Burning Rose Cover Reveal

If you’ve been following this blog (or my reviews on Goodreads) for the past year then you know I’m a fan of Hope Ann’s retold fairy tales. Legends of Light is an interlocking series of epic fantasy adventures with underlying allegorical themes, and I’m very pleased to show you the fantastic cover she’s just revealed for the upcoming box set of her first three tales, titled Burning Rose. This is one of the best covers I’ve seen in a while. I absolutely love it!

If you want to learn more about Burning Rose, visit Hope Ann’s site – she’s offering a free prequel to the box set, which should whet your appetite for more!

Cover design by Kate Flournoy.The Burning Rose

Five Poisoned Apples

If you are a fan of retold fairy tales, then you’ll be glad to know that Rooglewood Press is sponsoring a writing contest in the genre.  Rooglewood has previously published three popular collections of winning tales, which are available on Amazon: Five Glass Slippers (Cinderella), Five Enchanted Roses (Beauty and the Beast), and Five Magic Spindles (Sleeping Beauty). If you love retold fairy tales, check them out!

This year’s theme is Snow White, and the collection of winning stories will be titled Five Poisoned Apples. Sadly, this will be the last contest, so if you are a writer (or aspire to write), now is the time to check out the rules and follow your muse in Snow White’s direction! Although I already have several works in progress, I do have an idea for retelling Snow White, so – we’ll see where it leads! I’ll keep you posted.

Here is a peek at the Five Poisoned Apples cover. Cover photography is by Wynter Clark. Cover design is by Julia Popova.

FivePoisonedApples

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.

I Came to Love You Late, Princess

For the last several years, I’ve ignored the burgeoning interest in retold fairy tales. Until recently, I didn’t even recognize some of the fairy tale themes in my own stories!

Why? In truth, I was never a fan of many fairy tales to begin with. Or rather, it was not so much fairy tales that I had a problem with (I was fascinated by the story of Hansel and Gretel). It would be more accurate to say that I was never a fan of Disney princesses.

Those princesses were always beautiful, and even as a tot I knew I would never look like them. They were loved by all except the truly wicked, and I knew I could never hope to inspire such admiration. Handsome princes were willing to brave all kinds of peril for their love. Yeah, right.

So when it came to Disney, I was not charmed by Cinderella. Instead, I loved Bambi and his forest friends, and I put up with Snow White for the sake of the dwarves. I was most impressed by Mary Poppins, who always knew the right thing to do, and came and went as she pleased, courtesy of her levitating umbrella.

In truth, songs like “Someday My Prince Will Come” made me want to hurl.

As I grew older, I loved Lucy Pevensie, who skipped being a princess altogether and went straight to being a Queen of Narnia. Her gift from Father Christmas wasn’t a doll, but a dagger – and a cool healing cordial (which certainly would come in handy following any adventures involving said dagger). She rode into battle with the other archers. She loved sailing toward adventure with her shipmates on the Dawn Treader.

More importantly, Lucy loved her brother Edmund so much that even in the face of his betrayal she begged Aslan to help him. She was kind to her spiteful cousin Eustace. She was willing to risk her life to save her companions by facing the Magician’s magic book alone.

In so many ways, Lucy had the kind of courage I wanted to have. I wanted to be like her. I still do.

For above all else Lucy knew her own faults, and was sorry for them. But she also knew that Aslan knew her as well or better than she knew herself, and that he loved her, as she loved him. This gave her hope.

Queen Lucy never appeared to be pining away, waiting for her prince to come. I mean, sure, she missed Aslan when he wasn’t physically present in Narnia, but … that’s not the same thing, right?

Hmmm….

Which leads me back to the current popularity of retold fairy tales. Turns out a fairy tale (as I’m sure countless others have observed before me) has become something like the tofu of the literary world – a template that is used to cook up a story flavored with whatever one likes:  Materialism. Eroticism. “I Am the Captain of My Soulism.”

Many tales, however (for reasons that deserve a separate post), are especially well-suited to depicting a God-centered view of reality. Therefore, I set out to find some retellings that resonate for me.

And guess what? I found an entire collection! Coming soon: A review of Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales.