THORNHEDGE rating: five stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.
Some things are just “me” things and this sweet novella is totally one. A heartwarming flipped fairy tale that reminded me somehow of WICKED by Gregory Maguire (HarperCollins, 1995), but I like this storyline much better: A shape-shifting fairy named Toadling guards something in a cursed tower for centuries. Toadling is not who she appears, even though she put the curse on the tower. A kind man turns up outside the tower, ages after Toadling stopped expecting company. He’s read the old folklore about the tower. He is not a prince, or even a knight, but the story has as much of a hold on him as the tower has on Toadling. Who or what has Toadling cursed and trapped in the tower in a deep sleep, and why? Is it really a princess? It has long blonde hair.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Netgalley and Macmillan for sending this book to me for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
Toadling feels intense guilt and shame over her traumatic backstory that has landed her in the role of eternal protector of the tower, which she reveals to her visitor bit by bit after many years of silence. That guilt and shame, those traumatic memories, bind her more tightly than any curse. Who really is the beauty that is sleeping in this fairy tale, and where does that beauty lie? Even though Kingfisher wrote this years ago and only just now polished it up for publication, the found family threads make it feel very of-the-moment. Spellbinding.
T. Kingfisher (also writes as Ursula Vernon) has become one of my favorite authors.
If you’re going to write a horror novel for me, it should be like her novel A HOUSE WITH GOOD BONES. I’m all about the gothic, as you’ll find out if you hang around here for any length of time.
This author can make ordinary living things FREAK. YOU. OUT. The menace builds by teeny-tiny degrees until it’s all you can do not to jump up and run. In A HOUSE WITH GOOD BONES, it’s scary flowers.
I also look askance at rabbits,1Perhaps I should start freaking out about horses right now, since WHAT MOVES THE DEAD will have a sequel called WHAT FEASTS AT NIGHT Tor/Macmillan, February 14, 2024) and there is a scary horse on the cover. A series is planned, the Sworn Soldier series. Yikes and sign me up. due to WHAT MOVES THE DEAD, Kingfisher’s retelling of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER by Edgar Allan Poe, of which I wrote in a review on Librarything on February 23. 2022. Here is an excerpt:
This retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” was precisely the kind of horror I like: creepy and suspenseful rather than gory. The first-person narrator hit me immediately with a very distinctive voice. I liked Alex and could relate to that character very well—the bravery (although I would not be as brave), the desire to help out friends, the need to get to the bottom of the mystery of what is wrong with the house and its ailing occupants. Bonus points for the orange-eyed hares and the cover that absolutely fits. Amazing description of the house and its decrepit surroundings. This one will make you want to go jump in a shower.https://www.librarything.com/work/27123359/reviews/213059903
NETTLE AND BONE is also a full-on feast. We need more fairy tales in which the princess goes on a quest and saves somebody from something. I’m not choosy about the who/what/where.
My favorite Sleeping Beauty retelling, which is also a novella, is A SPINDLE SPLINTERED from the delicious Fractured Fables series by Alix E. Harrow. There is no substitute for Harrow’s spunk and spark. I’ve reviewed Harrow’s next novel, STARLING HOUSE, in a prior post. If you consider Pinocchio a fairy tale, I highly recommend IN THE LIVES OF PUPPETS by TJ Klune, which I blogged about in April.
I have read so many retellings of myths and fairy tales in the past few years that I could write an encyclopedia, but I have a thing for Red Riding Hood. Make of this what you will. THE WOLF AND THE WOODSMAN by Ava Reid (HarperCollins, 2022) and FOR THE WOLF by Hannah Whitten (Hachette, 2021) are stunners. I’ve read all of Reid and Whitten’s books and thoroughly enjoyed them all; I reviewed Whitten’s new book THE FOXGLOVE KING (Hachette, March 7, 2023, which begins the series The Nightshade Crown) in this post.
What I’m reading right now:
HOOKED by A. C. Wise (Titan Books/Penguin Random House, July 2022).
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