I love scary stories. Armed with a flashlight and nerves of spaghetti, I would spend hours reading R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike. But the first scary stories I ever read were… fairy tales. Seriously. Poisoned apples, witches, deadly candy houses, big bad wolves, giants on beanstocks, evil stepsisters – fairy tales are scary stuff! The Brothers Grimm were the Stephen King of their day. So this month we’re reading new twists on the original spooky story…
Heather’s Pick: DUST CITY by Robert Paul Weston
This book turns fairytales into film noir. Bloody brilliant. It’s set in a gritty fairytale metropolis in a time after all the fairies have left. Without fairies, there’s no magic – no wishes granted, so to speak. And the fairytale creatures that remain (dwarves, giants, wolves, foxes, ravens, elves, goblins and hominids) have to make due with pharmaceutical grade dust – leftover magic mined from the earth that is a poor substitute for real fairy dust. Some of these dust operations are legal (like our pharmaceutical companies); some are not (like our society’s drug cartels).
The story follows Henry, the son of the notorious big bad wolf, as he delves into Dust City’s seedy underbelly to find the truth about what happened to the fairies and whether or not his dad was set up. Henry’s best pal is a kleptomaniac hominid named Jack (of Beanstock fame), the detective is a kickass Snow White, and the villain has the King Midas touch.
This book is filled with amazing creatures, creative twists on fairytale lore, tons of mystery, and heart-stopping action. It also manages to be a commentary on racism (lots of inter-species tension in Dust City), drug addiction and underground crime. Scary stuff indeed. And in the end, we learn the shocking truth about fairydust!
Caryn’s Pick: THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL by Soman Chainani
Written for the tween crowd, the story begins as best friends Sophie and Agatha get kidnapped and dumped into the School for Good and Evil. Rumors have long abounded in the tiny village that every four years, at the 11th hour on the last day of the 11th month, two children are taken, one deposited in the School for Good, who will then become a princess in a new fairy tale, while the other will land in the School for Evil and end up as a witch or some other evil nemesis.
With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.
But the two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication. When they both decide they want to go home they are challenged by the School Master to solve a riddle that will allow them escape. If they remain they will become imprisoned in a fairy tale for all eternity.
Sounds great! Right? Well, no. First, it’s 512 pages! Which would be fine if it was a great read. The author bogs us down with entirely too much meaningless description, which unfortunately buries the plot. The story is somewhat imaginative but it really drags and I found it downright painful to read. That’s not the worst of it either. A story for this population should set forth good examples of morality, body image, peer relationships, minorities, but alas, it does just the opposite. These characters are so shallow that I never really embraced any of them. And the ending (spoiler alert) uncovers an evil overseer orchestrated the whole thing to take advantage of a young, innocent girl and marry her! Ugh!
I say skip this and stick to authentic fairy tales. They can be scary and violent at times, but at least there’s usually a good lesson to be learned. Not here.
Robin’s Pick: CRUEL BEAUTY by Rosamund Hodge
In keeping with the fairy tale theme, I picked this book which is billed as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I sort of see the similarities, but I also see a number of other story elements at play.
Nyx is the daughter of a rich nobleman who makes a bargain with the demon who rules their kingdom. The Gentle Lord, as the demon calls himself, is your basic trickster. He always grants his subject’s wishes, but with an evil twist. The couple has the children they asked him for, two healthy daughters, but in exchange they must give the demon one of their daughters for a bride. As a secondary kick in the teeth, the mom dies. The father raises the two girls with the help of his mistress, his wife’s sister. One daughter is showered with affection, and the other daughter, Nyx, is trained to be a human sacrifice. This training includes instructing the young girl on how to submit to sex in order to gain the Gentle Lord’s favor and perhaps find a way to kill him. Nyx tells herself she wants to marry the demon, in part because she’s never felt loved at home and in part to avenge her mother’s death and to end the Gentle Lord’s rule.
What I liked about the book was the foreboding atmosphere. The home of the Gentle Lord is filled with thousands of rooms and dark twisted elements. At one point Nyx is locked in a room with all the former dead brides of the Gentle Lord. Creepy! While there were some admirable twists in the nature of the beauty and the beast fairy tale, the story just didn’t quite work for me. The book delivered a massive case of instalove, and a love triangle. While I can take one or the other (if written well) both hitting me in the same book are just too much.
The second book is coming out soon, so if you’re looking for a new series with a heavy dose of dark moody setting and you don’t mind the romance tropes, this might be the perfect book for you.