The Lunar Chronicles

I actually remember when I first read Cinder. A friend who had recently been to ALA had picked up a galley and sent it my way because she knew I’d love it. And I did. I am the Cinderella girl after all. Who knew picking a topic for an undergraduate thesis would haunt me so?! But, let’s face it, at this point, I’ve read a LOT of Cinderella re-tellings and Cinder remains one of the more unique and fabulous ones to date.

From the start of the series, what I appreciated was the level of detail that Marissa Meyer was able to bring into the world she was creating and yet not bog her story down with world building. I find this a lot with fantasy and science fiction. The author is so preoccupied in creating the world for her characters that she forgets about her characters. Or her plot. That never happened in the Lunar Chronicles and I think that is because of the strength of the characters Meyer brought to the table.

From Cinder, Meyer moved to Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel) and Winter (Snow White). While I should not have been surprised at how well these fairy tales translated into a futuristic world (one of the main tenets of my thesis after all was how well Cindy does in alternate genres), I was. Each of these tales was cleverly re-imagined for the world that Meyer had built. Scarlet became a farmer whose grandmother goes missing just as a “lone wolf”- type character appears in the local street fighting ring. Cress is a computer genius shut inside a satellite where she can monitor and hack the earth’s systems for the Lunar crown (bonus? her hero ends up blind for awhile – gotta love when they use the old school versions of the fairy tales). Winter is the stepdaughter of the evil Lunar queen, scarred by an attack by her stepmother and yet still more beautiful than her, who is felled by a plague-laced treat.

With each book, the heroines’ tales were woven together until Winter’s story where the Lunar queen (SPOILER) meets her defeat at the hands of them all. I am glossing major details and plot development here mainly because you need to read these books so I don’t want to spoil them too much for you. I adore all 4 heroines and their heroes (check plus to Meyer for also never having a love triangle, square or any other shape) but I will admit to loving Scarlet best which surprised me, she’s not from my favorite fairy tale, but I adored her story and her character as well as her relationship with the other characters especially Winter. She turns into the big sister for the group in a lot of ways and she is never afraid to tell it like it is.

If nothing else, I haven’t seen a series this well edited in a long time. As I work my way through book series this year, I am finding the longer they go, the more they unravel. The author clearly loses sight of where they want to go or they forget their own mythology (BIG pet peeve of mine, not only in books but in TV shows). Meyer never does this and, even though the books grow in page number, they never drag. I can’t think of one chapter, one scene that could be removed. Everything had a purpose towards the final conclusions and that my friends, is very impressive to me. I also must give a slow clap to Meyer for resisting an epilogue. These have not proven to work well (though I kinda like the Harry Potter one even though I know I will go down in people’s estimation for admitting to that) and it wasn’t needed here. Meyer very brilliantly went with “and they lived happily ever after” because, let’s face it, how else do you end a fairy tale? Even one that includes space ships, cyborgs, genetically modified soldiers and trips to the moon.

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Fairy Tales and Folklore

After a trip down to Orlando again this past weekend to see my visiting Grammy, I tried to figure out what to write about the book I just finished. Kathleen Ragan’s Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World, is a collection of fairy tales and folklore from all over the world in a book that has been on my to-read list since my undergrad thesis (which, to put it into perspective for you, was 8 years ago. Good lord, when did that happen?!) I had however, marked this book as non-fiction on my list. Not sure why as it really was just a collection of the tales themselves with the editor’s personal commentary following each story.

The editor’s commentary often made me raise an eyebrow; it either didn’t really fit the story or made some wildly loose reference to the story that I was often thinking “really? that’s the connection you made? Ok…” But I cannot fault her selection of tales; she had a good variety from all the regions of the world and while she clearly had some favorite tropes in her stories (The woman disguising herself as a man and then continually tricking the love interest into believing she is a man appeared often), she was really good about staying away from the common tales. That said, if you know your fairy tales, you’ll recognize these heroines. Folklore, no matter its story, has common tropes so while Cinderella and her mother don’t put in an appearance (let’s face it, her mother is awesome in the original tale), a lot of fabulous mother-daughter duos do show up.

The collection mainly reminded me how fantastic the tales from the Middle East and Northern Africa are. Really, Scheherazade is in good company. So many strong women appear in these tales; women who defy tradition to save their families or themselves from villains and thieves. It is slightly problematic from the women’s studies side that these women do often have to disguise themselves as men and continually prove they are “men” to accomplish their goals in the stories but I believe Ragan quoted a friend at one point as saying “they had to! It was the only way they could do it!” I found it interesting that even though the culture frowned about women succeeding as women, they still wrote and shared stories of these clever and brave heroines. Fascinating isn’t it? This theme also came across in the tales from the Far East – China and Japan. Comparing that to the tales from the Native American tribes, that were often matrilineal societies and shows that in their stories, the difference in the agency of women as themselves and not disguised as someone else was quite startling. I guess I hadn’t made the cultural connections before which reading everything in one collection brought across.

Not that I read this in book quickly; it took me awhile actually. One of those books that by the time I read the last story, I had only vague memories of what the first one had been. Ragan was thorough in her compiling – this book holds a lot of stories, some more interesting than others so I did skim some that didn’t catch my interest as others did. I also read some aloud to my less than interested cat. Sometimes, a good tale just needs to be read aloud!

Once Upon a Time…

I am alive! I tell you, even when you are thousands of miles from family for December, they keep you busy! I’ve been shopping, wrapping, shipping and generally going a bit nutty with holiday must-dos. However, I am in good shape now and I have a backlog of blog writing to do. So, as Mariah Carey’s nutty Christmas special plays in the background, I will try to get caught up a bit.

First up, a series of fairy tales re-told. Now, if you know me, you know my love of fairy tales. I am the girl who wrote her senior English thesis on Cinderella and loved every minute of that semester reading tale after tale of Cinderella in every form imaginable. My favorite version still remains a short story told from the stepmother’s perspective, a woman who had been evil to protect Cinderella from the men in her life. It fascinated me. One, because one of my main arguments in my thesis was Cinderella’s strength when she was surrounded by a strong group of women and two, because it was just mind blowing. Taking the evil stepmother and making her the one who saves Cinderella in the end?! I was in love and re-imagined fairy tales have been a passion of mine ever since. So you can imagine my excitement when I was told about a series of books called Once Upon a Time that take classic fairy tales and tell them again in new settings with new characters and twists to the old tales.

I’ve read two of the series so far, both written by Cameron Dokey and I am in love. I require little from my fairy tales. One, they need to have a strong heroine that I can relate to and two, that everyone live happily ever after in the end. At least the people who deserve to live happily ever after. My third requirement? That the good and the bad be easy to distinguish. I don’t read a fairy tale wanting to think very hard. I read them to be entertained, to enjoy the lyrical sentences and implausible adventures. Dokey hasn’t failed me yet.

from Goodreads

The first I read was Before Midnight: A Re-telling of “Cinderella” and it was one of the more delightful re-tellings I’ve ever read. And that is saying something people. Dokey’s Cendrillion is strong, resilient and willing to fight for what she wants. Dokey also adds the story of Raoul, a young man who has grown up next to Cendrillion and shared her pain of being abandoned as an infant. On her 16th birthday, Cendrillion makes a wish, that she might have a mother and sisters who will love her. She asks for two sisters, in case one doesn’t like her. Like magic, a stepmother and two stepsisters arrive several days later and the great adventure begins for Cendrillion and Raoul as the story builds towards the climatic night of the Prince’s ball. Reading this book, it was like watching my thesis in action. Cendrillion is raised from birth by Old Marthe, who is a sort of fairy godmother figure for the story, and once her stepmother and stepsisters arrive, these are women who know themselves and are willing to learn who Cendrillion is. And Cendrillion is more comfortable and confident to act during her crisis moments because of the support she has from the women in her life. Dokey did me proud in this version and I enjoyed very minute of it.

from Goodreads

A few days later, my next installment of the series arrived. The Storyteller’s Daughter: a Re-telling of “Arabian Nights” was based on a story I had less history with. I tried to read the original tales when I was too young. The “familiar” stories of Aladdin and Ali Baba weren’t quite so familiar in their original versions so I abandoned the book and contented myself with the Dougray Scott Hallmark mini-series (seriously, no one does crazy tortured soul like Dougray in that series – watch it if you don’t believe me!). But the character of Sharhrazad is a delightfully mysterious one. She is like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, charged with taming a beast back to his humanity but she also must rely more on her cleverness because there is a death sentence hanging not only over her, but every woman in the kingdom. Dokey’s characterization of Sharharazad makes her mother a driving influence of who she becomes. She is also blind, which adds an interesting facet to the story. Also, the battle is not against brothers in this story, instead the threat comes from outside the family which I kind of liked more. While the battle between brothers is classic, I enjoyed the family dynamics of this re-telling which helped make the ending a bit more plausible to me. I also liked the addition of Sharharazad’s half sister to the story – her growth as a character was interesting to watch and also impressed me that Dokey could handle the different threads of her story, much more complex than the Cinderella re-telling.

If you can’t tell, I thoroughly enjoyed these books and would recommend the series. It’s written with more of a teen audience in mind but I think anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale will enjoy them.  One down, two more to go! I am hoping to be caught up on my book reviewing by Christmas. Let’s see how I do!