fairy tales

Book review: Six Crimson Cranes, by Elizabeth Lim

Tessa gifted me the hardback for this for my birthday (yes, yes, that was a few months back) and I finally got my sh#t together to read it, by buddy-reading it with Nikki. It was fun to be able to discuss it together and made the experience all the more enjoyable.

Book cover for Six Crimson Cranes. A landscape in pastel shades of blue and pink, with mountains and a japanese style palace in the background, plants also in blue and pink with gold foil in the foreground.  In the bottom third of the cover, a lady in an intricate kimono sits with our back to us, her long dark hair pinned up with a golden pin. Above the palace, the title reads in black: Six Crimson Cranes. A red lantern is in the middle of the O. Six white cranes with a spot of red on their heads swoop down in an arc above and to the left of the title.
This picture just does not do it justice

The Synopsis

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First off, I gotta gush about the cover for a minute. I mean, it is absolutely stunning, and the hardcover is a neat cream colour under the dust jacket, with the spine in foil. It’s also one of the rare cases where an author wins the cover lottery and both the US and UK covers are gorgeous as hell.

Continue reading…

Review: Cursed, an Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales

I said this before, but I’m not really a fan of short stories. But the concept really appealed to me and I figured why not. The cover also looked nice, not gonna lie. And while I got bored by a few, there were also some great highlights I want to talk about!

The Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

First off, I want to say Kudos to the narrators. The audiobook itself was brilliant, and giving it to multiple people to read different stories really helped with the contrast. Also, amazing voices. Well, there was one that gave a Northern English accent (?) to a “latin” character (whatever that means, I think they said Mexican and also South American at different points in the same story…) so that was offputting, but everything else sounded great and really helped pull me into the stories.

Now, bear with me as I try to remember the titles, there’s no clear title page (because audiobook) and I have the worst memory for names.

I absolutely loved As red as blood, as white as snow which is essentially Snow White meets Bluebeard. It really does what most fairy tale retellings struggle with, which is redeeming the stepmother (or at least yknow, acknowledging the sexism of that trope. Without putting in more sexism [don’t get me started on Gaiman’s Snow Glass Apples, which isn’t in this thankfully]). The two tales worked surprisingly well together and gives the princess some good old agency, which I can never complain about.

On the less dark side, or dark-but-funny side perhaps, I really enjoyed both Fairy Werewolf Vs. Vampire Zombie and Henry and the Snakewood Box. The first’s about some good old paranormal love triangle, with a twist. A few twists, in fact. The second involves a demon who’s giving away wishes to a boy named Henry on the principle that for each positive wish, he (the devil) gets to do a butterfly-creates-hurricane level of evil with the power unleashed. It does not turn out how he planned… The tone of these two were really what I loved. The fairy pub owner in the first, with her Southern drawl and I’ve seen everything attitude, and the extra conceited demon in the second, who was so proud of himself for having found a human easy enough to abuse… these were definitely made even better by the narrator.

Other highlights I think were the ones going with Old World vibes, like Listen, a twist on the pied piper, cursed by an old god(?) to bring back shadows of the dead with her music so they tell their truths. The Merrie Dancers also had that similar eerie vibe about the fae.

Then there was the fascinating ones I don’t know what to think about. Haza and Ghani was fascinating, if perhaps a bit long. I had the impression of a much older narrator, though by the end I was not sure. This little girl who follows her brother to the temple and becomes a kitchen help to stick around and help, and her jaded older self telling us about it, it was really fascinating, but I did also find that I was losing focus in the middle. A bit of a “get to the point” feeling about it!
Then there’s Look Inside and I loved the concept and again the ties to the old world but I’m reaaaally uneasy about the ending.
Skin was horrible and terrifying in a kind of satisfying way (very gory, mind you) but the whole idea that this woman (accidentally) put a curse on this horrible man who essentially got mad at her for her skin condition, and she has to soothe his feelings, and cajole him, and essentially agree that she is bad for having cursed him? I’m not comfortable with that. It feels like it lacks some awareness of the real world, let’s say. Which is ironic for fairy tales but it did not hit the mark for me. [deleted rant about fairy tale morality and what it’s supposed to teach and how to subvert them]
New Wine was fascinating also, and I really liked it actually, but it’s also… like it’s got that feeling of “oh no this is too much like the real world” that makes me shudder inside and not know what to think about it. In a good way, I think?

Some were unmemorable, or the ending was just a bit flat for me. I did not particularly like Troll Bridge by Gaiman, I mean it was ok but there were stronger stories. Wendy Darling was an interesting twist but it did not pack the punch I think it was supposed to. Others were just… eh, like Black Fairy’s Curse, I really didn’t see the point, or Little Red (major self-harm trigger warnings here) because I guess we all love stories in asylums (not), or Faith and Fred which again… not convinced.

One thing I’d say overall is that except for the Fairy Werewolf/Vampire Zombie and for Haza and Ghani, this was very English. British if I’m being generous. It was fun in some ways, as in I know those places, and it makes for more Old World kinds of stories but I’d have loved more diversity that’s not “this guy from the Southern hemisphere in a London tenement flat does voodoo maybe” (Hated), you know?

So overall some of the stories were brilliant, and I’d give them 4-5 stars, and most of them were ok-to-good, and a few were just uuuurgh. Which is par for the course for an anthology, I suppose. But as anthologies go, I think I quite liked this one on average.

Review of Desdemona and the Deep

For those who don’t know me, I’m a Shakespeare nerd. I will go and get books that have the slightest hint of being a Shakespeare adaptation, because that’s just my Thing, and when it’s done well I love it. I had no clue about how this book would BE a Shakespeare adaptation, but surely with a title like that, it had to be, right? Wrong. But it was still absolutely amazing!

My cats posing with my copy of the book. I’ve decided that’s how I’m gonna present them from now on 🙂

The Story

In Desdemona and the Deep, the spoiled daughter of a rich mining family must retrieve the tithe of men her father promised to the world below. On the surface, her world is rife with industrial pollution that ruins the health of poor factory workers while the idle rich indulge themselves in unheard-of luxury. Below are goblins, mysterious kingdoms, and an entirely different hierarchy.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’m used to fairies and goblins being much darker and more cunning than that, and I like it – but it’s also really nice to have something different for a change. It was good to have a different take on faerie, one that is perhaps kinder, or simply different.

I really disliked Desdemona at first. I mean, she’s 28 or something and has the concerns of a 16 year old (no diss on 16 year olds, you’re just supposed to have more responsibilities at 28). But there is amazing character growth throughout the novella, as Desdemona realises all she’s been oblivious to, and what her privileges really mean: her father’s fortune literally comes from blood money. But she goes about fixing that. I was a bit miffed that she went and used the same goblin contract her father exploited, to get back the men who got taken in the process: it’s very clear the goblin ruler is as much a prisoner of that bargain as the men he took. But the way things unfolded ended up being very satisfying.

Ultimately I love a good book about hard moral choices, and social justice, and taking responsibility for doing the right thing where you can. I grew to like the heroine, I absolutely loved how queer the whole story was – and the fact that Desdemona realises halfway through (despite being queer herself) that she’s never truly seen her best friend for who she really is – and immediately changes pronouns to think of her. I really enjoyed all secondary characters too, there’s a lot of liveliness and fun there. It’s both a serious story and a very funny one, and maybe that’s what’s Shakespearean about it after all 🙂

Girl of Hawthorn and Glass

I want to take the time to highlight this book, because I absolutely love it, and at the same time I think to be in the minority opinion. But it was a great queer read for me and I can’t wait for the next one.

Cover of Girl of Hawthorn and Glass by Adan Jerreat-Poole. On a black and dark green background with wreaths of green leaves and red berries, and shards of glass in the corners, the title is written in white across the whole cover as if with a paintbrush

The story

Even teenage assassins have dreams.

Eli isn’t just a teenage girl — she’s a made-thing the witches created to hunt down ghosts in the human world. Trained to kill with her seven magical blades, Eli is a flawless machine, a deadly assassin. But when an assignment goes wrong, Eli starts to question everything she was taught about both worlds, the Coven, and her tyrannical witch-mother.

Worried that she’ll be unmade for her mistake, Eli gets caught up with a group of human and witch renegades, and is given the most difficult and dangerous task in the worlds: capture the Heart of the Coven. With the help of two humans, one motorcycle, and a girl who smells like the sea, Eli is going to get answers — and earn her freedom.

The review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I picked this from the library’s ebook collection, knowing nothing about it, because the cover spoke to me. I was hooked from the first page.
At that point I read the summary and it sounded like your regular YA novel so I was a bit disappointed. But that wasn’t really what I got. It’s a brilliant story, very queer (always a nice surprise, I usually *pick* books because they’re queer rather than finding out as I read) with all leads being some flavour of LGBT+ and the main love interest being nonbinary. It’s refreshing.
The worldbuilding was subtle and dreamy. It’s not that straightforward alternate universe that makes perfect logical sense, it’s more like Alice in Wonderland or Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway, in that you piece out the logic as you go and not everything makes sense at first, and it’s not the kind of universe that works like our own world, which was refreshing to read too. It has the atmosphere of a fairy tale.
I think one of the main attractions for me was Eli’s experience of herself and her trauma. Our heroine is clearly struggling with who she is as someone who’s only ever been treated as a tool, and not a person, and struggling with the fact that her mother is cruel and abusive while also in other ways protecting her. This was all too relatable.
Overall the writing really hit home, the worldbuilding was really dreamy and I was very much rooting for the main cast. One thing I would say is that sometimes it was not always clear what was going on, in ways that perhaps could’ve been written more clearly without losing the atmosphere. 
Overall however, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I will be looking forward to the second volume!

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