Thursday, January 22, 2015

Retold: Six Fairytales Reimagined

Retold is a collection of six re-imagined fairytales published by The Book Smuggers. You can currently download them from their website for free individually or buy the whole anthology for $1.99. Given that I think Ana and Thea who run the blog have a rather good taste in books, I decided to give these stories a try.

Each story includes an author's essay on what inspired them to write the story and an interview with the author. I think that's a really nice touch -- I enjoyed reading these pieces very much.

Title: In Her Head, In Her Eyes
Author: Yukimi Ogawa
Rating: 8.5/10
Thoughts:  This was the first story I read and it was also one of my favorites in the collection. It's based on the Japanese story of Hachikaduki: A Girl with a Bowl on Her Head. The original tale is actually also included with the subversive one. As one might guess the fairy tale features a girl who wears a bowl on her head all the time. I rather liked the reimagined story: it starts out like the classic, but turns out much darker and much more evil than I imagined. The writing is beautiful and flows well, very well done.

Title: The Ninety-Ninth Bride
Author: Catherine F. King
Rating: 6.5/10
Thoughts: This is a re-telling of 1001 Arabian Nights. I like the idea behind the original story better, even though the author explains her logic behind the subversive re-telling. The writing is a little off from the traditional fairy tale and the themes are introduced in such a modern way as to make them jarring. The author makes it feel like a story on work-life balance of a working mom with a deranged husband. It just didn't work for me, though there were some very imaginative elements, such as the true identity of Scheherazade.

Title: The Astronomer Who Met The North Wind
Author: Kate Hall
Rating: 4/10
Thoughts: This is the story of a child who sets her mind on becoming an astronomer, just like her father is. However, she is not allowed to go out with her father to look for a comet in the sky. Instead she takes his equipment, sneaks off, falls down a hill, breaks a bunch of things, and gets semi-rescued by The North Wind's sister, whom she orders around, and then comes home a gives her father an ultimatum. The author's idea is to show how children can know their minds early in their lives and study STEM careers. I feel like the only thing the story made me think is that the girl is really bratty and what she does in actuality accomplishes nothing other than putting herself in danger. Not a fan.

Title: Hunting Monsters
Author: S.L. Huang
Rating: 9/10
Thoughts: This was my favorite story in the collection. A girl lives with her mom and aunt in an out-of-the-way village and is taught to hunt from an early age. Except, she is told it's really important to distinguish dumb beasts from changelings. Killing sentient human beings who have been turned into animals is murder. Then her mother gets arrested on murder charges and she learns a lot more about her family history.

The story sounds a bit farcical in my summary, but it works surprisingly well. It's a mix of Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, but with a really strange twist that I very much enjoy. It has a great diversity of characters and the writing felt solid. I would consider buying another story by this author.

Title: Mrs. Yaga
Author: Michal Wojcik
Rating: 8/10
Thoughts:  This is the only story in the collection by a male author, and one I wouldn't guess being written by a man as it deals with a mother-daughter type relationship. Baba Yaga lives in her chiken-feet hut as an immigrant in Canada. She is described in vivid detail and I really like how the author combines fairy tale and modern life (she is preferring an SUV to her mortar and pestle these days). Her ward, Aurelia, is complaining how Mrs. Yaga keeps driving away her suitors by giving them impossible quests. I like how the issue gets resolved, even though the skip at the end felt a little abrupt to me. It's a fun reinterpretation of Slavic myth and it definitely tickled my fancy since I am familiar with the original tales.

Title: The Mussel Eater
Author: Octavia Cade
Rating: 6.5/10
Thoughts: This was an odd tale of a man who is wooing a sea creature by cooking her food. She is a protector of dolphins in the sea and he's human who finds her mussels and cooks them in various ways. I thought the tale might be Italian based on all the cooking: there's olive oil, lots of aromatic herbs, and delicious food descriptions.

Turns out the story is based on a New Zealand fairy tale. While fascinating, what didn't work for me in the tale was the man's motivation. He describes his object of desire in some rather unattractive terms, so it's hard to believe he's trying hard to seduce her when he thinks she smells terrible. I thought the ending was rather fitting, but the plot didn't make much sense to me on its own since I wasn't familiar with the original tale. It made more sense after I read the author's essay -- but I rather feel the original tale would perhaps be more to my liking.


Overall, I enjoyed this collection. There were some hits and some misses, but it certainly made me nostalgic for more fairy tales. 

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