If you follow me on Goodreads*, you may have noticed this year I’m kind of into fairy tale retellings (FTRs). Those are super popular right now, but I’ve never been terribly interested in them, myself. I never hated or opposed them, either, but I just never got swept up in the obsession. (At no point have I felt the urge to write one. Fanfiction? Yep. FTRs? Still nope, at least right now.)
But I finally got the urge to read an FTR when Brigid Kemmerer’s first Cursebreakers book, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, came out in 2019. The book grabbed my interest because it:
1. has a cool title and cover (yes, I’m willing to admit it because we do judge by that stuff!),
2. has a protagonist with a disability (yay, representation!), and
3. is a Beauty and the Beast retelling.
BATB has always been my favorite of the Disney movies from my childhood. I was probably still riding the excitement from the release of the live-action version with Hermione—I mean, Emma Watson ;)—a couple of years before. (I loved that movie enough to cough up money for it. I don’t do that often.)
So, I got Kemmerer’s book from the library . . . and ended up buying my own copy; it was that good.
Her take is an interesting one involving the Belle character getting kidnapped and brought to a parallel dimension, where she has been taken for the sake of the prince/Beast character . . . who, yes, needs a girl to love him to break the curse. This prince is only an actual beast at certain times, though, and is human (and handsome) most of the time.** It’s not a werewolf kind of situation; he is trapped in a cycle, though. I don’t really want to take too long to explain here—just check the book out. It’s worth it. :)
Obviously, I had to buy the sequel, A Heart So Fierce and Broken, the next year. (Loved that one just as much!) Then, this January, the third volume of the trilogy came out. Someone preordered it for me as a Christmas gift, and I bumped it up my TBR pile and read it fairly soon after I got it in the mail.
Overall, I liked A Vow So Bold and Deadly (the third volume) a lot, but I wanted more resolution. I don’t want to give spoilers, so I can’t talk about what I thought should’ve happened at the end but didn’t. And how something else was kind of left hanging. I noticed the third book is shorter than the other two, so Kemmerer could have made it a little longer and wrapped things up better. Did her editors chop out some of the resolution?
But, well, she was writing it during 2020, which was a year I barely did any writing at all, due to mental health issues (and running a business). I wish that Kemmerer could/would have given herself a break, rather than push to get the book out so quickly. For her own sake as much as ours! You’d think—or at least hope—that her publishers would be kind about deadlines, given the circumstances; and the industry should know by now that haste often makes waste. I’d 100% prefer to wait a bit longer if it meant the product would be better.
Don’t get me wrong—all three of the Cursebreakers books are worth reading. You gotta find out how it all ends! I will probably reread them at some point, too, and I won’t be putting them in a yard sale.
What I love the most about the trilogy is the characters. They are SO real and relatable. They’re flawed. They’re still loveable—mostly. Their interactions are very entertaining and really kept me turning pages. Also, I can strongly relate to both of the female protagonists (Harper and Lia Mara). I mentally sorted the four main characters into Hogwarts houses, lol, and put them each in a different one. I wonder if Kemmerer had that sort of thing in mind when writing/developing them, or if it just happened. Of course, I know people might disagree with my sorting choices. I want to find someone to talk about that with; PM me on my author Facebook if you want to dig into that subject! :)
The other FTR series I’m reading this year is the Rise of the Empress duology by Julie C. Dao. The first book, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, I found at a thrift store late last year and remembered I had heard good things about it; it really caught my eye with a beautiful cover too, and an intriguing plot summary, so I had to grab it. It was sitting in my TBR pile for a few months, and then in May I picked it up and practically sped through it . . . I loved it!
The main character in the first book is the evil queen (actually, empress in this retelling) of the Snow White legend, Xifeng, who ascends to the throne by Doing Very Bad Things—and with the help of the serpent god. The second book’s protagonist is the “Snow White” character, Jade. I’m about 10 chapters into the second volume, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, as of the time I wrote this, but it’s wonderful so far too! The story’s world, Feng Lu, is beautiful and well developed. Jade is kind, brave, smart, and likeable. And I reeeally want her to bring down Empress Xifeng—she’s SO evil! I do kind of wonder, though, if she’s still redeemable, which would be a great ending (but I’m not holding my breath). At the beginning of the first book, she’s mostly relatable and human; you want to like her, and so it’s very sad to read how she turns evil. Dao shows the reader a much better path that Xifeng could have taken—of course, you know she’s not going to, but wow, that just adds to the tragedy of it all. There’s a theme of fate/destiny vs. choice, and it really isn’t clear-cut. Definitely got me thinking. Can’t wait to find out how the series ends!
Better wrap this up since it’s getting long. In summary: I recommend all five of the books mentioned above. I don’t have any more fairy-tale books in my TBR pile at the moment, so the trend may stop. I try to keep myself reading fantasy, especially urban fantasy, since I write it—and, I mean, fantasy is my favorite genre. :) I also love, and try to read, books that have some action and suspense, to help me sharpen my skills at writing that.
What are your thoughts on FTRs? Which ones (if any) have you read and liked?
* I’ve already reached 61% of my 2021 Reading Challenge goal on Goodreads, and the year’s not yet half over. Yay!! :) I’d also like to note that I’ve read 3 books by Diana Wynne Jones since last fall. LOVE her stories!!
** This doesn’t make “Belle” fall for him quickly, though. For one thing, he’s arrogant and stubborn. For another, she’s scarred in various ways and doesn’t trust people easily at all.
Sarah Awa lives in Ohio with two hairy guys and writes books about werewolves.