Once Upon A(nother) Time

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away … fairy tales happen. It’s the best place for it, too; anything can happen there.

The classic fairy tale opening, like the classic fairy tale ending (happily ever after), is more than form. It is substance, part of what a fairy tale is meant to be. Once upon a time could be any time, and a land far away could be anywhere, and that is the point. Unbound by specifics, free of all the maps and history books, fairy tales are timeless and universal.

It is easy, in fact, to avoid specifics, though not everyone can do so with equal art. Sid Fleischman managed the fairy tale universality with unusual elegance in The Whipping Boy, which opens, “The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat …”

A lesser writer would have said that the young prince was known throughout the kingdom as Prince Brat – “the kingdom” being where every fairy tale takes place, if it doesn’t take place in the forest. The kingdom is invariably ruled by The King, The Queen, and usually by The Prince, even when the heroine marries him. (Names are part of the frivolous small talk dispensed with in fairy tale romance, which goes from first sight to lifelong commitment in less time than it takes the average person to choose dinner off a menu.)

Disney is, of course, a passing master of such conventions. In its live-action Cinderella – which is, if you count right, its latest fairy tale – Disney added a new touch of universality that, while probably unintentional, is brilliant. Cinderella, though among the most archetypal of European fairy tales, was gifted with a multiracial cast, and it feels all the more universal for that. Disney followed the same policy in the new Beauty and the Beast, but having haphazardly mixed the fairy tale up with history, the effect is jarring more than anything else.

The creative decision to anchor Beauty and the Beast to history was not necessarily a bad one, but it illustrates the meaning of once upon a time. There is power hidden in fairy tale simplicity. By gliding airily beyond the real world, fairy tales set the forgiving terms on which they are to be taken. They spurn details and outrun cross-examination. Meanwhile, the more factual approach of the quasi-historical Beauty and the Beast begs for cross-examination. It makes you wonder: Is it possible that the French Catholic Church (a state church!) was ordaining black priests three hundred years ago? Were spinsters turned out to beg in the streets, honestly? What made the Prince a prince? If he was collecting taxes, why didn’t anybody notice when he stopped? Shouldn’t the townspeople have been holding parades and throwing confetti in the air to celebrate their tax-free existence? Does anybody in the entire Disney corporation realize that a thousand years before Belle blazed her feminist trail, Charlemagne set up schools in France that educated girls?

A historical film or novel could answer these questions. A fairy tale doesn’t have to. We can wonder if the eighteenth-century France we are seeing is the eighteenth-century France that really was, because there is an answer to that question. There is no answer, and no question, of whether we are seeing a true portrayal of a far-away land, once upon a time.

And so fairy tales, placeless and timeless, tell their stories beyond the reach of such concerns. Once upon a time, Cinderella danced, and Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold, and Snow White ate the apple and Rapunzel let down her hair …

Cover Reveal: Adela’s Curse

Adelas Curse cover

A witch and her master capture a young faery and command her to kill their enemy. Adela has no choice but to obey. If she does not, they will force the location of her people’s mountain home from her and kill her. To make matters even worse, the person she is to kill is only a man struggling to save his dying land and mend a broken heart.

Count Stefan is a man simply trying to forget the woman he loves and save a land crippled by drought. When a mysterious woman arrives at his castle claiming to be a seamstress, he knows she is more than she seems.

Adela enlists the help of Damian, another faery, to try and delay the inevitable. He insists she has a choice. But with the witch controlling her every move, does she?

 

Find AdelAdd to Goodreadsa’s Curse on Goodreads 

 

 

Author Bio

Claire Banschbach was born and raised in Midland, TX, the fourth of eight children. She was homeschooled through high school and is now a proud member of the Texas A&M University class of 2014. She is currently working on her Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Texas Tech University Health Science Center. She continues to write in her spare time (and often when she doesn’t have spare time). She hopes her strong foundation in God will help to guide her writing. 

Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads
Blog

Review: Cinderella

I’m tempted to begin this review the way they used to introduce famous people on TV: “My guest tonight needs no introduction …” This line has received its share of ribbing, being an introduction that declares itself pointless, but in fairness, you always need an introduction. Even for people everybody already knows about.

banner_cinderella2015Like Cinderella.

When I first heard that Disney was doing a live-action remake of Cinderella, I thought they could not have chosen a better fairy tale to remake. Of all the classic Disney princess movies — and by “classic”, I mean movies that Walt Disney himself had a hand in — Cinderella was the weakest. I have never regarded the old Cinderella as a bad movie; Disney, at his worst, was better than that. But it is nothing approaching a great movie. It does not really explore the fairy tale of Cinderella, its facets and its potential.

But the new Cinderella does. Rather than rewriting the old fairytale (evidently a great temptation for modern storytellers), the movie retells it, making various changes and elaborations but staying faithful to the essential story. At the same time, the movie seriously considers the fairy tale and its characters.

As Tangled did, Cinderella finds its exceptionality in blending the best of the old with the best of the new. In the classic Disney princess movies, the princesses tended to be mild and predictable, and the princes absolutely generic. (Only Prince Philip, who fought a dragon and has an actual first name, stands out.) The secondary characters were always more colorful and often more developed: the dwarves in Snow White, the fairies in Sleeping Beauty, the mice in Cinderella.

Cinderella had this syndrome particularly bad, almost sidelining the human characters; perhaps Walt Disney’s first love of animated mice betrayed him. But the new Cinderella finds its focus on Cinderella and her prince, realizing them as actual personalities and making them active agents of their own story. This movie pursues the outstanding question the fairy tale raises about Cinderella: Why did she put up with her stepmother’s mistreatment so sweetly?

In another modern touch, it also seeks to understand Cinderella’s stepmother, to find the human reason behind her cruelty. Yet it never poster_cinderella2015_thewickedstepmotherrelents in making her the villain — notable during a time when turning traditional villains into heroes and antiheroes is popular, and probably a feat at any time; it’s not easy to both understand and condemn.

If stepmothers are the bugaboo of old-fashioned fairy tales, then fathers and arranged marriages are the bugaboos of newfangled fairy tales. Cinderella rejects the first, including fathers with unusual prominence, and also unusual respect and tenderness.

It does, however, incorporate arranged marriage as a danger to True Love, threatening the prince’s quest for happiness as Cinderella’s stepmother threatens hers — a total innovation on the first Disney Cinderella, where the prince could marry anybody he wished and his father merely insisted that he marry somebody (he daydreamed of grandchildren). But as with the stepmother, the movie finds the reason without giving approval.

Although the modern influences are obvious, and generally constructive, em>Cinderella is anchored to the old tale. It makes no attempt to be an action movie, firmly resists any pull toward darkness, and most importantly, lets Cinderella be Cinderella. For what is most arresting about Cinderella is that she endures hardship and injustice with a “sweet and steadfast will” — a kind of heroism in its own right. And not only does this movie leave that to her, it sums it up in two words: courage and kindness.

Or, to put it another way, strength and goodness.

Cinderella is the best sort of fairy tale retelling, one that takes the story to the heights of its possibilities while remaining itself. Told with heart and thoughtfulness and style, Cinderella turns one of the Disney canon’s weakest points into one of its strongest.


This review was originally published on SpeculativeFaith.com.

Prism Tour Review: The Cinderella Theorem

A themed book tour through Prism Book Tours.


Lily Sparrow is an atypical teenager: a teenager who thrives on mathematics, who wants everything clear and logical, who thinks all life should work out to a balanced equation. But when she discovers on her fifteenth birthday that her parents have been leading a double-life in a fairytale world, and now they want her to join them, she has a typical teenager response: She wants her normality back.

That she never was normal may occur to readers who watch her try to process all of life through mathematical equations. It’s natural, I suppose, that it never occurs to her.

The Cinderella Theorem is written by Kristee Ravan and is the first book of the Lily Sparrow Chronicles. This novel abounds in fresh, fun ideas. The clash between Lily’s mathematical compulsion and the fairytale world she is pushed into is the first. More follow.

In the world Lily enters, the characters of all the fairytales – good and bad – are living Happily Ever After. If they ever become Unhappy, they are no longer living Happy Ever After.

And so they vanish.

It’s a quirky world governed by its own absurd logic, and its citizens are all eccentric in their own way. I enjoyed all the outlandishness, enjoyed seeing old, beloved characters like Cinderella and King Arthur living Happily Ever After. The foundational ideas of the book and the worldbuilding are the finest elements of The Cinderella Theorem.

The principal flaw of this novel is a lack of proper editing. There are misplaced commas and far too many wrongly done dialogue tags (“That’s a problem.” He said). More substantively, there were things in the book – little things – that were extraneous, hints of ideas that were never used. (For example, in an early scene Lily is ordered out of a banned palace library … and that’s it for the Forbidden Library.) A good editor could have helped with these things.

I liked the first-person writing style of The Cinderella Theorem; I thought Lily had a good voice. The characters were quirky and likable, and the ideas and world itself were delightful. The Cinderella Theorem is an enjoyable book, a fun play on the old fairy tales. Recommended.


The Cinderella Theorem
(The Lily Sparrow Chronicles #1)
by Kristee Ravan
YA Urban Fantasy
Paperback, 367 pages
March 17th 2014

Fairy tales are naturally non-mathematical. That is a fact, and fifteen-year-old Lily Sparrow loves factual, mathematical logic. So when her mother confesses that Lily’s deceased father is (a) not dead, (b) coming to dinner, and (c) the ruler of a fairy tale kingdom accessible through the upstairs bathtub, Lily clings to her math to help her make sense of this new double life (1 life in the real world + 1 secret life in the fairy tale world = a double life).

Even though it’s not mathematical, Lily finds herself being pulled into a mystery involving an unhappy Cinderella, a greasy sycophant called Levi, and a slew of vanishing fairy tale characters. Racing against the clock, with a sound mathematical plan, Lily attempts to save her fairy tale friends while proving that normality = happiness.

Amazon

Calling for Reviewers!

We’re looking for reviewers! You don’t need a blog to sign up, but you do need to at least post a review on Amazon. Other sites (blog, Goodreads, etc.) are also appreciated. Reviews must be completed by the end of November. To sign up, please fill out this form.

Kristee Ravan lives in Oklahoma with her husband, daughter, and pet fish, Val (short for Valentine). She wanted to be many things as she grew up including a general, an artist, and an architect. But she never bothered to say, “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” She was always writing stories and thought of herself as a writer anyway. She sent her first story to a publisher in the sixth grade. (It was rejected – in a nice way.) When she is not making up stories in her head, she enjoys reading, juggling, green smoothies, playing dollhouse with her daughter, and hearing from her fans. You can contact Kristee at the facebook page for her Lily Sparrow books: The Lily Sparrow Chronicles.


WebsiteGoodreadsFacebookAmazon


Tour-Wide Giveaway

5 copies of The Cinderella Theorem (print for US winners, ebook for international winners)

Ends August 31st

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Follow the tour!

August Dates:

11 – Launch

12

Kelly P’s Blog

Coffee Books & Art

13

Bookworm Lisa

Shannon’s Blog

Simplistic Reviews

14

Skye Malone’s Blog

Wonderous Reviews

Mythical Books

15

Rockin’ Book Reviews

Sarah’s StoryLines

The Wonderings of One Person

17

Katy’s Krazy Books

Letters from Annie (Douglass) Lima

18

The Crazy Antics of My Creative Mind

My Devotional Thoughts

The Written Adventure

19

Tween 2 Teen Book Reviews

Mel’s Shelves

My Life, Loves and Passion

20

Katie’s Clean Book Collection

Book Briefs

Deal Sharing Aunt

21

A Backwards Story

Little Lisa

22

Coffee, Books and Me

I Am A Reader

Dividing by Zero

24 – Grand Finale

A Brief Fairy Tale

This brief fairy tale, originally written for the Prism Book Tour, is based on the story world of The Valley of Decision. One deep night, a mother of Alamir tells her child the story of another night, long, long ago …


One more tale? All right, my love; just one.

Long ago, the great father Athair led the first Alamiri up into the Rhugarch Pass. They were men of his clan, relatives loyal and strong. When they scaled the mountain to the Rhugarch Gap, they stopped for the night.

The men settled down to their rest; the fire sank into embers; the watchman grew drowsy. And a soft, soft pattering murmured into the camp.

Athair, great warrior that he was, woke and listened. Was it the wind? Was a fox slinking among the rocks?

A small, dark figure crept into the light of the dying fire. It stopped beside a sleeping man, and a stone dagger was in its hand.

With a roar, Athair hurled his knife and dropped the strange attacker dead. At his shout all his relatives leapt up from their slumber, drawing out weapons.

At that same moment, scores of small, fierce creatures swarmed into the camp. Athair commanded his men, and they stood back to back, in a circle around the fire. So standing together, they held the creatures at bay.

But the night was long, and their enemies were implacable, and the men grew weary. In the second watch, one cried out, “Athair, father of our clan, how long must we fight?”

And he said, “Until the morning comes.”

In the third watch, another cried out, “Athair, elder of our tribe, how long can we endure?”

He said, “Until the morning comes.”

When dawn broke over the mountains, sending pale rays of light shooting at the battle-torn camp, the attackers scattered and fled. But for one moment, Athair saw them in the light, and he knew them for what they were – the hobgoblins, the darkness-dwellers. And they, like the darkness and all dark things, fled with the coming of day.

Are hobgoblins real? I think so; don’t you?

Ah, but the candle is burning low, and now it is time for you to sleep. The morning comes, as Athair said, and it will be bright and good.

So sleep, my child; sleep.

Prism Tour: Hero

Saturday Woodcutter would publicly declare, and only privately bemoan, that she was the only member of her family who was normal. Not Fey-blessed, not royal or mythic, not practicing magic.

And then she broke the world.

Hero, written by Alethea Kontis, is the story of Saturday Woodcutter – a young woman who no more knows what to do with her magic sword than she knows what to do with her gawky height. She’s supposed to have some sort of destiny, but she doesn’t know what it is. She’s about to find out, though.

I suppose this book is a fantasy, but it reads more like a long fairy tale by a modern author. There are dragons, witches, princesses, fates and curses and gifts.

And magic. Wild, unpredictable magic.

I enjoyed the characters, even the minor characters – from taciturn Mama to beautiful Monday to the heroic Jack. Saturday proved a unique and interesting sort of heroine, and Peregrine managed to capture the pathos, the danger, and the ridiculousness of his situation. I liked Betwixt, too, and the contrast of his odd shapes with his ironic humor, sophisticated manner, and general air of Britishness.

Coming from a large family, I liked the way the author not only made the heroine one of many siblings, but managed to include all her brothers and sisters. Not that they all had a part in the story – some were never even seen – but I had the sense that Saturday’s six sisters were people, and not simply a number. The author gave a brief but vivid glimpse of all of them. It wasn’t just an interesting biographical fact that Saturday came from a large family; it actually mattered to the story.

There were a few things in the novel I didn’t like – the bad language, for one, as well as the scene where Saturday bathes in a lake with no regard for the fact that Peregrine was right there. In the same place, the characters talk about a disease called “living death”, which sounded like Alzheimer’s. One calls it “sensible” for the son of a man so afflicted to wish his father would die and set everybody free. Maybe I took it worse than the author meant it, but such an attitude betrayed both a lack of love for the sick man and a general devaluation of human worth, as if forgetting everything destroys the value of a man’s life.

As far as I can see in Hero – perhaps it is different elsewhere in the series – the world is entirely pagan. There are many mentions of “the gods”, none of God. And they are not kindly, either, but rather capricious – as they usually are, in pagan tales. We do come across an abbey … dedicated to Mother Earth. It tasted bad to me.

Despite this, Hero has much to its credit, from its humor to its excellent characters to its crazy, patchwork, fascinating world of dragons and witches and Elves and pirates. This is a wild, spinning fairy tale, as bold as the old fairy tales that thought nothing of telling you how the oceans came to be salt.


Setting Sail on a Fairy Tale Adventure*

*Family Welcome

Hero

by Alethea Kontis

Hardcover, 304 Pages


Enchanted by Alethea KontisEnchanted (Woodcutter Sisters #1)

Hardcover, 305 pages

It isn’t easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday’s only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true.

When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday’s family despises.

The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past – and hers?


Alethea Kontis

Alethea KontisNew York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a goddess, a force of nature, and a mess. She’s known for screwing up the alphabet, scolding vampire hunters, turning garden gnomes into mad scientists, and making sense out of fairy tales.

Alethea is the co-author of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter Companion, and penned the AlphaOops series of picture books. Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in a myriad of anthologies and magazines. She has done multiple collaborations with Eisner winning artist J.K. Lee, includingThe Wonderland Alphabet and Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome. Her debut YA fairy tale novel, Enchanted, won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award in 2012 and was nominated for both the Andre Norton Award and the Audie Award in 2013.

Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea now lives in Northern Virginia with her Fairy Godfamily. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie.


Tour-Wide Giveaway

Sept 22 – Oct 17

Fairy Tale Gift Bundle: Signed copies of both Enchantment and Hero by Alethea Kontis plus swag!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sail Away on the
Fairy Tale Adventure Tour*
*Family Welcome

Sept 22 – LAUNCH

Sept 23 – The Missing Piece at Alethea Kontis

– Review on Debz Bookshelf

– Celebration on Deal Sharing Aunt

Sept 24 – Interview with Miss Print

Sept 25 – Interview with Carina Books

– The Grandfather Pirate on Living a Goddess Life

– Meet the Inspiration on The Wonderings of One Person

Sept 26 – Review on Shannon’s Blog

– Meet the Inspiration continued on Bookmarks

Sept 27 – Meet the Sister on Leeana Me

Sept 30 – USA Today Happy Ever After Interview

– Review of Enchantment on Colorimetry

Oct 1 – RELEASE DAY!

– Release Day at Waterworld Mermaids

– My Favorite Bit (with Cat Valente) at Mary Robinette Kowal

– Review at Library of a Book Witch

– Interview & Review at Tressa’s Wishful Endings

Oct 2 – Video Rant at Geek Girl in Love

– The Big Idea at John Scalzi’s Blog

– My Bookshelf on Mel’s Shelves

– Did You See? on Cu’s eBook Giveaways

Oct 3 – The Missing Piece on I Am a Reader, Not a Writer

– Review at Books for Kids

Oct 4 – Podcast with Bennet Pomeranz

– Review of Hero on Colorimetry

Oct 5 – Hero LAUNCH PARTY at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA

Oct 7 – Character interview with Saturday Woodcutter at I Smell Sheep

Oct 8 – A Twist in the Tail at A Backwards Story

– Review at JL Mbewe

Oct 9 – Enchanted Inkspot

– Deleted Scene at Fragments of Life

Oct 10-15 GRAND FINALE

CSFF Blog Tour: Unfashionable Furniture

When I saw that A Cast of Stones – showcased this week in the CSFF blog tour – was listed as adult fantasy, it made me happy. Maybe unduly happy.

I was glad for the adult label for the reason that the majority of the speculative books I’ve recently read are labeled YA or younger. I have enjoyed these novels; the YA label means that the principal characters will be under twenty, but not much more. These books – sold as they are to a younger crowd – are fit for adults, too.

C.S. Lewis once weighed forth – or possibly it was Tolkien; either way, an estimable person you ought to listen to weighed forth – that fairy tales ended up in the nursery for the same reason old furniture did: It had gone out of fashion. That was a long time ago. Today speculative fiction – in many ways our modern fairy tales – is often directed, as the old fairy tales were, to the very young.

And I wonder why. Why are so many speculative books, perfectly decent for adult reading, pitched to teens and children? Why are so many speculative books written to them, reducing the age of the heroes, reducing the page count?

Is it a matter of fashion? I don’t think so; I don’t know. The current fashions are not an area of high knowledge for me.

Is it because adults won’t read speculative books? In my observation, adults read even speculative fiction that stars twelve-year-olds. But maybe it’s the crowd I’m around.

Is it driven by the market understanding of publishers? At the Realm Makers conference early this month, Jeff Gerke said that, in the mainstream publishing houses, the speculative genre is not expanding – except in YA. Maybe writers feel that to get an audience they have to aim their stories beneath adults.

Whatever the explanation, I’m glad to read a Christian fantasy written for adults. I’m glad to read a Christian fantasy about adults. To learn more about this rare bird, follow the links –

To the author’s website;

To A Cast of Stones [Book One] on Amazon;

To The Hero’s Lost [Book Two] on Amazon;

To the blog tour (reviews up in some places today!):
Julie Bihn
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Laure Covert
Pauline Creeden
Emma or Audrey Engel
April Erwin
Nikole Hahn
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen

Krystine Kercher

Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Writer Rani

Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis

Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler

Rachel Wyant

What Is In A Name

If you ever go to the Faerie realms, there are things you should know. One of the first is this: Your true name is your real self. Don’t share it lightly. You are not likely to hear a Faerie’s true name, for they are bound by the same laws and keep their names carefully. But if you do hear a Faerie name – usually by chance, voices drifting from a cottage as you wander by – hold on to it tightly. There’s power in such things.

It’s an idea immemorial in legends and myths and fairy tales: Knowing a person’s name gives you power over him. A variation is that you can dissolve an evil creature’s power over you by naming it. This is classically seen in Rumpelstiltskin, and even better seen in the legend of St. Olaf and the troll.

The importance of names has traveled up these old roots to modern fantasy. In The Hobbit Bilbo riddles his way out of telling Smaug his “proper” name. This, the narrator tells us, is wise. But he did tell Gollum, and that was foolish – though for the prosaic reason that it allowed Gollum to track him down.

Later Treebeard was not so hasty as to give Merry and Pippin his real name, even when they were hasty enough to give him theirs. Aragorn once warned Pippin not to speak the name of Mordor loudly, and he himself went disguised under the name Strider. His true name was revealed with his true nature.

In the Wingfeather Saga, the villains take away the names of their victims. The Overseer called the children in the Fork Factory tools, and told them they had no names. When the Stonekeeper turned people into Fangs, she gave them new names, and they forgot their old ones.

Against this, the Wingfeather children heard their mother’s voice: “Remember who you are.”

Starflower uses the significance of names more traditionally. “There is great power,” says the Dragonwitch, “in a Faerie lord’s name.” And there is. But the true power is in true names, given by the One Who Names Them. Before a creature may truly live, someone says, it must be known by name. Every living thing, be it man or woman, animal or angel, sleeps inside, waiting for that day when it will wake and sing. But until it is called by its true name, it will remain asleep.

A given name does, in Starflower’s world, grant one power to command others – or to be free of their command. But by a true name their souls are wakened and live.

The Bible, too, makes mention of naming, almost from the first. At the creation God named things: the day, the night, the sun, the stars, the moon, the sky. He named Adam, and He brought the animals “to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

And that is the real significance of naming: In it, we reflect God’s image. Animals don’t name things, or know their own names. But God names things, and knows His name, and He has given it to us to do the same.

Sometimes, as God worked His will through people, He renamed them. Abram He named Abraham, Sarai He called Sarah, and Jacob, Israel. When God comforted His people, He sometimes told them the new names He would give them. The Holy People. The Redeemed of the LORD. Repairer of Broken Walls. Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Sought After. The City No Longer Deserted. Beulah, married. Hepzibah, my delight is in her.

In Revelation Jesus Christ declared this promise to His church – to each of us, if we will accept it: “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”

CSFF Blog Tour: Starflower

Eanrin has always known to never get involved in the affairs of mortals. If all Faeries had that policy, the Hidden Land would have lived out a happier story. But as the lost daughter of the Eldest walked a road darkened by Faerie, so her path will fatefully cross a Faerie’s again. And again.

In Starflower, Anne Elisabeth Stengl tells the story of Faeries who became involved with mortals, and mortals who became involved with Faeries. Not all were the better for it; nor were all the worst.

Starflower is sold as a fairy tale, and indeed it is. Pieces and elements from all sorts of fairy tales swirl in it – refined, changed, and woven together into a new whole. A few of the old tropes are played for humor – the lady in the tower, princes turned to frogs. Most are used more seriously – enchantments, fairies, shape-changing, dragons.

One of Stengl’s most effective uses is of the law of Faerie. Everyone who has read fairy tales knows that Faerie has its laws, just as immutable as nature’s. In Faerie blessings are true, and curses are facts; vows must be kept, and names have power. Anne Stengl takes this strange code, builds it as surely into her world as the law of gravity, and lets the story flow in its courses.

The Faerie characters are realized in the uniqueness of their nature and experience. But different as they are, they are not wholly alien, and readers can understand them like people. The humans in the story are just as finely done. Stengl handles her cast with great sympathy, making flawed characters likeable and villains pitiable.

The world – or worlds, I could say – of Starflower beat with life. Some are grim, some are beautiful, some are treacherous, most are dangerous – but all are alive. You can almost feel the hot streets of Etalpalli, the humid swamp, the stony way to the Place of the Teeth.

There is very little to criticize in this book. The most I can say is that I did not understand Starflower’s sudden distrust of the poet, nor did I consider it believable. In all its main elements, Starflower excelled. It is beautifully written, a pleasure to read. The spiritual strains in the story were profound and moving. The story was unexpected, and landscapes and people rose up brilliantly from the pages. This book was a surprise to me. I had expected it to be good, but I didn’t think it would be incredible.


And now, for the interested reader, we have –

Starflower on Amazon

– the author’s website

– the author’s Facebook page

– And the roll for the blog tour – we few, we happy few, we band of brothers …

Phyllis Wheeler

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

First Plunge

I heard of him a long time ago. I often saw him quoted – sometimes by C. S. Lewis. Writers and reviewers praised him as a man of imagination, an artist who brought together the beautiful, the fantastical, and the spiritual. I saw him ranked with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, one of the godfathers of Christian speculative fiction. But I never bothered with his work myself.

Then, while browsing a library shelf for books for my younger sisters, I saw it: The Complete Fairy Tales, by George MacDonald. I’d heard good things about MacDonald. I liked fairy tales. I picked the book up.

Now I can hold up my head among my fellow SF fans: I have read George MacDonald. My first taste was The Light Princess. This fairy tale begins, as is traditional, with a king and queen having a baby. In writing the invitations to her christening, the king forgot the Princess Makemnoit – which was “awkward”, the narrator tells us, because she was his sister, and “imprudent”, because she was a witch.

So – well, you all know. The witch went to the christening anyway and got revenge for the slight by putting a spell on the child. By the spell she deprived the princess of all her gravity – both in body and in soul.

I wasn’t surprised that MacDonald used the old formula: an evil witch, an enchanted princess, a brave prince. That he made an ingenuous story with it did not surprise me, either. What did was that he told the fairy tale with a sense of humor and even a sense of parody.

The greatest example of MacDonald’s parody was the metaphysicians Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck. But often it flashes through in smaller ways. He uses the old trope of provoking the witch by not inviting her, and in that very act observes, “Of course somebody was forgotten. Now it does not generally matter if somebody is forgotten, only you must mind who.”

The humor manifests itself in several ways. One of these is puns. George MacDonald has often been called a great writer, and puns have often been called the lowest form of humor, so this seems a little odd –  even if MacDonald’s puns are sometimes so clever they cannot be understood without footnotes.

Another manifestation is asides that are half humor and half (indicting) social commentary. In telling how the king forgot his disinherited sister, MacDonald writes, “But poor relations don’t do anything to keep you in mind of them. Why don’t they? The king could not see into the garret she lived in, could he?”

And later, when the prince “lost sight of his retinue in a great forest”: “These forests are very useful in delivering princes from their courtiers, like a sieve that keeps back the bran. Then the princes get away to follow their fortunes. In this they have the advantage of the princesses, who are forced to marry before they have had a bit of fun. I wish our princesses got lost in a forest sometimes.”

Neither does MacDonald fail to draw out the humor – and fun – involved in having a princess with no gravity. He brings out, too, the loss and misfortune of it. In one passage, he tells of the Light Princess that “she would laugh like the very spirit of fun; only in her laugh there was something missing. What it was, I find myself unable to describe. I think it was a certain tone, depending upon the possibility of sorrow – morbidezza, perhaps. She never smiled.”

I have been enjoying my first plunge into the stories of George MacDonald. They make me want to read more fairy tales. They make me want to write some.