Burning Rose and Hansel and Gretel

To celebrate the release of Burning Rose (her first collection of retold fairy tale novellas), Hope Ann shared some intriguing information about Hansel and Gretel (the inspiration for my personal favorite in the collection, Shadows of the Hersweald):

Hansel and Gretel’s Original Plot: Two children are abandoned in a great forest, where they stumble across an old woman who captures them and tries to eat them before being tricked into her own oven where she dies a miserable death.  [Cela: Because nothing says “bed-time story” like a bit of attempted cannibalism followed by total immolation, right?]

Hope Ann’s Take on Hansel and Gretel: One of the darker fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel was great fun to work with. I chose it for my Shadows of the Hersweald novella (the third novella in my new paperback book, Burning Rose) because I enjoyed the element of siblings. And the forest offered a perfect setting for post-war rebel bands. It isn’t my favorite fairy tale by far, but that is what retellings are for: to change some elements, add others, and create something new.

Hansel and Gretel Fun Facts:

  • The original title for this story was Roland and May-Bird.
  • The title Hansel and Gretel originally belonged to a different plot, in which Hansel was turned into a deer and Gretel eventually married the prince who saved them.
  • The fairy tale that inspired the Grimm brothers’ Hansel and Gretel is a French story called The Lost Children, and is even more morbid. [Cela: Ew!]
  • The step-mother who abandoned her children was originally their real mother. The Grimm brothers changed the character into a step-mother after their stories became popular and they wanted to make them more acceptable to a wider audience.  [Cela: And obviously they knew what they were doing, because the rest, as they say, is fairy tale history….]

To learn more about Burning Rose, keep reading!

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Fairy tales retold as you have never heard them before

If you’re already looking for that perfect Christmas read for a fantasy lover or fairy tale fanatic on your list, then guess what? I have great news: your search can end here, because Burning Rose is the book for you!

Hope Ann’s work has everything a fantasy lover could want: strange creatures, interesting lore, bantering dialogue, threatening shadows, pulse-pounding adventure, and an underlying allegorical significance that ensures the parts add up to a greater whole. And if you love Christian fantasy in particular, then you’ll find much to appreciate in these resonant, interlocking stories.

Here’s a look at what you get in Burning Rose:

Rose of the Oath (Beauty and the Beast): As civil war threatens Aslaria, Elissa, a villager from the northern mountains, attempts to save her brother and ends up trapped in a hidden valley with a strange host and a treacherous enemy.

Song of the Sword (Rapunzel): The war is raging as Evrard, the Wingmaster of the Prince’s army, races against his own weakening powers to discover the location of his twin and save her from deadly mistbenders.

Shadows of the Hersweald (Hansel and Gretel): Although the war is finally over in Aslaria, the battle for individual loyalties rages on. Haydn, a pardoned rebel from Tauscher’s army, confronts shadows of myth and former comrades in his struggle to keep his sister safe and find the stolen Stormestone.

The collection also includes a bonus story, Rose of the Night (prequel to Rose of the Oath): Before the war, before the legends, before the Separation, there was a man who started it all. There was a curse, a promise, a sacrifice. There was the Oathkeeper.

Order Burning Rose now! (Available in paperback or for Kindle.)

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Hope Ann is a Christian wordsmith, avid reader, and dedicated author. Her time is taken up with writing, reading, playing with inspirational photos, blogging, helping care for the house and eight younger siblings, and generally enjoying the adventures of life on a small farm at the crossroads of America. She is the author of Legends of Light, and is currently working on several projects including a fantasy novel and futuristic trilogy. You can find out more about her at authorhopeann.com.

Make Mine Without Warts, Please

Earlier this year I read a biography: C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. by Alister McGrath. Although I admire McGrath, I have mixed feelings about the book.

On one hand, knowing something about an author’s life is useful in understanding their work. On the other, however, I’m not sure that exploring every single detail of an author’s life is useful in understanding their work.

A reader’s response to this biography (and others as well) will probably be shaped by why they’re interested in Lewis. I doubt everyone who simply loves Lewis’s work (fiction or non-fiction) will care for some of the questions it raises that are left unresolved. To be fair, it appears some of this information was revealed when Lewis’s letters were published several years ago, and also is likely to be explored in future works about Lewis and those with whom he was connected, so the author probably simply wanted to address extant information – certainly a challenging task!

Still, I came away with the conviction that delving into the complex question of Joy Davidman’s motivation for pursuing a relationship with Lewis does very little to shed light on Lewis’s work. Who can possibly claim to know exactly what Joy was thinking about Lewis before she met him? In the end, a marriage is between two spouses. The rest of us can only be, in a very real sense, ignorant outsiders, and raising questions that no one alive now can answer seems a fruitless quest. In my opinion, all such questions are best answered by A Grief Observed, Lewis’s passionate and poignant account of how he suffered after Joy died. Lewis documented the power of their relationship, and it’s absolutely clear that he was devastated by losing his friend, his colleague, and his love. What more do we need to know?

So: What’s to be learned from reading a “warts and all” biography about a favorite author? Perhaps for some people (who believe their own sins are unforgivable?) such a depiction might offer encouragement. After all, Lewis obviously relied on grace, mercy, and forgiveness rather than his own (non-existent) perfection, and as a result of that faith was able to speak the truth powerfully in his work. For it does take courage to write about truth when you know your own faults. You’re writing, after all, about ideals you can only hope and pray and strive to live for, knowing you will always fall short.

Fortunately, the book also followed the development of Lewis’s thought and how this was reflected in his writing: his pre-Christian poetry, followed by The Pilgrim’s Regress and his apologetic works, through his fiction, especially Narnia. I particularly enjoyed the reflective chapters on Narnia as the author unpacked how Lewis came to write the series, and what some of the underlying, unifying themes might be (e.g., see Planet Narnia, by Michael Ward).

In future, this type of analysis and reflection about the work rather than speculation about personalities is what I’ll be looking for when I read other books about Lewis. Already on my short list: Bandersnatch, and rereading Bright Shadow of Reality: Spiritual Longing in C.S. Lewis.

Review of The Prince of Fishes

I love fairy tale retellings that improve on the original, adding new facets of thematic depth and impact. I also love speculative fiction that asks an interesting question and then explores possible answers in unexpected, creative ways. Life is short, and while I enjoy being entertained, I often want more than that from the precious hours I can spend reading: I want to reflect on some important idea or truth. I want to read edifying stories.

So it’s always satisfying when these two loves converge, as they did for me in The Prince of Fishes, Suzannah Rowntree’s witty and poignant retelling of the Grimms’ tale The Fisherman and His Wife. [UPDATE: I recently found out that author Rowntree has published all four of her retold tales as a box set collection, available on Amazon for a terrific bargain price. I’ve read and enjoyed them all, and highly recommend them!]

Set in 8th century Byzantium, The Prince of Fishes offers a well-crafted and entertaining glimpse of a fascinating period of history. The Byzantine interest in clockwork mechanisms and automata provides a sort of medieval version of a steampunk vibe (clockpunk). And against this backdrop, everyone from the lowest rung on the social ladder all the way to the top is obsessed with theology, arguing the pros and cons of iconography with all the self-declared authority and enthusiasm of a classroom of newly-minted Philosophy 101 students.

The original Grimm story explores what happens when a human being is granted any wish she wants – not only once, but many times. In Grimm, the outcome is simple: Instead of becoming more contented, the fisherman’s wife becomes increasingly greedy, first for material comfort, and then for personal power. This is a true insight into human nature: more is never enough, and having secured to themselves all the luxury this world has to offer, many people continue to expand their grasp by wielding power over other individuals and then local concerns; if possible, they move on to entire nations, and even nature itself.

The Prince of Fishes takes this scenario a step further, showing us not only this critical character arc, but also the fisherman’s complicity in – one could say he is even the catalyst of – his wife’s guilt, making him a far more complex character than in the original. Best of all, the story explores the consequences of fulfilled wishes for society at large. In author Rowntree’s world, the fisherman and his wife rise only as others fall and life-changing events unfold. Thus we have a glimpse into the “interconnectedness” of the web of this world: to change the position of one thread results in the breaking of another. It is a profound depiction that is not only interesting and engaging, but makes one pause and think.

For me, this story became a moving meditation on the theology of prayer. how often have I, like the fisherman and his wife, begged God for some thing or event? But unlike them, I’ve often been frustrated when the answer appears to be a resounding “No.” To believe this “no” is the most merciful answer possible is a matter of faith. This story was a vivid and valuable reminder to me that I don’t know where all the threads connecting my life to the lives of the rest of the souls in this world are placed. Perhaps one day I’ll know much better how grateful I should be for “prayerful wishes” that have not been granted!

Review of Shadows of the Hersweald: A Hansel and Gretel Novella (Legends of Light Book 3)

Shadows of the Hersweald: A Hansel and Gretel Novella (Legends of Light Book 3) by Hope Ann

The war is over in Aslaria, but the battle for individual loyalties rages on. Violent rebels roam the countryside, wreaking havoc among their former comrades and the Prince’s followers alike.

From the very first page I was drawn into former rebel soldier Haydn’s world. The story opens shortly after his return home from the battlefield as he tries to pick up the pieces of his pre-war life. But tensions between old neighbors and newcomers to the village soon erupt into conflict, and Haydn is forced to face his dubious past to cope with the demands of the present.

The author has pulled off a challenging feat in this story: it is a compelling adventure that depicts an intriguing fantasy world, while exploring significant themes such as the hard fact that today’s forgiveness doesn’t prevent possible future offenses, with all their associated pain and suffering. How far should any human being be willing to go in an effort to prevent such a fate?

Shadows is a novella, but it feels like a novel. Don’t get me wrong: it is a fast, engrossing page-turner, but many writers would need two or three times the page count to immerse the reader in their world. So if you love fantasy but hesitate to invest in a new series because you don’t have time, wait no longer: This is a quick but satisfying read! The same holds true if you love fantasy but aren’t drawn to fairy tale retellings, per se: Although many elements of the original tale are present if you’re looking for them, the story stands on its own as fantasy. Read either way, it works.

And if you love Christian fantasy in particular, then you will find much to appreciate in this resonant story. After I finished Shadows, I realized that in some ways Hope Ann reminds me of the young Stephen R. Lawhead. Over the years, Lawhead’s work improved from book to book as he found his voice, honed his craft, and simply gained experience.

Hope Ann’s approach in Legends of Light feels more contemporary than Lawhead’s early fantasy novels, but they have everything a fantasy lover could want: strange creatures, interesting lore, bantering dialogue, threatening shadows, and an underlying significance that ensures the parts add up to a greater whole. With each new story she’s fleshed out Aslaria and its inhabitants so that the world now has real depth.

Best of all, the author’s storytelling gets better with each release. I don’t know if she intends to write more legends set in Aslaria – certainly there is plenty of room for her imagination to roam in this world – but no matter what she writes next, I’m very much looking forward to reading it!

Shadows of the Hersweald is already available for preorder on Amazon, and is scheduled for release on March 28.

Note: I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review of Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales

(For the thrilling backstory of my complicated relationship with fairy tales, please see my previous post, “I Came to Love You Late, Princess.”)

Dear reader, allow me to introduce you to a collection of stories well worth savoring: Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales.

If you read widely, caring less for genre boundaries than you do about discovering imaginative, well-crafted stories wherever you can find them, then I recommend this collection to you!

And if you love retold fairy tales for the sheer ingenuity of the thing – the joy of experiencing human creativity as it launches familiar themes into new genres and settings and characterizations, and explores well-traveled territory in fresh and inspiring ways – then I heartily recommend this collection to you!

Before I read Once, I was already a fan of Suzannah Rowntree, the author of Death Be Not Proud (a suspenseful retelling of Snow White and the Huntsman set against a spectacular New Zealand backdrop during the Jazz Age).  I also admired Hayden Wand, author of With Blossoms Gold (an absorbing and deeply moving Italian Renaissance reinterpretation of Rapunzel).

I was unfamiliar with the other contributing authors, but if these stories are representative of their work, then I’m very pleased to make their acquaintance!:

Elisabeth Grace Foley, The Mountain of the Wolf (a Little Red Riding Hood that both honors and questions classic Western themes of personal vengeance and vigilante justice);

Rachel Heffington, She But Sleepeth (an urban fantasy remake of Sleeping Beauty that moves from the contemporary dreamland of L.A. to the older dreamland of Romania while exploring the age-old conflict between love and death);

J. Grace Pennington, Rumpled (a whimsical and thought-provoking steampunk tale that re-imagines the original version of Rumpelstiltskin in a way that had me cheering by the end); and

Emily Ann Putzke, Sweet Remembrance (a poignantly evocative Little Match Girl set in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II).

Whether or not you like all of the tales in Once equally well might very well be a measure of how many different genres and historical time periods you normally enjoy reading.  But despite these differences, I found this collection to have a powerful unity of theme. That theme is courage:

Courage to surrender one’s bitterness for the hope of something better. Courage to love in the face of despair and even death. Courage to admit one’s need for mercy – and then extend it to another. Courage to face the darkest secrets of one’s past in order to have hope for the future. Courage to confront one’s deepest, most uncontainable fears for someone else’s sake.

For me, these things embody what I think of as the Queen Lucy of Narnia kind of courage.

Who doesn’t need a shot of that kind of courage? So allow me to encourage you to be good to yourself today: Read this book. Find refreshment. Find new courage. Enjoy.

Note: Although I received an ARC from the authors in exchange for an honest review, I’ve also purchased my own copy of Once on Amazon because I know I’ll reread it in the future, so I wanted to have the final, published version on my ebook shelf.