones I'm hoping to read before too long! We'll see what I find at the library today.

tanita davis said...

Adrienne: What with all the cookie baking and etc., going on, you have to read what you can. I'm down to recipes as being the longest thing I can peruse before being interrupted...
A.F. I brought Tiger Moon to share with you!!

adrienne said...

I hear you on the recipes. My big plan for Thursday is to read and cook, and I am SO looking forward to both.