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fairy tales

Norroway (Book 1): The Black Bull of Norroway

Sibylla is not your usual little girl. She craves adventure, not a husband. When she goes to see a witch with two of her peers to get her fortune told, she asks, “Will I ever get to sail a ship?” The amused witch tells her instead that she will marry – the Black Bull of Norroway. He is supposed to be a terrifying legend. Sibylla, however, isn’t fazed. When the Black Bull does indeed show up at her doorstep when she’s older, she readily packs her bags and goes with him. He is on a quest to break the curse that was put on him, and do to that, he needs a bride, a sword, and a shield. Sibylla is the required bride, but she’s ready to prove that she’s so much more than that. She puts her foot down and travels with him across Norroway, searching for the last elements and trials he must endure to break his curse.

I absolutely adored this graphic novel, adapted from a Scottish fairy tale, written and illustrated by two sisters named Kit and Cat Seaton. I’d say it’s middle grade to young adult, but I found it entertaining as an adult. Sibylla’s no-nonsense and tenacious personality was a big draw for me. She and Bull are a lot alike, but they also learn a lot from each other throughout this story. This is only the first volume, with (hopefully!) many more promising adventures ahead.

As such, the full backstory of Bull’s curse is only hinted at, and the repercussions of the curse on those close to him aren’t yet fully unfolded. Many times in fantasy, when there is a curse involved, it only involves and affects the one person on whom the curse was placed. Here, the curse affects multiple people, adding an extra layer of intrigue. By doing this also, it emphasizes the fact that the actions of one person have consequences for many. Very rarely do our choices impact only ourselves. I appreciated this aspect of the story most, and would be looking forward to more for that alone…

… If it weren’t for the art, too. It’s delightful! I don’t think it is watercolor, though there is an airy quality about it all the same, like you would get with watercolors. Both human and bull characters are adorably animated and expressive, bringing the story to life. The backgrounds and landscapes remind me almost of ancient Asian paintings. There is a soft and calming quality about them, much like those old works, that I enjoy.

This is the first installment in what promises to be a delightful series, filled with intrigue, adventure, and two stubborn heroes learning to live with and like each other. I am highly anticipating the second volume.

– Kathleen

Seaton, Kit & Cat. Norroway (Book 1): The Black Bull of Norroway. 2018.

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The Sleeper and The Spindle

A reimagined fairytale combining parts of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty into one story, that because of the author Neil Gaiman, you know will be a dark and whimsical tale.

Snow White is about to have her wedding and her happily ever after, but she’s really not into her Prince and would rather have an adventure without him. She kisses him goodbye and heads off with three dwarfs to look into a sleeping sickness she heard about in the kingdom over. You are already off-kilter from that start, and the rest of the story follows suit. When she arrives at the castle you assume you are about to meet Sleeping Beauty, and are half expecting a romance to develop between the two women. But that’s not where Gaiman goes, and the surprise ending elevates this short story.

The book is more a novella with lots of illustrations, too long and mature in theme to be a children or even a junior book, but not quite a teen book or a graphic novel either. I enjoyed the twist ending but it is really Chris Riddell’s illustrations in black and white with gold leaf that pushes the book beyond a simple fractured fairytale. His illustrations are lush and detailed, with the gold touches used to great affect. This story is worth a read, especially if your like your fairy tales a bit on the creepy side.

-Nancy

Gaiman, Neil & Chris Riddell. The Sleeper and the Spindle. 2014.

Piper

I saw this adaptation of the Pied Piper of Hamelin a while back in a publication I get from work. It had a good review and I saw Jay Asher was one of the writers. I’ve read and enjoyed his YA novel, 13 Reasons Why, so I thought I’d give this a go.

The small village of Hamelin has a big problem. Their rat population has exploded, and they’re eating all the food. The local rat-catcher is quickly overwhelmed, and the populace worried they won’t have enough to eat in the coming winter. A well-dressed man comes to down, claiming he can get rid of all the rats. All he does is play his flute and they follow him – but his services are far from free. The townspeople are skeptical, but agree to his outrageous demands. He catches the eye of Maggie, a teenage girl living in the village. She is deaf, so is also an outcast, and she feels she’s found a kindred spirit in the Piper. But he has a dark side, and he will bring terrible pain to both her and the village.

I was terribly disappointed in this one. The pacing was choppy; there was some indication of time skips, but not all of them were explained, leaving the reader to figure it out. Characterization was alllll over the place. One moment, our main character is wandering the woods, dreaming of the man she wants to find and marry, and the next she is totally tuned into a very practical household task. This happens multiple times throughout the book and was very irritating. I realize they’re working off a very vague folk tale, but the ending to the original tale is more tied-up and satisfying than the end of this graphic novel.

I’m not entirely convinced Maggie’s deafness was handled correctly, or even there at all. She reads lips, and talks (it’s revealed that her deafness came as a result of a childhood accident, so she does know how to speak), but her speech patterns and bubbles are the same as everyone elses’. There are precious little context clues. Sometimes kids throw rocks at her to get her attention, or sneak up behind her, but that could happen to anyone. If I were to write a deaf character into a graphic novel, I would add more people correcting her pronunciation, and make her speech bubbles wobbly, maybe with a bit of a stutter, to indicate she’s not confident in speaking. I’d also add, you know, some sign language? Somehow??? Had I not been told by the book jacket she was deaf, I would have thought she was just a dreamy girl, totally oblivious to her surroundings.

I cannot fathom at all why this was so well-reviewed. Skip it entirely. It’s more infuriating than it is rewarding.

– Kathleen

Asher, Jay, Jessica Freeburg, and Jeff Stokely. Piper. 2017.

Snow White

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Phelan, Matt. Snow White. 2016.

Wrapping up the last of my fairy tale themed graphic novels, this re-adaptation of the Snow White tale left me feeling disappointed. While it follows the Disney-esque story faithfully, it’s film noir vibe wasn’t enough to elevate it for me.

The quickly read story starts out in 1918 as Samantha (Snow) White and her father sadly witness the mother dying. Fast forward 10 years, and the father is suddenly an old man who becomes enchanted with the Queen of the Follies, a glamorous Broadway star. They marry, and Snow is sent away to boarding school for a few years. Snow’s father, the King of Wall Street survives and thrives during the Great Depression, but dies after being poisoned by his new wife.

Snow, now a beautiful young woman,  returns for the funeral and during the reading of the will it is discovered Snow was left most of the estate. Furious, the stepmother hires someone to kill Snow, but she escapes to hide in the snowy streets of NYC. In a shantytown (Hooverville) she befriends seven street urchins who have more savvy in keeping safe and she stays with them.

Snow’s stepmother discovers that Snow is still alive and disguises herself as an old woman so she can give Snow a poisoned apple. The boys discover Snow after she has taken a bite and some give chase to the Queen, in which she meets an untimely demise. The boys reunite to take care of Snow and take her to be displayed in the shop windows of Manhattan, representing the glass coffin. A detective thinking she is dead, kisses her (which is disturbing in modern retellings of this tale) and she awakens. There is a happy ending for all at the end.

The illustrations are sketchy and dark hued, with a bit of red used sparingly to signify blood and apples. I was reminded of the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, with the black and white illustrations, and I thought the look was reminiscent of stylized silent pictures.  The artwork is lovely, and that color is used in the last few pages to signify happiness, is effective.

Although all the pieces of the story and artwork are well done, it just didn’t fit together well in my mind, perhaps due to the very little dialogue. But I realize others might really enjoy the atmospheric retelling, so I would still recommend it to others who enjoy Snow White tales.

-Nancy

Rapunzel’s Revenge

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Hale, Shannon & Dean, Nathan Hale. Rapunzel’s Revenge. 2008.

Continuing with my fairy tale theme, this week we meet Rapunzel- who is a spunky red headed cowgirl who can lasso her hair like no one’s business!

We first meet Rapunzel as a preteen who lives in a lush villa with her mother and servants. She is adequately cared for but not coddled by her stern mother, but is plagued by a dream of being loved by another couple. As she starts to question why the walls are so high around her home, she uses the lassoing skills to climb up and explore what is beyond the boundaries of her home. Discovering a wasteland, she sneaks out and by chance meets her enslaved biological mother who explains how she came to live with the magical Mother Gothel. After confronting Gothel, Rapunzel is banished to another part of the kingdom and imprisoned in a tall tree.

Rapunzel is left to her own devices for several years, and while the mystical forest provides her with food, the spell also seems to affect the growth of her hair. Mother Gothel only visits her once a year to see if she repents, and in the mean time Rapunzel hones her skills of utilizing her long hair as a weapon. She escapes without any one’s assistance, and ends up meeting Jack, a young con man on the run. Their wild-west escapades together were fun and relatable, for not everything goes their way, despite them doing their best to help others they encounter.  Rapunzel and Jack (of beanstalk fame) join in a traveling vaudeville show to camouflage their way back into the villa, and there they create chaos and challenge Mother Gothel and her evil ways.

The illustrations are fun and vibrant, and give Rapunzel a Pippi Longstocking vibe- which I love. The characters in the story are a diverse group, which was appreciated, and drawn well. This appealing fairy tale hews closely to the classic story, but adds enough extras to make it fun and different. Definitely recommended to younger readers!

-Nancy

The Singing Bones

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Tan, Shaun. The Singing Bones. 2015.

The Singing Bones is a unique book that defies classification. Not quite a graphic novel, not quite a non-fiction book, nor quite a book of fiction- it is all and yet none of these categories.

Shaun Tan the author and illustrator of the wordless graphic novel The Arrival, puts his considerable artistic talents towards creating clay works of art to evoke Grimms’ Fairy Tales. As Neil Gaiman says in the foreword , the sculptures “imply, they do not delineate”  the stories that are shown.

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Tan showcases seventy-five snippets of fairy tales with accompanying art. The sculpture doesn’t tell the story, it hints at it’s essence. There are no sculptures of beautiful maidens to conjure up your memory of Cinderella or Snow White, instead the art gallery captures the idea of Grimms’ stories in abstract form.

In addition to the many tales, the book is elevated due to it’s further extras. Neil Gaiman writes a fond foreword the the book, and Jack Zipes writes an informational introduction to the history of the Grimm brothers and how the tales were collected. Once you are done enjoying the fairy tale vignettes, the author writes an afterword to explain his inspiration for this project. And while many of the tales told in the story are familiar, an annotated index is included that has a concise summary of the tales, as some are more obscure. The less known tales were to me the best to study, for you can see if what the sculpture hinted at is what you would imagine the tale to be.

So if you love singular collector pieces and fairy tales, try this book, as these museum quality works of art will please both art lovers and fairy tale enthusiasts.

-Nancy

fish

 

Fairy Tale Retellings

(Inspired by this tumblr post from tumblr user thesepaprhearts)

And now for something completely different!!!

When I’m not reading comics or graphic novels, I love a good fantasy. Epic, urban, alternate universe… I love them all. But I do have one guilty pleasure.

Young adult fairy tale retellings.

I think part of this stems from the fact that I read a lot of them when I was younger. They were kind of a gateway into the fantasy genre as a whole for me, as well as historical fiction. I loved how an author could take a timeless tale and mold it into something new yet familiar. I’m laughing as I write this remembering all the fanfiction I used to write in the same vein, including one I started while I was in college and never finished. There’s something innately attractive about taking something old and making it new.

Here are some of my favorite ones:

  • I love Donna Jo Napoli. She was one of my favorite authors growing up, and for a while she wrote exclusively YA fairy tale retellings based in historical fiction. Beast (Beauty and the Beast) is my favorite of her books, but I also love Sirena (The Little Mermaid), and Zel (Rapunzel). Her prose is poetic and she draws her characters with depth and emotion.
  • East by Edith Pattou is a beautiful retelling of East of the Sun and West of the Moon. I had no idea this fairy tale even existed before I picked up the book, and it’s now one of my favorites of all time. The book is told from multiple points of view, and while the narrative is cohesive, all the voices are distinct.
  • I discovered these only last year, because the author is one I read regularly. Lilith Saintcrow writes under the pen name Lili St. Crow for her YA novels. Her Tales of Beauty and Madness trilogy retell Snow White, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood. These tales are detailed and beautifully haunting with just a dash of horror.
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi is a blend of Middle Eastern and Greek stories. The prose is absolutely beautiful. It reads like silk sliding over your skin. The plot revealed itself a tad too soon but the book was written so beautifully I spent exactly .2 seconds being upset about it.
  • The Wrath & The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh was sort of the same, but I didn’t like it as much because of the writing and the (forced) romance implicit in a retelling of 1001 Nights with a female protagonist.
  • Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson took the Bluebeard tale and transported it to the Mississippi swamps before the Civil War. Great dose of Southern Gothic in this one~ (even if the inevitable love triangle was vexing)
  • And an upcoming one! Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter is supposed to be a retelling of Vassilissa the Beautiful and Baba Yaga. I’m quite excited to read it =D

… That got away from me a bit XD I love these things though!!! I was so inspired when I saw the tumblr post linked above and it just got my gears turning. Hope you guys enjoyed my tangent =D

– Kathleen

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