August 17, 2013

Wolves and Witches, EC's First Book Review Column, By Lissa Sloan

Editor's note: Today we begin our first monthly column, and while Lissa Sloan will be focusing on book reviews, upcoming columns by two other regular writers will feature vintage fairy tale information and current fairy tale news. Lissa kicks things of with a intriguing trio of books.

Lissa's official EC avatar,
drawn by Lissa Sloan, herself!
Wolves and Witches: In which I review three books, one containing wolves (some of whom might be werewolves) and witches, one containing a wairwolf (who is not exactly a werewolf) and witches, and one called Wolves and Witches, which contains both wolves and witches.
Between 1764 and 1767 the residents of the French province of Gevaudan lived in fear of the beast or beasts which killed many of their number.

In Scarlette: A Paranormal Fairy Tale, author Davonna Juroe weaves these historical events together with the "Little Red Riding Hood" tale, werewolves, and witches.  Nineteen-year-old Scarlette ekes out a living as a seamstress in her beast-ravaged village.  When her beloved Grandmother is bitten by one of the creatures, Scarlette is forced to go hunting for a cure, and the truth behind the attacks. 

Scarlette is well paced, with the action constantly building as Scarlette seeks answers to her questions while dealing with her antagonistic mother and a lecherous employer.  She must also sort out the intentions of a local nobleman and a mysterious woodcutter.  Scarlette’s weakness lies in its language. The narrator’s contemporary speech and frequent employment of over-used expressions distracted me from an otherwise absorbing story.  Those reservations aside, Juroe quite effectively tells a tale full of adventure, intrigue, and romance, never forgetting that Little Red Riding Hood is the story of a girl, a grandmother, a red cloak, and the woods.   And one other thing—it’s still a cautionary tale about the dangers of getting into bed with a wolf.

In The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, twelve-year-old September is spirited away from World War II-era Omaha to an adventure in Fairyland.  While there, she is drawn in to a quest to retrieve an enchanted sword for the Marquess, a disagreeable girl who rules Fairyland with an iron grip.  She won’t allow any of her winged subjects to fly, and there is never hot cocoa anymore.  (She does, however, have a very fine hat.)  Along the way, September meets an unusual cast of characters including three witches (one who is also a wairwolf), a Wyverary (the offspring of a wyvern and a library), a soap golem named Lye, and a Marid, a wish-granting sea creature. 

The plot is reminiscent of classic stories such as The Wizard of Oz, but every story has its roots somewhere, and author Catherynne M. Valente acknowledges that, making sly references to Oz, Narnia, and the Persephone myth in the course of the story.  The action begins so suddenly I had no time to know September or feel any sympathy for her.  Eventually, though, her story does prove to have heart, and a lot of it.  September is a resourceful girl who journeys through an unknown country with the welfare of her friends always in mind and sometimes nothing but herself to rely on. 

Fairyland is a wondrous and frightening place, filled with cities sewn from cloth or baked into bread buildings, angry household objects, and wild bicycles.  Valente guides the reader through this wonderland with a lyrical and whimsical style.  The sophisticated vocabulary may ask a lot from a middle grade reader, and sometimes seems very formal coming the Midwestern twentieth-century September, but it is a pleasure to read and adds to the book’s Victorian, Alice-in-Wonderland feel.         
Wolves and Witches is an anthology of fairy tale poems and short stories by sisters Amanda C. Davis and Megan Engelhardt, who are no strangers to Enchanted Conversation fans.  Both authors are adept at playing with endings, themes, and settings of the classic fairy tales they tell.  Davis and Engelhardt’s voices work well together.  They are at times touching, creepy, funny, and empowering as they re-invent, twist, and turn familiar favorites on their heads.   Standouts are Davis’s story "Gold in the Straw" and Engelhardt’s poem "Untruths About the Desirability of Wolves." 

I might have wished for more variety when it comes to the fairy tales featured, for "Hansel and Gretel," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Rumpelstiltskin," and "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" are each treated by both authors.  But on the other hand, perhaps it only proves the point that the ways any fairy tale can be interpreted and reimagined are endless.  And I would have found it difficult indeed to choose between "Bones in the Branches," and "A Letter Concerning Shoes," the two stories based on the "Twelve Dancing Princesses."  They are very different, but equally compelling.  Wolves and Witches is full of consistently strong writing touched with a sly humor both authors share. 

Have you read any of these books?   Join the Enchanted Conversation and let us know what you thought.  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.


~T~ said...

September's story is a delightful mixture of tradition and invention. The Marquess' history is quite chilling, September's victory inspiring. I particularly liked the wild bicycles.

Lissa Sloan said...

~T~, I quite agree:)

Teresa Robeson said...

While I can't write good reviews to save my life, I do enjoy reading reviews, so I'm happy about Lissa's new column here at EC!

All three of these stories sound pretty interesting but I think the one that tempts me most is The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland. Can't wait to check it out.

My SF/F critique group is putting together an e-anthology of re-imagined fairy tales as a fund-raising project for Doctors Without Borders. I'm really excited about penning a couple of fractured fairy tales for it (as you can imagine from my being a fan of EC). :)

Lissa Sloan said...

Thanks, Teresa!

Your anthology sounds great:)

By the way, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is the first in a series, so September has more adventures ahead of her!

Davonna Juroe said...

Lissa & Kate --

I wanted to thank you so much for taking the time to review my novel SCARLETTE, Lissa. And a big thanks to you, Kate, for posting Lissa's review. Cheers!

Lissa Sloan said...

You're very welcome. Thanks for stopping by!