Today I bring you three mini reviews of fairytale retellings. Enjoy.
Blanca & Roja by Anna Marie McLemore
Retelling of Snow White & Rose Red, and Swan Lake
Blanca and Roja is the story of the del Cisne sisters, who are cursed. There are always two sisters in every generation of every branch of the family. When they are teens one sister becomes a swan and flies away with the bevy, while the other sister is left behind. All their lives Blanca and Roja are determined to beat the curse and remain together. Their story is also mixed up with that of Page and Yearling, two boys who disappeared into the woods and were changed by its magic.
It’s difficult for me to review this book, which is why it’s taken me months to write this tiny review. Let me start by saying it is a beautiful book. It feels sort of delicate and fragile. I’d call it whimsical, but there are some dark undertones in both the plot and the atmosphere throughout. I can’t say that I was particularly enthralled by the plot, because it just isn’t that kind of book. It’s very very character focused, and the fantasy elements are both present, but very subdued.
What I loved was the relationships. I felt the bond between the sisters in an almost visceral way. The way you can love someone and kind of hate them in the same breath, but in the end family is family, and you would do anything for them. I loved the relationship between Page and Yearling too. Even though they weren’t family, it felt as if they were.
I thought the transgender/genderfluid representation was absolutely superb. It was nuanced and so sensitive. My sister had recently told most of her friends and family about her identity, so reading this was particularly poignant to me at the time. Page was my favourite character in this novel for his (sometimes her) complexity and personality.
Finally, I really appreciated McLemore’s inclusion of menstruation. It seems like a strange thing to say, but a lot of books just ignore the fact that women bleed every month. The fact that Roja experienced dysmenorrhea and suffered horribly really resonated with my own experiences. I’ve never seen that kind of straightforward representation of what it means to be a woman in any other book. Ever.
In the Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
Retelling of Beauty and the Beast
This futuristic Vietnamese-inspired retelling of Beauty and the Beast sounded absolutely wonderful. I’m not going to say this was a terrible novella. It really wasn’t. The beast was a dragon-shifter who lived in a broken palace created by a race of insane creatures who messed with reality. The ‘beauty’ character was the daughter of a healer who needed the dragon’s help. The premise and the worldbuilding were solid, if a little confusing at times. I struggled to connect much with the characters because I don’t feel there was quite enough time to develop them. As a result there seemed to be jumps in the progression of relationships and the story in general. I think it is worth a read if you like retellings, and mind-bending physics/magic. Unfortunately for me it was more of a tantalising taste of a really interesting world, rather than the whole meal, so to speak.
Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
Retelling of Snow White
I had really high expectations going into this because I have heard such wonderful things about it. It was by no means terrible, in fact, it is a good book. I was just left with a feeling of wanting more.
It’s told from two perspectives – Mina, the stepmother, and Lynet, the princess. Mina feels disconnected from everyone, and yearns to feel love – something her magician father has never given her. Lynet yearns for freedom. She’s tired of the expectations on her to be like her dead mother – she’d much prefer to be like her stepmother, Mina.
I liked that there was an exploration of the meaning of love and family, as well being true to yourself and meeting your own expectations before others. I also liked that there was a blossoming love story between Lynet and another girl, although I feel it could have been explored a bit more.
It does read very much like a fairytale, and you can take that as a positive or a negative. It’s a very easy straightforward read, and there is absolutely no question about the themes and underlying message. That being said, I felt that for this very reason, it lacked the kind of nuance I was hoping for, especially in terms of character development.