May 28, 2014

Brand New or New Again: Cress, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Novelization, and The Silver Rings--by Lissa Sloan, Fairy Tale Book Reviewer

Brand New or New Again: Three books that are recently out, or coming soon, one of which is a re-release with new material.
Cress, the Lunar Chronicles, book 3 by Marissa Meyer
Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, which began with Cinder and Scarlet, continue the adventures of Cinder and her companions in the eagerly awaited Cress.  Since the age of seven, Cress has lived alone aboard a satellite orbiting Earth, forced to use her superior hacking skills for the menacing Lunar queen,  Levana.  Her solitude is broken only by visits from sinister Mistress Sybil, who comes to give her orders.  In between spying on Earth’s governments and making sure Lunar space ships are undetectable by radar, Cress secretly tries to help Cinder and her friends aboard the Rampion stay hidden from their pursuers, and she dreams of rescue.  She also dreams of Cinder’s fellow fugitive, handsome Captain Carswell Thorne.  Despite Thorne’s criminal record, Cress is certain that he has a heart of gold and that they are destined for an epic romance.  When Cinder’s crew arrives to break Cress out of her captivity, Cress quickly learns that in the real world, nothing goes according to plan.
In her Rapunzel retelling, Cress, Meyers adds new characters to the mix with ease, filling the Rampion and other settings with a likeable group of rebels conspiring to overthrow the tyrant Queen Levana and replace her with Princess Selene.  While readers may not immediately like caustic Lunar guard Jason, whose only loyalty is “to his princess,” it’s clear Meyers has plans for him in the next book, so I’m happy to go along for the ride.  For the most part, Meyers keeps all elements of the plot interesting as she switches back and forth between groups of characters, with the exception of one character left alone for a large part of the book with not much to do.  All in all, however, Cress is every bit as absorbing and entertaining as the two previous Lunar Chronicles, filled with action, girl power, romance, and engaging characters.  In a satisfying gender reversal of a standard fairy tale theme, it is our prince (or Emperor, as the case may be) who needs rescuing from a distasteful marriage. But there’s something for everyone:  android Iko gets a new body, Wolf gets stitches, Thorne gets a cane, Cress gets a haircut (and a kiss), Cinder and Kai finally get a moment alone, and Scarlet gets a peek at next book’s heroine.  What we don’t get is a resolution to the Lunar Chronicles.  For that we’ll have to wait for Meyer’s Snow White retelling, Winter, in 2015.
Jim Henson’s Labyrinth:  The Novelization by A.C.H. Smith, illustrated by Brian Froud.
Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Novelization takes us for a trip in the way-back machine to Jim Henson’s 1986 classic fantasy film, Labyrinth, starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and a myriad of creatures from Henson’s Creature Shop.  Like the film, the novelization tells the story of Sarah, a fifteen-year-old girl caught in that unique place between teddy bears and lipstick, where magic seems especially possible.  Frustrated at being stuck baby-sitting for her half-brother Toby while her father and stepmother go out for the evening, Sarah carelessly wishes goblins would come and steal the baby away.  To her surprise, the Goblin King Jareth and his minions are only too happy to oblige.  To get Toby back, Sarah must enter the labyrinth and find her way to the castle at the center, and she only has until the clock strikes thirteen to do it.
Reading, rather than watching, this story, I was struck by its similarities to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, particularly in the early stages of Sarah’s journey through the labyrinth.  Like Alice, poor Sarah spends much of this time doing little more than meeting random strange characters while nothing much seems to happen. This is not writer A.C.H. Smith’s fault, of course, and he is very faithful to the original material, though he omits any references to the musical numbers, which I found a weak point in the film and did not miss.  Smith also fleshes out Sarah’s backstory, including her longing for her actress mother (who, despite Sarah’s preference for her and her glamorous life, has obviously relinquished her to her father).  We also get a glimpse into the minds of other characters, including the inscrutable Jareth, and the delightful pint-sized sheepdog-riding knight, Sir Didymus, who Smith seems to especially relish writing.  While Smith’s novelization was originally released in 1986, this edition, released in April of this year, includes bonus material from the Henson Archives which makes it unique.  First, there are 17 pages of art by Brian Froud.  This is a gorgeous collection of concept sketches, some only in pencil or ink, others fleshed out with a little color.  As someone who loves the potential and emotion of rough sketches, I found these pages my favorite part of this book.  The second item from the Henson Archives is 42 pages from a notebook Jim Henson kept in the early stages of Labyrinth’s planning, including sketches and brief handwritten notes which provide a window into Henson’s creative process.  These previously unreleased items from the archives definitely make this edition worth reading for Henson and Froud fans.
On a related note, I understand from its publisher, Archaia, that the Labyrinth prequel Nora wrote about in her April column is scheduled for release in 2015.  The artist is Cory Godbey, and if that is any indication, this graphic novel should be stunning.  Have a look here at a story featuring Sir Didymus from last year’s Free Comic Book Day.
The Silver Rings, written and illustrated by Samuel Valentino (Coming in July!)
The Silver Rings begins with a fairy godmother, a cruel stepmother, two brutish stepsisters, and a lot of housework.  Sound familiar?  But wait, there’s also a magic mirror, and two unwanted siblings left to die in the woods.  Sound familiar now?  The Silver Rings is the story of twin sisters, Alice and Celia, who, cast out by their stepmother, go into the woods to make their way in the world.  It is also a lighthearted mash-up of many, and I mean many, different fairy tales.  The main premise, two siblings going their separate ways to make their fortunes, is reminiscent of The Two Brothers, but instead of a knife to inform one sister how the other is faring, Alice and Celia each have a silver ring, which changes color if her sister is in danger.  Armed with these magical rings, the two sisters split up, encountering danger, adventure, true friends, and true love, all the while hoping to find each other again.
The Silver Rings is a story suitable for middle grade readers, featuring contemporary language, cheerfully snarky humor, and comical black and white illustrations.  Author and illustrator Samuel Valentino draws from an impressive range of fairy tales, including The Frog PrincePuss in Boots, and Hansel and Gretel.  He also includes elements from lesser-known tales such as Allerleirauh and The Three Snake Leaves.  In addition to giants, magic tablecloths, and a glass mountain, The Silver Rings also has frog samurai and gecko ninjas, giving the story a bit of an east-meets-west feel.  While Valentino does not explore the grimmer aspects of his source material, The Silver Rings provides younger readers a fun introduction to the lighter side of some lesser-known tales.
What new or forthcoming releases are you most looking forward to reading?  Join the Enchanted Conversation and share your thoughts.  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,, or on Twitter, @LissaSloan. 


Lissa's Avatar, by Lissa

1 comment

  1. Good ideas to add to my to read list. thanks !!