Bewitched retellings of thirteen classic fairy-tales with brave and resilient heroines. Tales of blood and intrigue, betrayal and enchantment from a leading Irish YA author – not for the faint-hearted or damsels in distress.
With 13 stunning black and white illustrations by new Irish illustrator Karen Vaughan.
I found this little gem in my favourite Dublin bookshop last summer and it took me no time at all to whisk it away. I mean, just look at it! The beautiful cover drew me in, the promise of feminist fairytale retellings and beautiful illustrations sold it, and it being thoroughly Irish in origin was the cherry on top. And what can I say: it was so worth its money!
The writing is stellar! Unique, mysterious, in-between the lines, and cleverly constructed reimaginings – just a tiny twist here, a shift in perspective there, and suddenly it’s something else entirely. Suddenly, the damsels and witches we all know from the tales of our childhood are taking centre stage. They get to narrate their stories, are finally freed from the patriarchal chains and are given agency. So refreshing! There are also numerous topics addressed and diversity interwoven. Whether it is fertility and motherhood, bullying and fat shaming, the many forms of abuse or just in general patriarchy at its worst, there’s also people of colour, LGBTQIA+ themes, and physical and neural divergence. What’s also quite unusual: most stories are written in second person, so it’s “you” that is addressed, which also makes it the reader’s story. The stories are accompanied by a full-page ink illustration by Karen Vaughan each. They are all very detailed and very much reminiscent of tradition and folklore and woodcuts. My two favourites are the ones for “Sister Fair” and “The Little Gift”.
Slippershod (Cinderella) had a rather hard time with me because I was still so very much stuck in the original fairytale that I anticipated all the tropes to sneak in around the corner. They didn’t. That’s when I finally cut myself loose and decided to expect the unexpected. Bringing in microsomia gave this tale a whole new dimension.
The Woodcutter’s Bride (Red Riding Hood) had me scratching my head. I reread several passages and yet I think I still didn’t get it. There was so much between the lines and I couldn’t decide where the big bad wolf was hiding – or what exactly has and is happening.
Come Live Here and Be Loved (Rapunzel) showed a very different side of the still unborn Rapunzel and her captor. I liked the topics of fertility, motherhood, and adoption and was a fan of the women deciding while the husband just stood by without a say in it.
You Shall Not Suffer … (Hansel and Gretel) is the story of the witch, who just wants to help others but is mistreated, bullied, fat shamed and ultimately misunderstood.
Meet the Nameless Thing and Call it Friend (Rumpelstilzkin) is very similar to the original with the simple but momentous exception that the young woman does not sit idly by but takes matters into her own hands.
Sister Fair (Fair, Brown and Trembling) is one of my favourites although I didn’t know of the original Irish fairytale. Not only has this a person of colour and one on the spectrum, it’s also the story about sisterhood. I loved how protective Fair was of her sisters and that she would do everything it takes to keep them safe.
Ash Pale (Snow White) is another favourite. Here, Snow White is not the helpless hunted girl but the Evil Queen. It’s so good!
Consume or Be Consumed (The Little Mermaid) is also very close to the original, but it gives an edge to the protagonist.
Doing Well (The Frog Prince) was really weird and uncanny but went out with a bang.
The Tender Weight (Bluebeard) is yet another favourite. This is not at all what you would expect considering the source material and I utterly loved it! Plus: no “girl is told not to do something, does it anyway and bad things happen” trope!
Riverbed (Donkeyskin) is quite disturbing but has a very satisfying ending.
The Little Gift (The Goose Girl), of which the original is one of my favourite fairytales, got all twisty. Told from the perspective of the imposter, this small shift has such huge consequences and shines a totally different light on the story without actually changing much.
Beauty and the Board (Beauty and the Beast) I couldn’t really get into. I did like the spin on the beauty and beast characters though.