Tag Archives: Fairy Tales for Adults

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

Bear and the NightingaleVasilisa’s mother died when she was born, but Marina had known that she was carrying a daughter who would have the Sight like her grandmother. Pyotr, Vasya’s father, was heartbroken to lose his beloved wife, and he didn’t remarry until his daughter was old enough for the villagers to start whispering that she was a witch. She was a strange girl, talking to the domovoi in the fireplace and the spirits in the barn and forest. They took care of the family, crops, and animals as long as people left offerings to them and treated them with respect.

Pyotr’s new wife, Anna, arrived with a priest in tow. Anna was a royal bride whose marriage conveniently removed her from court where the Moscovites were beginning to catch on that the Grand Prince’s daughter was mad. As a matter of fact, Anna could see the same supernatural creatures as Vasya, but she did not welcome them. Rather, her sanity was being destroyed by fear. At the same time, although Konstantin Nikonovich had planned a powerful future for himself among the clergy of Moscow,  it suited his leader more to banish him to Pyotr’s small village up north, where he could paint his icons and force the villagers to pray to them instead of leaving offerings for Baba Yaga.

Before leaving Moscow with his bride, Pyotr met a terrifying, blue-eyed man in the market who gave him a beautiful jewel the same color as his eyes, telling him to give it to his daughter. When Pyotr showed it to Vasya’s nurse, she promised to give it to her soon, when she was a bit older and could appreciate it more. And yet the years went by, and Vasya did not even know about her jewel the day she wandered too far into the forest on a freezing cold night. Lost and confused, she turned toward approaching hoofbeats and looked into the blue eyes of Morozko, the Frost Demon.

Based on Russian fairy tales and folklore, this dark, enthralling story keeps the pages turning with beauty, terror, and a hint of romance. Vasilisa (Vasya) is a strong, courageous heroine who tries to be obedient to her father while remaining true to herself. She does not want to marry or to go to a convent, the only two paths open to women at that time, but she is willing to marry if she must. She also tries to be open to the faith of Konstantin and Anna, but she will not forsake the “old ways.” As in many classic tales, and certainly today, Vasya is portrayed as admirable because she eschews the traditional feminine role of quietness and submission for a more physically active and outspokenly nonconformist life. As a “wise woman,” she understands the ways of nature and cares for the needs of people and animals. These traits gain her the love and admiration of some, yet the fear and distrust of others.

As a believer, the straw man Christianity and the stock character of the evil clergyman were stumbling blocks in what was otherwise a fantastic reading experience. If you revel in traditional, pre-Disney fairy stories, ancient and magical tales passed down in front of centuries of crackling fireplaces, you will rush home to this book each evening. As you finish, you can have the joy of knowing that the sequel to what is now the “Winternight Trilogy,” The Girl in the Tower, was just published. Happy reading!

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert

Hazel WoodWhile Alice was growing up, her mother, Ella, moved them around every six months or so, trying to outrun the bad luck. Friends around them would get hurt, or strange people would approach Alice, and Ella would know that it was time to move on. In all those years, Alice never met her grandmother, a famous author, nor had she read her book, even though she loved to read. As a matter of fact, she had never even seen a copy. It was not for lack of trying. Alice had haunted used book stores, scoured online, and followed up every possible trail to obtain a copy of The Hinterlands, but they were always gone before she got there. Although she couldn’t read her grandmother’s dark fairy tales, their effects still seemed to follow them everywhere.

When she found out that her new school project partner, Ellery Finch, was a fan of her grandmother, Alice was disgusted. The internet was filled with Hinterland fan fiction, chat rooms, and entire blogs devoted to speculation on her grandmother’s dark world, all of which Alice thought was nuts. Besides which, Finch was crazy rich, with all the privileged blindness that entailed. Thing is, as she got to know him, he was just so darned nice that it was hard to push him away. The day that she came home to find her mother gone, the apartment filled with a green and rotting smell, and a chilling clue left on her pillow, Alice ran to Finch, knowing that he could somehow guide her to her grandmother’s home, the Hazel Wood, and from there into the heart of the Hinterlands.

Ripping back the Disney façade that fairy tales have assumed for the past few decades, debut author Melissa Albert weaves a creepy tale that teams the Grimm brothers with the Unseelie Court, together punching a hole in the twenty-first century space-time continuum. There are a few meta-fictive elements, giving the reader a complicit chuckle without distracting from the immersive experience. Dreams turn to nightmares, no one can be trusted, and reality is illusion.

Garnering six starred journal reviews, The Hazel Wood is poised to hit it big when it is released in January, 2018. Written for older teens and adults, there is some strong language throughout. This is one of the most engrossing and compelling books I’ve read in a long time, and if you like fantasy or fairy tales—as I surely do— you will not want to miss it. Read it with the fire going and the lights on.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Bitter Greens, by Kate Forsyth

Bitter Greens“Oh, I must have some of the witch’s rampion, or I shall surely die.” And so, compelled by an overwhelming pregnancy craving, Rapunzel’s mother launched an evil pact: a baby girl in exchange for some bitter greens.

Author Kate Forsyth researched all of the Rapunzel stories told down through the centuries and re-imagined them in three women’s stories spanning the seventeenth century, folded into one another over and over. As the novel begins, we see the writer and socialite Charlotte-Rose de la Force in despair as she is forced to join a convent after being banished from the sparkling court of King Louis XIV in 1690. She refuses to believe that she will be there long, but as the dreary days go by she is befriended by one of the older nuns who enlists her help in the garden and spins tales of a young girl a century ago who was locked up in a tower by an evil witch who climbs into the tower using the girl’s long hair. These three stories of Charlotte Rose, the witch herself, and the girl in the tower are told alternately throughout this spellbinding novel. Tucked in between the chapters are snippets of the classic Rapunzel story as told by many authors over the years. The three stories come together startlingly, yet perfectly, at the end.

Historical fiction and retold fairy tales are two of my favorite genres, and Bitter Greens was a skilled example of both. Sensitive readers should take note that the author often states that there were three paths available to women in the seventeenth century: wife, nun, or prostitute (and I cleaned that up a bit). There is one particularly gruesome scene, but also a pervasive understanding of sex as a way to achieve goals, whether it is just food and shelter or social climbing. There are also beautiful romances, of course. Forsyth has penned an absorbing tale that will make twenty-first century women appreciate their freedom to follow their dreams while reveling in the eternal beauty of true love. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. Opinions expressed as solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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