Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie, Audible Original Drama [Books]

peter panI have to admit, it’s been a fairly long while since I actually read Peter Pan. When this popped up for free on Audible, I snatched it up, I’m finding I really like full cast audiobooks, and I was excited for this version of the story.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really find it that great.

Some of the changes made felt a bit odd. I can understand updating the story a touch, but not if it doesn’t actually affect anything. In this production, the Darling children still live in London, but they live in World War 2 era London, with bombs dropping and their father off to war. To calm them, their mother tells stories, and their favourite is when she got lost in Kensington Gardens and met Peter Pan. In this flashback, she introduces herself as “Mary Darling” to the tree she befriends.

Which is odd, right? Like…as listeners, we’re not hearing her tell the story, we are hearing the actual events. But she has the same surname as the man she eventually marries? It’s a really small thing but it stood out to me.

And as for updating it, I don’t know why they did. The actual characters are the same, and Neverland is very much the same place people will be familiar with from previous versions. Tinkerbell is still a mean spirited fairy, nasty to Wendy. Wendy is a total drip throughout, and over and over again it’s emphasised how ‘girls are weird’ because both Tink and Wendy become overly possessive of Peter. This is clear when we get more of the Lost Girls.

This was an update I could appreciate – understandably, some aspects of the story do need to be updated, especially when it comes to Tiger Lily. And when her and the Lost Girls were mentioned, I got excited. But they’re barely in it, and only mentioned in counterpoint to Wendy, how she is motherly and perfect, and they are not.

Honestly, I know this is aimed at kids, but it still feels like it’s sending the wrong message. For every step they take to avoid problematic content, they rope in something else that undermines the attempts. The female characters exist for the male characters. The women are jealous and nasty to one another, with their main goal being to look after the boys. Even the Lost Girls, in their brief appearance, are shown to be not as effective as the Lost Boys.

A note on the voice acting. The actual acting was really good. There are very talented people involved in this production, across the board, and it’s a shame the writing just wasn’t up to par.

I would suggest picking up the Twisted Tales Straight on Till Morning instead, a story which keeps the core of these characters, but gives them more depth than can be found in this production.

Charm – Sarah Pinborough [Book Review]

charmAs soon as I finished Sarah Pinborough’s PoisonI knew I needed the next two books in the series in my life as soon as possible. I am a complete sucker for fairy tale retellings, and although the first book wasn’t amazing enough to blow my mind (I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads), it got me invested in this world enough I wanted more.

Charm is a retelling of Cinderella, and in it we find the usual trappings of the familiar tale; there’s Cinders nasty step-mother and her two ugly (though more plain here) stepsisters, a handsome prince, Buttons the servant, and a mouse. As with Poison though, the beauty lies in the finer details and how, exactly, Pinborough twists the tale.

In this, Cinderella isn’t just a sweet, downtrodden girl. Her father is alive, and her stepmother isn’t necessarily abusive towards Cinders, but more neglectful, focusing on her daughters and trying to enable them to have the sort of life she gave up. One of the sisters is already married by the time the story starts, to an Earl, and through them the stepmother and remaining sister get invitations to the balls held at the castle.

This book is a continuation of the first one, so spoilers following for Poison.

In the Snow White retelling, Snow married the prince, but between the wedding and their happily ever after, he used the piece of apple – ground up into her drink – to poison her again, and make her the beautiful, silent wife he had originally wished for.

Many of the elements laid out in Poison are returned to here. The mouse has a familiar-to-readers scar, which gives some very er, entertaining if creepy moments when Cinderella interacts with the mouse. We see the return of the queen, and discover Cinderella’s beloved prince is hiding a dark secret of some sort.

I really like the way Pinborough plays with the characters, how the women involved have more agency, and the focus really is more on them than the prince sweeping in to save the day. We see an actual relationship between Cinderella and her sister, we delve more into her stepmother’s past, and we get a more solid understanding behind the motivations of the characters.

‘Evil’ characters become more sympathetic, and ‘good’ characters are shown to have shades of grey, instead of existing purely as wonderful beacons of light. Cinderella herself is a selfish child, so desperate to leave her family she ignores what is right in front of her.

As with Poison, Pinborough presents the original fairy tale with intriguing twists and added elements, creating a whole new fantasy world with effective worldbuilding and morally grey characters, rather than the pure good vs evil we’re used to in these stories. It makes for an intriguing, entertaining read, and I can’t wait to get started on Beauty, the final book of the series.

Poison – Sarah Pinborough [Books]

poisonPoison is a slightly darker, twisted version of the Snow White story, adding in a little adult content and ensuring things aren’t as clear-cut as the story we’re used to. I won’t do my usual synopsis style introduction here, because I’d be surprised if anyone doesn’t know the story of Snow White, but I will say some of the additions Pinborough has made here are really interesting.

Firsty, and this is similar to other Snow White retellings, we get more depth to the queen. Here, however, the whole story has more worldbuilding involved, creating a fantasy world rather than just having a generic fairy tale setting. This is a world where kingdoms are at war with one another, and we see the impact on the people left behind. We understand the queen’s marriage, we see the reasons she dislikes Snow, we, in general, feel more sympathy for her.

The worldbuilding plays a bigger part here than you’d expect, too. The various wars impact the kingdom, including the dwarves, and play into the prince’s character, too. We see more of the dwarves, get to understand some of the politics of this world, and far from being a damsel in distress, Snow shows herself to be more down to earth, carefree and kind, as well as strong-willed.

And rather than Snow simply stumbling upon the dwarves when she is forced away from her home, she grows up with them. They are her friends, and she turns to them in her time of need, trusting them to protect and keep her safe.

The differences between the fairy tale and this version are what make this really interesting. It reads as a more fully-fleshed fantasy story, rather than a fairy tale retelling. Although key elements remain the same, there are additions and links to other fairy tales, reminding me a little of Once Upon a Time, one of my favourite TV shows (until the last season. Let’s not talk about that).

There are references here to Hansel & Gretel, to Aladdin, and even Cinderella, through a pair of enchanted slippers. This isn’t just Snow White’s world; this is a deeply, well thought out place where all the fairy tale characters live, and interact.

The Huntsman stumbles into the situation, not really knowing what he’s getting himself involved in when he meets the queen. The Prince falls in love with an idealised version of the sleeping princess, and his whole character was a fantastic twist on fairy tale princes in general, and the habit of putting people – especially women – on pedestals, demanding they be something they’re not.

And the ending – the last third of the book – is where the contrasts really come out, where things twist and turn to give us something different from the original fairytale. There isn’t really a happy ending here, but it’s one that leaves the reader wanting more, and considering there are two more books in this series, that’s definitely not a bad thing.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely – Brigid Kemmerer [Review]

a curse so darkI read this book immediately after The Queen of Nothing, hoping it would fill the hole left by Holly Black’s fantastic end to an amazing trilogy. And it did…but after finishing it, that hole now feels twice as big. Luckily, this series is still ongoing, and the sequel is out in January, so seems like I read it at the right time.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely  is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a slight modern twist. Prince Rhen is cursed to repeat the same season, over and over, transforming into a beast at the end and slaughtering everyone in his path, unless he can find a girl to fall in love with him. By the time we meet him, he barely knows of anything happening outside his cursed castle, and the only person left at his side is the commander of his Royal Guard, Grey.

After trying to find a woman among his own people, Rhen turns to Grey, and Grey is granted the ability – from the same enchantress who cursed them – to cross to the ‘other side’ at the start of every season.

Mistakes and errors lead Grey to taking Harper from Washington, DC to Emberfall. Harper doesn’t want to be there, she doesn’t want to deal with princes and guards and enchanted instruments – she wants to know her brother and her mother are safe, with her brother working for a loan shark to pay off their father’s debts, and her mother suffering from cancer.

I was completely and utterly gripped by the story, right from the very first page. The world painted is vivid, though it is dark and dangerous there are spots of warmth to be found, even with an eerie, empty castle. The characters are complex and interesting, each with their own issues to work through and trying to cope with the situations they find themselves in.

To me, Harper felt like a really strong character, one determined to do the right thing, even at risk to herself, and as she maneuvers through this world, learning about politics and royalty and other things she’s never had to think about before, she shows herself to be kind and endearing, considerate and strong-willed, and those aspects combined endear her to everyone around her.

There’s a very slight almost love triangle, but it never really grows into anything. There’s the potential of feelings between Harper and Grey, but that aspect is more played on when it comes to Rhen, watching them interact and seeing something deeper than what’s happening before him.

The aspect of Rhen being a beast some of the time, and the beast never being the same twice, was one I really liked – it added tension and uncertainty, as there was never any way to plan for what could happen.

I also really liked the interactions between him and Harper. Although she is kidnapped and forced to remain in Emberfall, so much of what happens between her and Rhen is about trust. There’s no insta-love here, but two wounded, defensive people trying to work around one another, approaching each other slowly and carefully, each as like as the other to take simple words or gestures the wrong way.

Although it is a retelling, there is little too predictable about the book, and it brings together elements of the fairytale well, while also mixing things up so nothing here feels overly familiar or overdone.

I really enjoyed the slow burn aspect to their relationship, and loved the way it unfolded. Overall, this is a really strong novel, one I could barely put down, and definitely worth checking out if you haven’t done so already.

 

Twisted Tales: Mirror, Mirror – Jen Calonita [Books]

mirror mirrorTwisted Tales is a series of books presenting different twists on various well-known Disney stories, and Mirror, Mirror is the sixth in the series, following on from novels about Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Mulan. Five of the previous novels were written by Liz Braswell, with Reflection, the Mulan story, written by Elizabeth Lim.

Both authors are tough acts to follow, bringing fresh new perspectives on beloved classics. With this being the second book penned by a different author, I think Disney are taking a great approach, rather than just leaving it all down to one writer.

The combination of different authors, plus taking different characters, means a vast difference in the books, and I think from what I’ve seen online and conversations IRL, various people have different favourites from the series. I see this as a really good thing – people are responding in different ways to the same series, and I feel it’s working well for Twisted Tales.

However, I do think Mirror, Mirror might be the weakest book of the series (so far). This, despite the fact Jen Calonita is clearly a talented writer, and I would definitely pick up mirror mirror2one of her other books. So, the writing is good, the characters actually read really well, but the plot itself is a little weak.

One of the things I like most about previous books in the series is the fact the twist actually changes everything for the characters. It forms the crux of the plot, and prevents the characters reaching the happily ever after point we know from the films. In some instances, by the end things are right with the world and we know the characters are going to continue as they would from the films, but they are still changed from their animated counterparts.

The difference with Mirror, Mirror is that the twist – printed plainly on the cover – doesn’t actually affect much of the story. Instead, the changes made don’t feel like they fit into the world of Snow White, and it doesn’t make sense why these changes happen in the context of the animated film. If this was just a retelling, it would work well, but as it is, it doesn’t have the same feel as the previous books.

Sections of the book just simply take us through what happens in the film, but do allow us – as books do – to get deeper into the head of Snow White, as well as the Evil Queen, named Ingrid in the novel. The Ingrid chapters are where the book really comes alive, as we see her transform into the sort of woman who can order a child’s killing.

The plot, in places, feels rushed, and especially the ending. But despite this, the characters themselves give off that feel of real, living breathing people. Snow White is definitely a far cry from the passive princess in the film, given a stronger, more prominent role, as she realises what her people have been through. We also get a better idea of why she cleans so much. The prince, as well – Henri – is more of a character, rather than just the guy who rides in and out. We see the relationship between them blossom, and can feel why they fall for each other. Those aspects of the book work really well.

Overall, although I did have a few niggles with the book, and although it maybe wasn’t up to the same standard as previous books in this series, I did enjoy it. And the additions to the characters worked nicely, giving more depth to Snow White, the prince, the Evil Queen, and even the dwarves. I would definitely recommend this, and although it might not have been my favourite in the series, it’s bound to be someone else’s.