Sonderling Sunday – Grimms Märchen

It’s Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books, or, in this case, the English translation of German fairy tales. I hope that this post is fun for everyone, whether or not you speak any German.

I’m not sure what took me so long to think of Grimm’s fairy tales. I bought my German edition of this Klassiker der Weltliteratur (classic of world literature) at Sababurg, the castle where the Grimm brothers traditionally set the story of “Sleeping Beauty.” My English edition was given to me by Jeff Conner, the librarian who first hired me to work in a library. It was an excellent choice! So both books mean a lot to me.

I don’t think I’ll go straight through the fairy tales. I’ll start with something more well-known. There are 158 in my German edition, but 211 in my English one. I guess that’s why it calls itself “complete.”

Since I purchased the German edition at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, why not begin with “Sleeping Beauty,” known in German as Dornröschen (“Briar Rose,” or, more literally, “Little Thorn Rose,” but we’d never call her that!)

Now, my English edition may not be a direct translation of this exact German edition, but it does seem pretty similar, so I have things I can work with.

I like the first sentence of the German edition, with all its alliteration:

Ein König und eine Königin kriegten gar keine Kinder, und hätten so gern eins gehabt.
This translates to: “A king and a queen had absolutely no children, and wanted one very much.”

The English edition puts it more beautifully: “In times past there lived a King and Queen, who said to each other every day of their lives, ‘Would that we had a child!’ and yet they had none.”

In the next part, the English is again wordier, and again I like all those K’s:
Einmal sa? die Königin im Bade, da kroch ein Krebs aus dem Wasser ans Land und sprach:
My translation: “Once when the queen sat in the bath, there crept a toad out of the water onto the land and spoke:”
In the book: “But it happened once that when the Queen was bathing, there came a frog out of the water, and he squatted on the ground, and said to her,”

I’ll continue with cool phrases:

Feen = “wise women” (Google translates it “fairies,” which is what I expected.)

Tugend = “virtue”

Schönheit = “beauty”

was nur auf der Welt herrlich und zu wünschen war = “whatever there is in the world to wish for”

recht zornig (direct translation is “right furious” — doesn’t that sound King James English?) = “burning to revenge herself”

an einer Spindel sich stechen = “prick herself with a spindle” (That one’s better in German…)

und tot hinfallen wird = “and shall fall down dead” (…but this one’s better in English.)

ershraken = “were terrified”

abgeschafft = “burned up” (direct translation: “abolished”)

die Tauben auf dem Dach = “the pigeons on the roof”

die Hunde im Hof = “the dogs in the yard”

die Fliegen an den Wänden = “the flies on the wall”

ja das Feuer, das auf dem Herd flackerte = “the very fire that flickered on the hearth.”

der Braten hörte auf zu brutzeln = “the meat on the spit ceased roasting”

aber sie Hecke nicht hindurchdringen = “but they couldn’t get through the hedge” (My translation)

es war als hielten sich die Dornen fest wie an Händen zusammen = “the thorns held fast together like strong hands”

und sie bleiben darin hängen und kamen jämmerlich um = “and the young men were caught by them, and not being able to get free, there died a lamentable death” (I like jämmerlich for “lamentable” — It makes me think of “Quit your yammering!”)

sie wären aber in den Dornen hängengeblieben und totgestochen worden
My translation: “But they were in the thorns still hanging and stabbed to death.”
In the book: “they had been caught and pierced by the thorns, and had died a miserable death”

Da war der Königssohn so erstaunt über ihre Schönheit, da? er sich bückte und sie kü?te
= “And when he saw her looking so lovely in her sleep, he could not turn away his eyes; and presently he stooped and kissed her”

From that, I especially like:
erstaunt über ihre Schönheit = “astonished over her beauty” (my translation)
er sich bückte und sie kü?te = “he bent and kissed her”

der Braten brutzelte fort = “the spit began to roast”

und der Koch gab dem Küchenjungen eine Ohrfeige = “and the cook gave the scullion a box on the ear”

und die Magd rupfte das Huhn fertig = “and the maid went on plucking the fowl”

And to finish off:
Da wurde die Hochzeit von dem Königssohn mit Dornröschen gefeiert, und sie lebten vergnügt bis an ihr Ende.
= “Then the wedding of the Prince and Rosamond was held with all splendor, and they lived very happily together until their lives’ end.”

How about you? How would you translate some of these phrases into other languages? Any fun ones come up?

Review of Starry River of the Sky, by Grace Lin

Starry River of the Sky

by Grace Lin

Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2012. 288 pages.
Starred Review

Grace Lin has surpassed herself! Her companion novel, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, also wove Chinese fairy tales into the larger narrative, and it deservedly won a Newbery Honor. I think Starry River of the Sky is even better. You do not at all need to have read the earlier book to appreciate this one. A few characters appear in both, but each story is completely self-contained.

The first paragraph sets the stage, with the Moon missing, and Rendi stowing away in a cart.

Rendi was not sure how long the moon had been missing. He knew only that for weeks, the wind seemed to be whimpering as if the sky were suffering. At first, he had thought the moans were his own because his whole body ached from hiding in the merchant’s moving cart. However, it was when the cart had stopped for the evening, when the bumping and knocking had ended, that the groans began.

Rendi is caught stowing away, but the innkeeper at the Inn of Clear Sky lets him stay on as an errand boy. He doesn’t feel grateful, but he sees no way to move on. Then a beautiful woman comes to the inn. She talks to old, slow-witted Mr. Shan and she begins to tell stories to Rendi and Peiyi, the innkeeper’s daughter. But she won’t continue to share stories unless Rendi will tell a story himself.

Through the stories, and through events, we see Rendi begin to change. And problems are solved. But what is a boy to such overwhelming problems as a missing moon, parched and drying land, Peiyi’s missing brother, and Rendi’s own identity. Many people in this book are angry, and Grace Lin weaves a tale where we want them to find peace, and we come to believe they can do what it takes to put their anger aside.

Grace Lin is also an artist, so each chapter has a drawing at the start of each chapter, and there are gorgeous full color pictures every few chapters. The stories told within the chapters get their own font as well as small colored pictures on each side of the story’s name. The book is a delight to hold and look at.

Although this isn’t exactly a beginning chapter book, the language is simple and the concepts are all well within the grasp of an elementary age child. This would be a wonderful choice for reading to a classroom or reading to children at bedtime.

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Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Once Upon a Toad, by Heather Vogel Frederick

Once Upon a Toad

by Heather Vogel Frederick

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012. 263 pages.

I always like fairy tale take-offs, and this book takes elements from the classic fairy tale “Toads and Diamonds” and puts them in a modern context, with two stepsisters living in Portland.

What would you do if you suddenly started spouting toads any time you made a vocal noise? And what if your mean stepsister, at the same time, started spouting flowers and diamonds?

This isn’t intended to be an exact copy of the fairy tale, set in modern times. No, the idea for the spell in this story was taken from the classic fairy tale. Only it got a bit muddled, and the stepsister we would have called the good one (since she is, after all, the narrator) is the one who got the toads.

Cat Starr has to live with her father’s new family while her mother is in outer space (really!) on the International Space Station. That wouldn’t be so bad — Cat loves her Dad and her little brother and gets along great with her stepmother — if it weren’t that she had to share a room with her stepsister and go to middle school classes with her. They have nothing in common, it seems, and Olivia can be just plain mean.

But when Cat talks it over with Great-Aunt Abyssinia, she’s not at all prepared for what happens next.

This is a fun take-off on the fairy tale. There are plenty of implausibilities. There are bumbling crooks, sinister government figures, and some mysterious magic happening a bit randomly. But, hey, when were fairy tales ever plausible?

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Beauty and the Werewolf, by Mercedes Lackey

Beauty and the Werewolf

by Mercedes Lackey

Luna, 2011. 329 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve read all of Mercedes Lackey’s Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each one. They aren’t fairy tale retellings. In some ways they’re fairy tale improvements. They tell us stories of people in fairy tale situations and show us those people figuring out how to come up with a happy ending, despite what the Tradition might want to push them toward.

That’s how magic works in the Five Hundred Kingdoms. The Tradition builds up around people in fairy tale situations and uses its power to point them into storybook lives. But that often doesn’t turn out nicely for the people involved. The books about these people are clever and funny and anyone who’s ever enjoyed fairy tales will find great satisfaction out of seeing how the characters foil tradition.

Beauty and the Werewolf starts out as a Red Riding Hood variant. Bella is taking some gifts to Granny, the local herb witch. In this story, the woodsman is the villain, not a man Bella likes at all. But when she’s attacked in the night by a lone wolf, the next day she is taken to his manor. It turns out that he’s a werewolf who was supposed to be secluded during the full moon. Now Bella must wait in his palace to see if she will transform into a wolf as well. And, of course, now she’s playing out Beauty and the Beast.

One thing I like about these books is how she picks and chooses elements, and sometimes leaves out the unpleasant ones. Bella’s stepsisters are sweet, if flighty. She gets to see her father through a magic mirror, and it does provide comfort. We even find out the story behind the invisible servants eventually. Bella’s the one who immediately thinks to have them wear armbands so she can tell where they are. (Well, duh! Mercedes Lackey brings practical thinking to these fairy tales!)

Bella’s smart, independent, and enterprising. We’re not surprised when she doesn’t wait quietly to find out if she’s going to turn into a beast herself. She’s not one to let the Tradition push her around. Once again, this is thoroughly enjoyable reading.

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Review of Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu


by Anne Ursu

Walden Pond Press, 2011. 312 pages.

Okay, everything I have to say is coming from a background that I did enjoy this book. I love that someone wrote a book rich in children’s literature and fairy tale references. I love that this book is about friendship and uses fairy tale themes to show a kid’s problems with her real-life friendships.

My biggest problem with this book was no fault of its own: It is a modern retelling of the fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” I have never really liked “The Snow Queen.” But worse than that is I had just read and loved the Mercedes Lackey book for adults called The Snow Queen. In it, Mercedes Lackey exposes the characters in the traditional fairy tale for how extremely dysfunctional they are. So that made it harder for me to be wholeheartedly with Hazel, the girl in Breadcrumbs.

In Breadcrumbs, Hazel’s best friend Jack suddenly stops talking to her and then disappears in suspicious circumstances. He’s been taken by the Snow Queen, and his heart has magical icicles in it. Hazel believes that a friend doesn’t give up on a friend. She goes into the enchanted forest on a perilous quest to save him.

I was a little annoyed by Hazel’s lack of direction in her quest. She kept thinking she had to travel on, but how did she know that would do any good? It seemed like she got lucky to find Jack at all. Though I did like the story and the characters from fairy tales that she found in the woods. The part of the story set in the real world seemed very realistic and well-rendered. I liked that Jack and Hazel were firmly children, and this was about friendship, not romance. I liked the way Hazel makes a new friend even though she’s pursuing Jack. I like Hazel’s Uncle Jack and his insight into fairy tales.

But I can’t get away from that I just don’t like the Snow Queen story. In this book, Hazel’s mother has recently been divorced. The author doesn’t come out and say it, and maybe I read into the story, but for me this really pointed out “The Snow Queen” as a metaphor for divorce. When Hazel talks about how you don’t give up on a friend, even if he’s chosen to leave you, I can’t help but feel she was reproaching her mother. For what is a husband but a best friend?

Mind you, I very much doubt other people will get this out of the book. I’m awfully sensitive, with my recent divorce. I realized as I read the book that I would have loved Hazel’s story to be my story. I would have loved to give my all, to quest through ice and through dangers for my Best Friend. Even though he was cold and lonely and miserable and no longer remembered our years of love and friendship, I would have done anything to bring him back, to make him alive and loving again. (And I really like thinking of the Other Woman as an Ice Witch.)

But the fact is, I’ve been spending the last few years learning to let my best friend go. I’m the very person who can’t break the spell, and I need to go out and enjoy the springtime rather than plunge through the snow trying to bring someone back who doesn’t want to come back.

So, it was hard for me to properly enjoy Hazel’s story.

But I’m very much looking forward to whatever Anne Ursu writes next. I love what she brought to this book, and I think the chances are good that her next book won’t happen to have so much baggage built in for me.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy

The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

by Christopher Healy

Walden Pond Press, 2012. 438 pages.
Starred Review

Have you ever noticed how many fairy tales claim that the hero action was done by Prince Charming? The author of this book explains that there’s a reason for that.

Blame the lazy bards. You see, back in the day, bards and minstrels were the world’s only real source of news. It was they who bestowed fame on people. They were the ones who sculpted any hero’s (or villain’s) reputation. Whenever something big happened — a damsel was rescued, a dragon was slain, a curse was broken — the royal bards would write a song about it, and their wandering minstrels would perform that tune from land to land, spreading the story across multiple kingdoms. But the bards weren’t keen on details. They didn’t think it was important to include the names of the heroes who did all that damsel rescuing, dragon slaying, and curse breaking. They just called all those guys “Prince Charming.”

It didn’t even matter to the bards whether the person in question was a truly daring hero (like Prince Liam, who battled his way past a bone-crushing, fire-blasting magical monster in order to free a princess from an enchanted sleeping spell) or some guy who merely happened to be in the right place at the right time (like Prince Ducan, who also woke a princess from a sleeping spell, but only because some dwarfs told him to). No, those bards gave a man the same generic name whether he nearly died (like Prince Gustav, who was thrown from a ninety-foot tower when he tried to rescue Rapunzel) or simply impressed a girl with his dancing skill (like Prince Frederic, who wowed Cinderella at a royal ball).

If there was anything that Liam, Duncan, Gustav, and Frederic all had in common, it was that none of them were very happy about being a Prince Charming. Their mutual hatred of that name was a big part of what brought them together. Not that teaming up was necessarily the best idea for these guys.

That’s the narrator getting ahead of himself. The Princes Charming don’t start out teaming up. Things start when Cinderella decides Prince Frederic has too little sense of adventure. She wants to go find Rapunzel, who really seems to have adventures. She ends up getting involved with a witch, and Gustav and Frederic try to save her. Meanwhile, Prince Liam discovers that Briar Rose is not a nice person at all. He doesn’t want to marry her. But she has her little ways of getting revenge.

But all four princes encounter one another and end up having to fight the witch, who now has a big plot to massacre thousands, including the princes and destroy the kingdoms.

This book is very funny, and a great twist on all the old fairy tale themes. I think this would be excellent classroom reading that would keep an elementary class hooked day after day.

Now, I myself thought the first hundred pages or so were hilarious. After that, it started to drag for me. It wasn’t really less funny; it was just going on and on and on. I’d happily read a chapter a night, but not until the last hundred pages or so did I get absorbed enough to finish up, so the book took me more than a week to finish. I would have liked it a good bit shorter, but I doubt that kids will mind.

The author keeps his irreverent and humorous tone throughout the book. Here’s where Frederic meets Gustav:

Over the years, Frederic had met his fair share of other princes. None of them were anything like this prince of Sturmhagen. Gustav was so gruff. He had no patience, no manners, and ridiculously poor communication skills. Frederic could only presume the man’s flamenco dancing was just as awkward.

Lots of silliness; lots of surprises; lots of fun coincidences. My only complaint is that it runs long-winded, but the better to keep kids entertained, right? And judging by the “Book 1” on the side, there will be more to come in the future.

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Review of Cinder, by Marissa Meyer


The Lunar Chronicles: Book One

by Marissa Meyer

Feiwel and Friends, New York, 2012. 390 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve always loved fairy-tale retellings, but this science fiction version of Cinderella is even better than most. Once again, I stayed up all night reading to finish the book, even though I know that’s not good for me. But the book was so good! Since I was able to take a nap the next day, I’m afraid my bad behavior was reinforced, and it was totally worth it.

Cinder is set in New Beijing, 126 years after the end of the fourth world war, after which the kingdoms of the earth have been at peace. They’ve been at peace, but not without problems. There’s a plague raging, and even the Emperor of the Eastern Alliance is sick with it.

Linh Cinder is a cyborg, which is why she’s a second-class citizen. She’s 63.72% human, but she has some machine parts, like her left hand and foot, and some brain and sensory enhancements. She doesn’t remember anything from before the accident and fire that burned her when she was eleven years old.

Since her adoptive father died, Cinder’s been the one making a living for her family as a mechanic. She’s a good mechanic, as her cyborg enhancements give her special abilities, but she’s surprised when Prince Kai brings in an old android that needs repair.

Cinder barely heard him above the blankness in her mind. With her heartbeat gathering speed, her retina display scanned his features, so familiar from years spent watching him on the netscreens. He seemed taller in real life and a gray hooded sweatshirt was like none of the fine clothes he usually made appearances in, but still, it took only 2.6 seconds for Cinder’s scanner to measure the points of his face and link his image to the net database. Another second and the display informed her of what she already knew; details scribbled across the bottom of her vision in a stream of green text.

There’s something important about the android, but Prince Kai has many other things to worry about. The evil queen of the Lunar Colony wants to marry an earth emperor. But the people who live on the moon have evolved the ability to control the minds of others. If she marries Kai, she will enslave the people of his country as she has her own. But she can apply powerful pressure.

In the meantime, there is a draft of cyborg “volunteers” to test potential plague antidotes. When Cinder’s stepmother decides it’s time for Cinder to “volunteer,” Cinder learns some surprising new things about herself. But she also runs into the prince again.

This book takes the framework of the fairy tale and plays with it. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that instead of losing a shoe when she leaves the ball, Cinder loses a foot. I admit I was sad that there wasn’t a fairy godmother in this story, because I wanted that for Cinder, but it’s quite amazing what she manages to accomplish herself.

And there’s no Happily Ever After yet for Cinder, but the title page warned that this is Book One, so I didn’t expect it. But at the same time, it tells a satisfying story, following the Cinderella basic framework, yet adding in an intricate plot all its own. The future world is credibly and skilfully built. And the romance between Cinder and the Prince is done well.

I’m going to want to read the next volumes just as soon as they come out. Though I will definitely try to start very early on an evening when I have no other plans.

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Review of Wisdom’s Kiss, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Wisdom’s Kiss

A Thrilling and Romantic Adventure, Incorporating Magic, Villainy, and a Cat

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011. 284 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another fairy-tale-type story set in the world of Princess Ben. In fact, Princess Ben, as a grandmother, makes an appearance, though you don’t at all have to have read her story to understand what’s going on.

Wisdom’s Kiss centers around two princesses, named Temperance and Wisdom. They are granddaughters of Queen Benevolence and share the tradition of character-based names in the kingdom of Montagne. The story is also about Trudy, a young maid with the Sight. She loves the miller’s son Tips, who has gone off to learn to be an acrobat, and an excellent one.

Despite his mother’s machinations toward the throne of Montagne, Duke Roger of Farina is betrothed to Wisdom, the younger sister. She must travel to Farina for the wedding, and along the way she gets a new lady-in-waiting, Trudy, even though when Trudy looks at Wisdom, she feels great pain.

But then Tips’ troupe is performing in the capital of Montagne, and when Wisdom sees him, she finds out what she really aspires to. But royal betrothals are not easily gotten out of.

This is a fun story, with very creative story-telling, including several different perspectives, The Imperial Encyclopedia of Lax, letters, and a play script. The plot moves along with nice twists and turns and is never the least bit boring.

A lot hinges on love at first sight, which I wasn’t crazy about, but mostly everyone’s actions seem true to character, and even that love seems to have a basis in the characters of the people involved.

This is an entertaining tale, creatively told, and does include romance, magic, and villainy to delight all readers.

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Review of Cloaked in Red, by Vivian Vande Velde

Cloaked in Red

by Vivian Vande Velde

Marshall Cavendish, 2010. 127 pages.

I loved Vivian Vande Velde’s The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, so I made sure to snap up Cloaked in Red when I heard about it.

In both books, she takes a fairy tale you thought you knew, and casts it in a very different light. Okay, several different lights. She looks at the story from many different perspectives.

Her Author’s Note at the beginning makes some fun points:

“There are different versions, but they all start with a mother who sends her daughter into the woods, where there is not only a wolf, but a talking, cross-dressing wolf. We are never told Little Red Riding Hood’s age, but her actions clearly show that she is much too young, or too dimwitted, to be allowed out of the house alone.”

Or how about the heroine’s unusual name?

“And what happened later in life, when Little Red Riding Hood was no longer little? Did she shift to ‘Medium-Sized Blue-Beaded Sweater’? Did she eventually become ‘Size-Large and Yes-That-DOES-Make-Your-Butt-Look-Enormous Jeans’?”

I love the way she points out how unlikely it all is. Here’s Red in the cottage:

“I don’t like to criticize anyone’s family, but I’m guessing these people are not what you’d call close. Little Red doesn’t realize a wolf has substituted himself for her grandmother. I only met my grandmother three times in my entire life, but I like to think I would have noticed if someone claiming to be my grandmother had fur, fangs, and a tail.

“But Little Red, instead of becoming suspicious, becomes rude.

“‘My,’ she says — as far as she knows — to her grandmother, ‘what big arms you have.’

Big she notices. Apparently hairy and clawed escape her.”

Vivian Vande Velde concludes her introduction with these words:

“However you look at it, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is a strange and disturbing story that should probably not be shared with children.

“That is why I’ve gone ahead and written eight new versions of it.”

The eight stories that follow are amazingly varied, even though you can see how they relate to the fairy tale. These ones seemed darker to me than the ones in The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, but then “Little Red Riding Hood” is a quite dark and violent tale.

We’ve got one from the perspective of pretty much every one in the story. I like the one where Jakob and Wilhelm, the dimwitted Grimm brothers, sons of a woodcutter, misunderstand when Grandma’s talking about making a wolf draft-stopper for her granddaughter. My favorite is probably the one about the nice wolf who is trying to be helpful after an annoying little girl steps on his tail, screams, and drops her basket.

“The wolf inhaled deeply the tantalizing smells of meat and baked goods, and was strongly tempted to gobble everything up. But his mother had raised him better than that.

“‘Little girl!’ he called after the fleeing child. He could no longer see her, though her shrieks trailed behind her like a rat’s tail. ‘You forgot your food!’

“Apparently the little girl could not understand wolf speech any more than the wolf could understand human speech, since she didn’t come back.

“If the wolf hadn’t had such a deeply held moral belief system, he could have convinced himself that by leaving the basket behind, the girl had forsaken her rights to it. But, instead, he picked up the basket in his teeth, then loped through the trees, following the trails of wailing, crushed forest vegetation and human scent.”

Reading this book makes me want to try my hand at rewriting fairy tales. Above all, all the variations are clever and inventive and a nice exercise in how point of view changes a story.

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Review of The Snow Queen, by Mercedes Lackey

The Snow Queen

by Mercedes Lackey

Luna, 2008. 331 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Fantasy Fiction

Mercedes Lackey’s Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms are exactly the sort of books I thoroughly enjoy. I don’t think it’s necessary to have read the earlier books to enjoy the current one, but characters from previous books are mentioned, and if you’ve read them you already understand the key to that world: The Tradition.

The Tradition is a powerful magic woven through that world, molding people’s lives into fairy tale format. It falls to a league of Godmothers to bend the Tradition to good results and avert tragedy.

I never really liked the story of the Snow Queen. I love the way Mercedes Lackey twists it. In this version, the Snow Queen is the heroine. She’s a Godmother who saves selfish and spoiled boys from ruining their lives completely.

Here’s the Snow Queen, Aleksia, thinking about Kay, the latest boy to come to her Ice Palace:

“He could be redeemed — he would not be here, in the Palace of Ever-Winter, the home of the Ice Fairy, if he was not capable of redemption. The Tradition had made that part clear enough by building such an enormous store of magic about him that, if Aleksia had waited until Winter to fetch him, he would have found his initials written in frost on the windowpane, snowmen having taken on his features when he passed, and the cold having grown so bitter that wildlife would have been found frozen in place. Even so, things had gotten to the point that Ravens had taken to following him, which was a very ominous sign had he but known it. Presumably if Aleksia had done nothing, and no other wicked magician had discovered him and virtually eaten him alive for the sake of that power, he would have gone to the bad all by himself. He was too self-centered and arrogant to have escaped that particular fate — and most likely, given his turn of mind, he would have become a Clockwork Artificer, one of those repellant individuals who tried to reduce everything to a matter of gears and levers, and tried to imprison life itself inside metal simulacrums. While not usually dangerous to the public at large the way, say, the average necromancer was, Clockwork Artificers could cause a great deal of unhappiness — and in their zeal to recreate life itself, sometimes resorted to murder.

“Judging by the Ravens, Kay would have become one of that sort.

“The only cure for this affliction was a shock, a great shock to the system. One that forced the youngster to confront himself, one that isolated him from the rest of the world immediately, rather than gradually. He had to lose those he still cared for, at least marginally, all at once. He had to learn that people meant something to him, before they ceased to.”

And I love the lesson Aleksia has for the other character in the story:

“It took two to make this dance, and Kay’s little friend Gerda, the girl who loved him with all her heart, who was currently trudging toward the next episode in her own little drama, was the coconspirator in The Traditional Path that ended in a Clockwork Artificer. Her nature was as sweet as her face, her will as pliant as a grass-stem and her devotion to Kay unswerving, no matter how much he neglected her. She needed redemption almost as much as Kay did. Such women married their coldhearted beloveds, made every excuse for them, smoothed their paths to perdition, turned a blind eye to horrors and even, sometimes, participated in the horrors themselves on the assumption that the Beloved One knew best. Gerda required a spine, in short, and an outlook rather less myopic than the one she currently possessed. And this little quest she was on was about to give her one.”

But Kay and Gerda’s story is on the beginning of this book about Aleksia, the Snow Queen. Because someone else is impersonating her. Someone else is calling herself the Snow Queen and abducting promising young men. Aleksia needs to find out what is going on. She’s not used to having adventures of her own, living alone in the Ice Palace. But this time, setting things right means Aleksia has to get involved herself.

Mercedes Lackey spins a good tale! I love her cleverness in weaving in all the ways the Tradition works. I read lots and lots of fairy tales when I was a little girl, and Mercedes Lackey brings up themes and tropes I’d all but forgotten. I love the whole concept of godmothers bending the Tradition to go the way they want it to — having to know what sorts of things work. That amounts to a vast knowledge of fairy tales.

And as well as inventive use of fairy tale themes, since there are five hundred kingdoms, each book presents a different culture and heritage. This one deals with the Sammi, a people of the far North. We also get new characters in each book (with some mentions of previous characters), and I love looking at the aspect of what life would be like for a powerful Ice Fairy. It would indeed most likely get lonely. There’s always a touch of romance in these books, too.

This book was one that simply made me smile. It was precisely the type of light-hearted reading I was looking for at the time. I had actually purchased the book when it first came out, but then never got it read because it didn’t have a due date. Well, I recently made myself a rule to alternate between library books and books I own. Then I heard that Mercedes Lackey’s next book was coming out, so I thought I really should read this one I bought some time ago. I was so glad I did!

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.