Saturday, February 6, 2010

8. Snow and 9. The Storyteller's Daughter

Snow, by Tracy Lynn, and The Storyteller's Daughter, by Cameron Dokey, are both part of the "Once upon a time is timeless" series published by Simon & Schuster. There are a good half-dozen books by different authors in the series, all of them re-imaginings of classic fairy tales. They're relatively short, light&easy reads - exactly what I needed for a break after The Time Traveler's Wife and it's heart-wrenching ending - and like any good modern fairy tale, they promised and delivered with "happily ever after."

Snow is a reworking of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," but it isn't a slavish retelling of the story. The plot-line is familiar, of course, but the characters are entirely new and charming in a different way than the originals - I particularly enjoyed the "dwarfs," but the Duchess Jessica - or Snow, as she comes to be called when her confinement indoors makes her skin turn pale - is an entirely captivating heroine.

Since the story is set in a relatively more modern London, there's a chance for Snow to learn about class differences that her archetype missed, being stranded in a cottage in the middle of the forest as she was. There's a fairly nuanced view of morality, not quite the black-and-white that fairy tales usually offer - Snow's friends have no real option other than stealing to survive, and she acknowledges that and her discomfort with it. There aren't any real answers, beyond the fact that it's wrong for the wealthy to abuse the poor that they do.

The story has a more modern take on the apple than the original, too, in that it's "science" that the wicked stepmother uses to trap Snow in an enchanted sleep, rather than sorcery. The remedy isn't the traditional kiss, either, but the happily ever after is well-earned in the end.

In The Storyteller's Daughter, we have the tale of Shahrazad, a retelling of The Arabian Nights with a bit of a twist. This is in fact the story of Shahrazad herself, not just the stories that she tells to the king to save her life. We learn about her mother, Maju, who was a storyteller herself, and her father, the king's vizier, before learning about her marriage and developing relationship with the king.

The king, Shahrayar, is a more developed character here than in the original story, and we get a chance to understand the reason why he's ready to go around marrying women and killing them all the next morning. It's not the greatest reason in the whole world, but it's hard to think of a really good reason to do such a thing, isn't it?

The backdrop to this story is charming - all of the details that make its setting are very vivid, and the language of the fairytale is well suited to this setting. It's a bit heavy on riddles and mysticism, but not unbearably so. The few stories that we hear Shahrazad telling are not as riveting as her own story, but that's as it should be, really. The only place where the story falls short, I think, is that the relationship between Shahrazad and Shahrayar isn't as believable as it could be - they seem to have fallen in love rather quickly, and even in a fairy tale, I'd like to see a bit more of a believable relationship than this.

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