Tuesday, December 14, 2010

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!

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