Thursday, June 30, 2016

ThrowBook Thursday: Paper Crowns by Mirriam Neal

Look at that cover art. Love it. Adore it.

Last year, my friend Mirriam passed along a draft of her WIP, Paper Crowns, after I'd expressed an interest in reading some of her writing (specifically one having to do with wyslings). I flew through it, loving every minute. When she announced its imminent publication, I was overjoyed. I knew this was a book to be shared with the world, and now it would be.

I've just finished my reading of the final, published version, and I'm pleased to say that I loved it even more the second time through.

My initial impression of Paper Crowns, in summary, was "this is a fun, wild romp through Faerie." That impression still holds true.

So why should you read Paper Crowns?

The main characters are vibrant (both in the sense of being three-dimensional, and in the sense of Hal being a blue-furred cat).

The secondary characters are worthy of their own books. (At least one gets his own sequel, still in the works.)

There's magic and mayhem and snark abounding.

There are wizards without hearts and wizards with hearts.

There are Celtic gods and elementals with large voices.

There are good guys and bad guys and several whose moral positions you won't ever be sure of until the last pages.

There are living creatures of ice and paper. Imagine origami on a grand, Gandalf's fireworks scale.

You will not want to abandon this book because it always keeps you laughing.

Basically, if you enjoy fantasy, humor, or faerie stories, you should try this book.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Top 10 Tuesday: Fairy Tales

Beauty and the Beast

I'm a sucker for true love conquers all and the transforming power of love. The Disney version of the tale was one of my favorites as a child and I've only grown to love this story's heart even more since then. Till We Have Faces, Lewis' retelling of "Cupid and Psyche" (itself an earlier form of "Beauty and the Beast"), is one of my favorite books of all time. I can't get enough of seeing people learn to love others more than themselves, especially when the other person is unlovable. That's Christ-like love, and it's powerful.


The Six Swans/Seven Ravens

I first encountered this story in an old VHS of fairy tale retellings (it also had a Robin Hood retelling and others I've forgotten). I remember the love of the heroine for her brothers and her perseverance in fulfilling the prescriptions for breaking the curse drawing me into the story like few I'd heard before. I certainly couldn't have kept utterly silent for such a long time. While I've not seen many adaptations of it, it's still one of my favorite tales.


Cinderella

"Cinderella" is one of those fairy tales that gets a lot of grief. People cry out that she has no agency, that she just sits back and takes the maltreatment she receives from her stepfamily, that she relies on others (the prince, the fairy godmother) to save her. While she does seem very passive, I've read some brilliant analyses of the tale that argue her role is actually quite active -- she actively chooses compassion, to turn the other cheek, to not respond to evil with evil. Cinderella embodies meekness and humility while still preserving her kind spirit. For that reason, this tale ranks among my top 10.


Aladdin

I'll admit that the biggest draw to this story for child me was the abundance of magic. There are genies and magicians and tricksy cleverness aplenty. But it's also a valuable story in that it demonstrates the necessity for wisdom in judging the character of others and in what you wish for. Not only that, the story places as much value on hard work and (depending on your version) honesty as it does having a magic class-crossing genie in your pocket.


Diamonds and Toads

This is one of the stories Disney hasn't got their hands on (yet). Probably because there's no romance in it. It's in the vein of "Cinderella", but rather than focusing on the treatment of Cinderella and her escape from that abuse, it emphasizes the difference in the two daughters' hearts. One daughter is kind to an old beggar woman (truly a fairy) and receives the blessing of having diamonds fall from her mouth when she speaks ever after; her sister, less kind and also greedy, refuses to show kindness to the same fairy, now disguised as a young and beautiful woman. In return, she is cursed to have toads fall from her lips whenever she speaks. It's a simple tale but the message resounds in Scripture: treat others as you wish to be treated, speak only such words as are good for building up, etc.


Billy Goats Gruff

This is one of those stories everyone seems to know in childhood, but it falls by the wayside when we're a bit older. Like a lot of childhood stories, it features clever heroes outwitting the bad guy. It's not one that pops up a lot for me now, but it was a childhood favorite, so I'm sticking it in here. If you get a chance, check out Terry Pratchett's and Neil Gaimain's stories that are sort-of retellings of it, both called "Troll Bridge."


Hansel and Gretel

I'm not really sure why I wanted to include this one; it's one of the darker fairy stories, even in the sanitized versions. Maybe it's the image of a house made out of gingerbread. Maybe it's Gretel's intelligence saving her brother. Maybe it's because it gave us the Looney Tunes character Witch Hazel, the exquisite running gag of "Hahn-sel" (like Hans, as opposed to "Hansel" like "hands"), and the wonderful insult, "Ah, your mother rides a vacuum cleaner." Who knows? But it is a fun story to come back to with different elements emphasized or explored.


Little Red Riding Hood

This story has so many retellings out there it either has been reworked to death or has untold depths to explore. I tend to argue the latter, especially when I see fantastic takes on the story like Once Upon a Time's from its first two seasons. There are variations to satisfy any fairy tale lover, from Red saves herself to the Woodcutter rescue, happy endings, sad endings, and ending in between.


The Snow Queen

My penchant for "The Snow Queen" stems from two Hallmark-produced miniseries, one based on Andersen's fairy tale and another based on "Snow White" that borrows elements from Andersen, namely the shattered mirror and its effects on those who find a shard of it in their eyes. It's a beautiful tale of love and friendship conquering everything from emotional coldness to laziness to outright wickedness. It also features one of the best heroines in all of fairy tale lore: Gerta.


Bluebeard

"Bluebeard" is a weird story. It features locked doors, prohibitions, and mysterious bridegrooms (a bit like Cupid and Psyche, but not so happily ended). While its original is most likely a cautionary tale about curiosity (a la Pandora) its variants feature the bride saving herself as well as being saved by brothers, sisters, and mothers. It's a creepy story but worth the read if you find the right version.


Sleeping Beauty

Here's another tale rife with magic, but the magic isn't necessarily what brings me back to this story again and again. The things I love about this story include the prince's efforts to win through the forest of thorns, the sober view of evil as that which twists what is good into what is misshapen, and the necessary concept of good turning even the deeds of evil people (and fairies) for the better. "Sleeping Beauty" has some wonderful images of love (even beyond the romantic kind) conquering all.


*All images found via Pinterest.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why You Need to Read Plenilune


When I first started reading Plenilune, I didn't really have any idea what it was about. I knew that I wanted to read it after finishing Mirriam's novel Monster (although I foolishly went on a trip without already having purchased Plenilune, so I had to delay it until I finished the book I started as soon as Monster was over, The Paper Magician). I knew that I enjoyed reading Jenny's blog posts and that she was good friends with Mirriam. Other than that (and the tantalizing precis on Amazon's item page), I was going in blind.

The Prose
But from the opening chapters, I was sucked in. The prose in this book is rich and wonderful. Biblical and Shakespearean references do more than pepper the story -- they flavor it through and through. The characters leap to life like those in Dickens and Austen. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you took Austen's books, melded them a bit with Burrough's planetary fantasy, and added a dash of C. S. Lewis, you'd have approximately what Plenilune is. This is planetary fantasy at its finest: lush and wondrous. I found myself highlighting passages of description and dialogue because they were resonating with me as so many bits and pieces of Les Miserables had.

The Story
The opening struck me as a bit slow coming off of a bunch of contemporary fiction and thrillers that moved at breakneck speed toward a hair-raising ending. Plenilune takes its time to set up the board and carry you through to checkmate. There might be those who find this slower pace a flaw, but it reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell in its careful advance, neither too slow nor too fast.

Jenny takes the story from a very mundane opening scene through fantasy, romance, and adventure to a conclusion that satisfies (almost) every desire and question I could have asked for. (There had to be a little room for the pantheon of novels coming in its wake.)

The Cast
I'll confess to being peeved with Margaret's lack of curiosity in the early chapters, but by the time we meet the fox, I had accepted that this was simply not her nature. I couldn't fault her for being herself and not me.

Speaking of people's natures, Rupert and Dammerung are perfectly written and rounded characters, foils for each other, Margaret, and the reader. I couldn't have asked for a better pair of opponents whose battle to be caught up in. Rupert has a bit of the sympathetic villain about him, and something of the dangerous fiend as well. Dammerung is the dashing hero of story, but his power makes him dangerous just as Rupert is dangerous.

The women in Plenilune's Houses do not leave all to the men, but neither are they the stereotype of "strong female characters" who need no man and cannot exist in the presence of strong male characters (and the reverse is true as well). I long to write characters as dynamic, vivacious, and complex as those in this book.

In Short
You should read this book if you're a fan of planetary fantasy like Burroughs' or Lewis', Gandalf, sagas, Austen, Susanna Clarke, foxes, cosmic battles, the Roman Empire, and/or vibrant characters who speak like Shakespearean characters without being unintelligible. If you don't find yourself in that section, I still suggest reading it. It has such powerful moments of mirth and sorrow that it can't help but resonate within the human heart.