January 4, 2014

Book Review Column: And Now for Something Completely Different, By Lissa Sloan (Cobweb Bride and Fairy Tales by Terry Jones)

Lissa Sloan's avatar, by Lissa Sloan
And Now for Something Completely Different:  In which I review two books which are, well, not completely different, but at least original fairy tales, one by a Python.  (Cobweb Bride and Fairy Tales)

Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian

Persephone Ayren’s grandmother is dying:  so is an old monarch, a young princess, and a group of soldiers on a frozen battlefield.  But they cannot die, because Death has refused to take any more souls until he is united with his Cobweb Bride.  In an effort to put the world to rights, it is decreed that each family send one girl of marriageable age to Death’s Keep to offer herself as a potential bride.  Persephone is not pretty like her older sister, or amiable like her younger sister, but she can do this service for her family.  And there is something else Percy can do—she can see the shadow of Death, lingering beside the souls who should be dead.  Not knowing if she will ever return, Persephone leaves her village, drawing to her an assortment of other potential brides as she journeys to Death’s Keep, braving uncertainty, bitter cold, and a hostile army, led by a fearsome black knight. 

Cobweb Bride is Vera Nazarian’s first book in the Cobweb Bride Trilogy.  Despite the main character’s name, and underworld-inspired place names such as Lethe, Stygia, and Styx, Cobweb Bride seems less like a re-telling of the Persephone myth, or of fairy tales in which Death stops, but more an original story inspired by them.  There is definitely a fairy tale feel to the idea of lonely Death wanting a bride, and of the girls’ quest to seek him.  Nazarian also adds many intriguing elements to her story, which, along with the main idea, are its strongest features.  She digs deeply into the question of what would happen if the dead could not truly die.  Her answers are fascinating and, at times, extremely disturbing.  The characters facing the consequences of this world turned upside down include a young nobleman who is compelled to serve the woman he murdered, and a knight oath-bound to do the unholy bidding of his undead father who is enjoying his “immortality”.  Unfortunately, this book seems less a complete story, and more the first act of one.   Obviously there are two more books to come, but I prefer parts of a series to be satisfying on their own, even if there is an over-arching storyline connecting them.  However, Cobweb Empire (book 2) is already out, and I will likely follow Persephone’s continued journey, because I really do want to see how it ends.

Fairy Tales by Terry Jones

Fairy Tales is a collection of 30 new fairy tales by Monty Python’s Terry Jones.  While the original was published in 1981, a new edition came out in 2011 and only recently crossed my path.  Some stories, like "Why Birds Sing in the Morning," and "The Sea Tiger," have the feel of origin stories or Kipling’s Just So Stories.  Others, like "The Ship of Bones," are more like ghost stories.  Most, however, simply feel like traditional fairy tales you’ve just never heard before.  There are clever princesses, simple boys, fairies, robbers, monsters, and goblins.  They have classic themes such as bravery, honesty, greed, wisdom, foolishness, and opportunities gained or lost. 

Jones tells these stories with a spare style typical of the Grimm brothers, but with a spark of silliness thrown in here and there.  There is a silly king who hits people with a haddock, a monster who changes into a rabbit, and a beast with a dangerous fondness for pink icing.  This is a consistently strong and enjoyable collection, but some of my favorite stories were "The Corn Dolly," about a small creature incapable of contentment; "Simple Peter’s Mirror," about a mirror that shows the viewer how others see him; "The Wine of Li-Po," which makes the drinkers tell the truth; and "The Silly King," about, well, a silly king.  Jones’s delightful tales are accompanied by illustrations by award-winning illustrator Michael Foreman.  Foreman’s quirky black and white spot illustrations and beautifully composed full page watercolors are ideal companions for Jones’s whimsical stories, making this sweet, silly, and wise book a fitting addition to a classic fairy tale library.

Do you seek out new and original fairy tales, or do you prefer to stick to the old classics?  Join the Enchanted Conversation and tell us what you think.  Happy reading!

Lissa Sloan has contributed stories, poems, and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation, but she also writes and illustrates for younger readers. Visit her online at her website, lissasloan.com, or on Twitter, @LissaSloan. 

2 comments

  1. Great column! The Terry Jones collection looks fun. I love both original and new fairy tales and I appreciate your recommendations.

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  2. I can't wait to read Cobweb Bride! I really enjoy stories inspired by something classic (in this case, Classic) but spun into something new at the same time. Thanks for sharing!

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