Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review: Enchanted

Not to be confused with the book Ella Enchanted, I think I had heard a little bit about this book before but what really caught my eye was when I started hearing people talk about it's sequel earlier last year, a mash-up of fairy tales that sounded fairly neat. And what won me over in the description was a little poem which I had grown up knowing talking about the characteristics of people born on various days of the week. I had always resented my line a little bit, "Thursday's child has far to go," thinking that it meant that I would take a long time to grow up. That may still be the case but this series has interpreted it much more literally, as someone who wanders the world traveling and after that of course I wanted to read it, even if Thursday doesn't appear in this book at all.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

"And a thing that is born on the Sabbath day will be good and wise and fair and gay." Sunday was born on a Sunday like her name suggests and while she wouldn't call it a burden she does feel that as the youngest in her large family of woodcutters that she's missed out on the more interesting name day gifts, although the tendency of the stories she creates to come true hint that she has a rather powerful gift indeed. That's not what she's thinking of when she makes friends with an enchanted frog that lives by her well and certainly doesn't realize that it was her kiss that turned into back into a human, the prince of her kingdom that her family despises for letting their eldest son die years ago. Rumbold fell in love with Sunday as a frog, and she for him for that kiss to have worked, and wants to have her fall for him as a human as well but with the secrets that both of their families have that might be easier said than done, not even taking into account that even in fairy tales love doesn't always end happily.

In the back of the book Kontis mentions that the original idea for Enchanted came when she started a writing prompt which was to use two from a list of over 20 fantasy tropes in a drabble and she chose to use all of them. I've seen other stories do a similar thing before and I'm half tempted to say yes, THIS is how you do a fairy tale retelling, forget just rewriting one story that a hundred other people have already tackled when you can do all of them at once! I say that not just to be silly but because more often than not it works, when you take inspiration from so many different places it ceases to be a reworking of any one particular tale but a story with many tropes dipping and weaving around and there's a certain amount of fun catching a reference that the author has slipped into the background of the setting. I can't remember even half of the little nods Kontis put in this book, or sadly any specific examples. but I remember being surprised at how many she worked in and how obscure some of the stories were.

If I sounded a little condescending earlier I didn't mean it since I really did enjoy this book just as much as I had hoped. Sunday and Rumbold were interesting characters and I was glad to see that other characters in the book seemed to share my views that Sunday was a bit slow on the uptake that her frog was now the prince and that Rumbold was being a little manipulative by not outright telling her. This is not only one of the few stories I can think of where someone falls in love with an enchanted animal and then the story continues on after the spell is broken (East, an "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" retelling by Edith Pattou also did this but that's part of the original tale) but this is the only one I can think of that follows both the girl and the boy afterwards and I rather liked that since Rombold is the clear deuteragonist in this story. His family is the cause of half the trouble for Sunday's and he was less cursed to be a frog than spelled, he's the one with the great character development here, although he starts off as way more of an unlikable character so this makes sense. I really liked watching the two of them get to know each other all over again, it was quite frankly adorable, and while I had been worried that the story might be a little "light" with such a simple premise the subplots came together nicely to help carry the story (not quite on the same level that say Diana Wynne Jones would weave together subplots but in a similar vein). It was an imaginative, fast-paced book with fun characters, good usage of foreshadowing and general knowlege of fairy tales to keep the tone just right, and I now really can't wait for my library to get Hero in!