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.