I have to start this with my Goodreads status update from 5 pages in:
I literally cannot handle how much I like this book. I can’t get through a page without cackling or exclaiming. The art! The narration! The surreal worldbuilding! The f/f couple in the middle of it!!! The feminism! The cleverness! Like, I actually can’t handle it. I have to read it a couple pages at a time or I get overwhelmed. I don’t think this has ever happened??
I don’t think I’ve ever been so giddy from the first pages of a book. I was already hooked from the premise: a graphic novel retelling of the Arabian Nights featuring a woman who has fallen in love with her maid. Once I had it in my hands, I was stunned by the cover alone. It looks even more gorgeous in person, with the text in shining gold letters. And best of all, the two women reaching for each other: no attempt to disguise the queer content.
I’m a sucker for experiments in story telling, and I love how this book is structured. From the page layouts to the narration, the design and writing of this book perfectly fits its story, even when it deviates from the norm. A book that starts with a creation story of “In the beginning there was the world / And it was weird” is going to immediately jump in my estimation. I haven’t read the previous book, The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, but this book stands on its own–while dropping enough hints that I want to pick up the earlier book to get an even richer understanding of this story.
The framing device here is that Cherry’s husband has made a bet with another man, Manfred, that he can’t seduce Cherry in 100 nights. In order to save Cherry from being forced into this arrangement, Hero (her lover and maid) tells Manfred stories over the course of these nights, with the promise that once he seduces Cherry, the stories will end. These stories are engaging in themselves, and resemble folk tales. They revolve around women, often sisters, and as those characters tell their own narratives, the nesting story structure grows.
Although there’s a timeless, folk lore feel to the story, there’s also some moments of great, clever humor thrown in, including the narrator cutting in for commentary, and Hero and Cherry using vocabulary I was not expecting! Mostly the humor is dry, feminist wit.
And, of course, there’s the romance. The unapologetic, unshakable love between Cherry and Hero. The moment that really made me trust this story was when it describes the two women getting into bed together and then cuts to after, with the narrator interjecting “No! Of course I’m not going to show what happened then! What kind of a book do you think this is?” It was setting up for a voyeuristic look into two women’s sex life, then makes a hard left and questions the reader’s expectations.
This a beautiful, epic love story that centres on two women. That fundamentally respects women and their love. This is a story that respects storytelling, that believes that stories can change the world.
This is the queer feminist mythology we deserve.
Oh, wow! I’ve finally gotten to my first Malinda Lo book. It will not be the last. Ash is a retelling of Cinderella. It’s twisty, it has a fair amount of the fair folk, and it has some great love interests. It’s also one of those books I knew would already have been reviewed a couple times here. I looked at Katie Raynes’ review and appreciated her take on the story’s roots in the wild hunt, and in Lo’s vivid evocation of landscape. Laura Mandanas’ review focuses more on relationships and a little gender theory. What can I add or emphasize? I was surprised that this was a retelling of Cinderella where the prince isn’t even really a thing. He’s barely a plot device (and a sulky, sullen one at that).
One of the lovely things about this book is that it fully realizes the progression of Ash’s journey from beloved daughter to maligned stepchild. Too often, this feels rushed or glossed over, and hence unbelievable, but I could buy this. Another lovely thing is that we as readers actually get a sense of Ash’s mother as a character, and the mother is an integral character even after her death. Her influence is woven into the plot. There: The prince doesn’t matter, the dead mother does.
In this homophobia-free world, homosexuality is like being left-handed. Perfectly natural, but generally, people aren’t. Ash’s slow realization of her attraction to Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, is all the more lovely for being tinged with nothing but wonder and curiosity. Meanwhile, although the sulky human prince isn’t a contender, Ash is indeed attached to a prince. He’s a brittle, glittery Jareth who takes the word “glamorous” back to its original meaning. Old, old magic against real, young love: so there’s the excellent internal conflict against a backdrop of a fabulous world, and in living conditions that are fairly awful (though not all of the stepfamily is painted with the same broad strokes).
On a final note, the fun factor of this book was through the roof. It was tremendously enjoyable. If it’s been on your long list, maybe bump it up?
Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte is a collection of classic fairy tales retold in a modern setting with lesbians as the main couples. It includes adaptations of “The Princess and the Pea,” “Swan Lake,” “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “The Frog Prince”.
The stories are set in the modern world, but the language of each one retains the “once upon a time” lyricism of classic fairy tales. I found this method of using old-fashioned language to describe modern things and concepts (such as cell phones and rock stars) charming. Each heroine met and wooed the girl of her dreams, and I appreciated that attention was not drawn to the characters’ sexual or romantic orientation as if it needed some sort of explanation. While I think stories in which a character’s status as a gender or sexual minority is discussed are very important, I also long for stories in which nobody blinks an eye when a girl kisses another girl. These were those kind of stories.
I did have some problems with this collection, though. It really could have used a more thorough editing–I was thrown out of the story countless times by misspellings, misused words, and incorrect punctuation. More importantly, I was disturbed by the standards of beauty these stories upheld. White skin was consistently used as an indicator of beauty–I felt I was supposed to understand that the heroines or their objects of affection were beautiful simply because of how white their skin was. There were women of color, but they were always the “exotic other,” the object to be obtained or saved, rather than the central character who did the saving. I really feel it’s important to avoid using language that supports white skin as the default and brown skin as something that sets a character apart. Also, while the heroines did have a variety of body types, one of the evil stepsisters in the Cinderella story was described as fat and the narration used a lot of negative fat talk (comparing her to a pig, etc.) to illustrate how ugly she was. These undertones all made me very uncomfortable.
Fairy Tales for Princesses Who Love Dames by Rene von Bonaparte is a collection of fairy tales retold with both a lesbian and a modern twist. The beast and her prisoner, the sleeping beauty and her savior, are all women, and the pea put under the princess’ mattress is a USB drive. The narrative style is simplistic in the tradition of folk tales such as those collected by the Brothers Grimm, and I can imagine one reading them aloud to a child at bedtime, or to a lover, snuggled up in bed on a rainy day. I was pleased with the stories themselves, and the collection gets points for having at least one sad ending.
Unfortunately, this collection also has a bit of an issue with race. All the women followed by the narration are described with Caucasian features, and most of the other characters are white as well. Three of the main characters, lovers of the women followed by the narration, are women of color. (One antagonist is also a woman of color, but she is the twin of one of the protagonists, essentially her reflection.) If this had been handled correctly by the author, I would stop here and deem the POC representation decent, if limited. However, these three characters are also the three characters in the collection who have been trapped in animal forms: a swan, a beast, and a frog. They eventually turn back into humans; one dies, while another retains some animal characteristics. Furthermore, one of these characters, referred to as “Indian,” is described as having “exotic beauty.” I’m not going to go into why these things are a problem, here, aside from the fact that they’re racist; if you don’t know why they are a problem, I recommend doing some google searches.
As the author has made their POC characters, and only their POC characters, animals and exotified them, I am going to have to refrain from recommending the purchase of this collection. There is no excuse for this in a book published in 2012, and the stories are not outstanding enough to recommend in spite of problematic elements.