Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Noble Maiden Fair by Emma Thompson [Brave soundtrack].
The idea of Monday's Muse is to introduce you to unknown, forgotten, or overlooked fiction that has been lost from regular radar. I am WriterGirl. I am in the business of saving lives, one book at a time.
What I do is go to one of several places, narrow it down to a YA field and type in a random word, any word that comes to mind. I then take a sampling of some I have never heard of before, or only vaguely heard of (and hopefully you as well). No infringement is intended for any description I take for the books. It's purely for promotional reasons. I will try and cover as many genres as possible that are fitting for the random word. Simple but it really uncovers some incredible gems. I will be doing this every other Monday. If there are any words you want to prompt me with, go ahead and fire away.
Lesser Known Fairy Tales - Adaptations
Birdwing by Rafe Martin.
An emotive fairytale extension thoughtfully explores the life of Ardwin, a prince with a swan's wing instead of a left arm. As in Grimm, Ardwin's the youngest of six brothers who spent years living as a swan. Is his remaining wing a blessing or a curse? It gives him emotional stirrings of wildness, but he's called a freak. His father, the king, receives an offer from another king: a truce between realms and a princess for Ardwin to marry—if Ardwin cuts off his wing in favor of a magical prosthetic arm. Troubled, unwilling to be forced, Ardwin sneaks away on a quest to find the wild swans he used to know. The journey holds some surprises. The story's ending is disquietingly random and out-of-the-blue, but that doesn't overshadow the memorable images created along the way as Martin touchingly weaves together fairy tale, the wildness of animals and lyrical characterization. --Kirkus (September 15, 2005).
The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli.
Based on the Italian fairy tale "Don Giovanni de la Fortuna," Napoli's (Alligator Bayou) sumptuously written novel is set in 12th-century Sicily. Part historical fiction, part spiritual fantasy, the story begins when Don Giovanni, a well-to-do 19-year-old orphan who is being groomed for leadership, suddenly loses his castle and wealth to a tidal wave. The eponymous wager is, of course, a deal with the devil (who appears in the form of a well-dressed stranger). Don Giovanni agrees not to bathe for three years, three months, and three days in exchange for endless bags of coins. Readers follow Don Giovanni's journey of the flesh and spirit as he suffers humiliation and physical decay; descriptions of lush feasts and brightly colored brocades give way to wretched scenes described in lurid detail: "He'd worn through his shoes a couple of months ago... a cut... oozed pus. Each night he'd press out the guck, but by morning it would be swollen again." As Don Giovanni reaches toward generosity and grace, he is ultimately rewarded. Napoli never underestimates her audience, depicting human nature at its worst and its best. --Publishers Weekly (vol 257, issue 19. May 10, 2010).
The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.
"O Cecily is lost! Where is Cecily?" mourns Christopher Heron after he's mislaid his brother Geoffrey's only child and heir, apparently at the bottom of the Holy Well. But Kate Sutton, out of favor with Queen (Bloody) Mary and under house arrest at Elvenwood Hall, is not about to join in Christopher's melancholy. Kate puzzles out on her own the Old Believer theory of witchcraft and fairy folk. And when Christopher is taken underground to be sacrificed in Cecily's stead and Kate too is captured, she so impresses her fairy hosts that they begin to teach her their secrets. Another secret -- that of saving Christopher from sacrifice -- she learns from the mad minstrel Randal straight out of the ballad Tam Lin. . . . Indeed Kate's resourcefulness is so impressive that one can relax and allow one's own imagination to fill in the vague, lengthily inexplicit account of Christopher's mental tortures and Kate's initiation into fairy secrets -- knowing that the Little People will soon vanish into the hoary gothic landscape. Fanciful in spots. --Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 1974).
Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis.
The story of Cupid and Psyche, reset in the frame of the primitive kingdom of Glome, sacrifices the King's youngest daughter Istra to Ungit (Aphrodite) and brings Orual, his oldest, ugly daughter, to consider the unknown ways of love. For Istra's sacrifice has made her the beloved of the god whom she never sees, lodged her in a castle no one else can see, and Orual, despised by their father and despising their other sister, through her love, selfish and tormenting, for Istra is the means of tearing Istra from the world she has achieved to wander the earth. Orual, veiled and well taught by the Greek Fox and the warrior Bardia, inherits Glome, prevails in war and peace, learns the bitter lessons of love not given and receives the mystery and vision of Istra's joyous belief and her own part in the story before her death. Told by Orual, this brings into play a certain psychological explanation of Glome's primitive customs, life and social behavior and, in its complaint to the gods who have so jealously pursued her, offers a document that allies a Christian paralleling of the good and evil in the old myth, and makes of the ugly sister a seeker to whom the truth is gradually revealed. Interesting- fascinating in its recreation of Glome -- and with an appeal for those curious about the spiritual interpretations and religious allegories found in his earlier books. --Kirkus (January 1, 1956).
Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson.
Following the death of her father, 17-year-old Sophie is invited to stay with her eccentric and wealthy godfather, Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, at his beautiful but remote Mississippi mansion. At first, life at Wyndriven Abbey is idyllic, and Sophie is given everything she could wish for, but cracks soon appear in this perfect faÃ§ade. Her seemingly charming godfather reveals himself to be a jealous, moody, and cruel man who isolates Sophie from the outside world and makes her a pawn in his twisted fantasies. Then there's the matter of his four previous wives: all had red hair, like Sophie's. All disappeared or died mysteriously. Sophie's only reprieve from her gilded prison are her secret woodland interludes with Gideon Stone, the nature-loving pastor she met by chance and develops feelings for. When she uncovers the murderous truth about her godfather's past, she knows she must escape Wyndriven Abbey at all costs. Nickerson makes a strong debut with this suspenseful reimagining of the Bluebeard legend that seamlessly weaves together elements of fairy tale, gothic romance, and pre-Civil War-era American history. Fans of Libba Bray's "Gemma Doyle" trilogy (Delacorte) will delight in this gorgeously atmospheric page-turner.—Alissa J. Bach, Oxford Public Library, MI, School Library Journal (March 1, 2013).
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale.
Hale's novelization of the relatively obscure Grimm Brothers' fairy tale "Maid Maleen" is quite an improvement over the original. Rather than merely adding flesh to the Grimms' skeleton, the author has taken a few of the prominent bones (a love match thwarted by an autocratic king, the princess and her maid condemned to a tower for seven years, the country a wasteland when they finally escape) and constructed a new and far more appealing body. Lady Saren loves Khan Tegus, who rules a lesser realm, and she refuses to marry the evil man whom her father has chosen for her for political gains. The narrator, Dashti, is the princess's maid, immured in the tower almost as soon as she's found employment in the royal household. Bound to obey her mistress, Dashti is ordered to speak in her place when Tegus comes calling on their prison. Many readers will guess how that will eventually turn out, but they won't predict how Dashti and Tegus will overcome physical, political, and social obstacles to recognize their mutual love and defy convention in order to marry. Hale has created a richly imagined, mythical land something like medieval Mongolia, replete with magical song and touch therapy for spiritual or corporeal ailments, intuitive animals, and a sort of Faustian werewolf. It's a highly successful romance.—Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY, School Library Journal (October 1, 2007).
Amiri and Odette by Walter Dean Myers.
The acclaimed author uproots the 19th-century classical ballet Swan Lake from its enchanted world of mist-filled lakes and palaces and plunks it solidly down into the dark, danger-filled Swan Lake Projects. The courtly Prince Siegfried morphs into the basketball player Amiri, and the beautiful Odette, turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer in the original, is now under the thralldom of Big Red, the local drug dealer. Myers tells the tale in rap-inspired verse, which appears on the page in different sizes and colors placed for their design values and not for ease of reading. The result strains with the necessity of maintaining narrative symmetry; verse that tries to soar in beat with Tchaikovsky's memorable score is reduced to a plethora of overwrought phrases—"O muffle the drum and mute the horn, / From love's demise, despair is born!" Perhaps Myers would have been better served by Romeo and Juliet, frequently rewritten but more manageable and logical. However, Steptoe's collage-on cinder-block paintings are powerful, haunting and worthy of multiple viewings. His Odette is truly luminous. --Kirkus (December 15, 2008).
Deerskin by Robin McKinley.
As Princess Lissla Lissar reaches womanhood, it is clear to all the kingdom that in her beauty she is the image of her dead mother, the queen. But this likeness forces her to flee from her father's lust and madness; and in the pain and horror of that flight she forgets who she is and what it is she flees from: forgets almost everything but the love and loyalty of her dog, Ash, who accompanies her. But a chance encounter on the road leads to a job in another king's kennels, where the prince finds himself falling in love with the new kennel maid . . . and one day he tells her of a princess named Lissla Lissar, who had a dog named Ash.
White Cat by Holly Black.
Forget fairy tales. The first in Black's new series is a dark, complex Chinese puzzle box, full of cons, criminals and curses—a denigrating term for magic in a world where it's outlawed. Cassel is the only non-worker (magic user) in a family full of them, all tightly connected to the Zacharov crime family. He's also a murderer, although he can't recall some critical details of killing his best friend—Zacharov's daughter—three years ago. The world is casually revealed through Cassel's engaging, genuinely teenage voice, and what a world: Just like ours, except magic is common and conveyed through touch (everyone wears gloves), and instead of debating healthcare, there's a growing political movement to legalize "cursework" so that magic-based crime can be prosecuted more effectively. Cassel's discovery of his own talents and his realization that everyone he trusts has lied to or betrayed him propels the narrative; the larger machinations surrounding him and some unfinished romantic business mean the sequels should be equally compelling. Urban fantasy, con story, coming of age—whatever you call it, read it. --Kirkus (April 1, 2010).
Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia McKillip.
This gathering of McKillips short fantasy covers 17 years and displays a variety of well-written treatments of other material. The background of most of the stories is traditional folklore, and the inspiring originals behind The Snow Queen, The Lion and the Lark, and Toad are readily apparent. One of the best pieces in the book, Star-Crossed, is a twist on Romeo and Juliet in which Friar Lawrence isn't around to confess what the situation has become, and the constables of Verona have to ferret out the truth behind the double suicide. The whole collection constitutes a valiant rescue from out-of-print limbo of stories whose high readability demonstrates that McKillip is one of the most distinguished, if least publicized, modern fantasy writers. Fantasy collections should assign the book high priority for acquisition. -- Roland Green, Booklist (November 1, 2005).
HONORABLE MENTION SERIES
The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People.
What do werewolves, vampires, and the Little Mermaid have in common? They are all shapechangers. In The Beastly Bride, acclaimed editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling bring together original stories and poems from a stellar lineup of authors including Peter S. Beagle, Ellen Kushner, Jane Yolen, Lucius Shepard, and Tanith Lee, as well as many new, diverse voices. Terri Windling provides a scholarly, yet accessible introduction, and Charles Vess's decorations open each story. From Finland to India, the Pacific Northwest to the Hamptons, shapechangers are part of our magical landscape?and The Beastly Bride is sure to be one of the most acclaimed anthologies of the year.
The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales.
Coyote. Anansi. Brer Rabbit. Trickster characters have long been a staple of folk literature—and are a natural choice for the overarching subject of acclaimed editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s third "mythic" anthology. The Coyote Road features a remarkable range of authors, each with his or her fictional look at a trickster character. These authors include Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles), Charles de Lint (The Blue Girl), Ellen Klages (The Green Glass Sea), Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners), Patricia A. McKillip (Old Magic), and Jane Yolen. Terri Windling provides a comprehensive introduction to the trickster myths of the world, and the entire book is highlighted by the remarkable decorations of Charles Vess. The Coyote Road is essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary fantastic fiction.
The Green Man: Tales of the Mythic Forrest.
One of our most enduring, universal myths is that of the Green Man-the spirit who stands for Nature in its most wild and untamed form, a man with leaves for hair who dwells deep within the mythic forest. Through the ages and around the world, the Green Man and other nature spirits have appeared in stories, songs, and artwork, as well as many beloved fantasy novels, including Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
Now Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, the acclaimed editors of over twenty anthologies, have gathered some of today's finest writers of magical fiction to interpret the spirits of nature in short stories and poetry. Charles Vess (Stardust) brings his stellar eye and brush to the decorations, and Windling provides an introduction exploring Green Man symbolism and forest myth.
The Green Man will become required reading for teenagers and adults alike-not only for fans of fantasy fiction, but for anyone interested in mythology and the mysteries of the wilderness.
The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm.
Faeries, or creatures like them, can be found in almost every culture the world over. Benevolent and terrifying, charming and exasperating, shifting shape from country to country, story to story, and moment to moment. In The Faery Reel, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have asked some of today's best fantasists for short stories and poems that draw on the great wealth of world faery lore and classic faery literature, and update the old tales, or shine a bold new light on the old. This companion to the World Fantasy Finalist The Green Man is unique, provocative, and thoroughly magical-like the faeries themselves.