God and The Folk – Book Reviews
While procrastinating my other work, I managed to read four books over the past four days. What follows is a simple book review of what I read; it may not be well-written, but you notice that I at least contributed!
The first three books were all written by Melanie Dickerson: The Captive Maiden, The Fairest Beauty and The Merchant’s Daughter. They are all young adult, set in medieval times and retell classic fairy tales. The author is a devotedly faithful to the teachings of the bible, Jesus and God. I don’t know her exact denomination – however, her religious views are evident in her stories. All three of the books I read were modified to work some semblance of actual medieval reality (namely women have not position in society and there only goal is to marry someone who will take care of them) and God (all three maidens are deeply religious and it is their faith in god that allows them to succeed in overcoming hardships and finding the perfect man).
The books were fine. They felt authentic to the times with actual research into medieval life obviously completed by the author. The stories progressed along the classic lines of Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the 7 Dwarves and Cinderella. There were some changes – as one would expect in a new retelling of a very old tale. I will also add that I like the way the author tied together Fairest Beauty and Captive Maiden to her other novel The Healer’s Apprentice – that was neatly done.
They were slightly offensive in that every heroine was divinely beautiful (inside and out – the author was quick to point out). I found this most frustrating in the Cinderella retelling as the evil people in that story was generally described as hideous – and much effort was made to emphasize the ugliness of the villains. Yet, while I appreciate the effort made to reflect the medieval period in which the stories were set, I found the general oppression of women too much for me to handle. There was no complexity to the characters or genuinely interesting twists to the old plot lines. Being that I am not devotedly Christian, the insertion of God only made these stories more banal and lifeless.
I like the classic fairy tales. I love when they are retold in new and exciting ways. I prefer when they are told in different worlds – so are not restricted to our history. These were fine stories, but they were not exciting, were definitely slow in pace and progress, and were not my thing.
The other book I read (not young adult) was surprisingly more enjoyable than I had expected when picking it up. Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie Sebold had an ugly – at least unappealing cover – but I picked it up anyway. Without reading much of the back I borrowed this book from the library. The main protagonist, Evvie, is a spirited orphan thief when we first meet her on the streets of London. She is about to get roped into a devious plan that will involve training at Britannia’s School for female spies, learning as much as she can about etheric sciences and travelling halfway around the world in an airship. Granted the time in Shanghai doesn’t happen until the very end.
It was an interesting tale set in steampunk, Victorian England. It was darker (but not too dark) and filled with the Fey. I am not a big fan of the Fey (or Fay or however you spell it). In this book they were the Folk. And while the Folk were intimately tied to the story they did not overpower the telling so I was able to ignore most of the aspects of the Fey I don’t like (primarily their other world – which is often considered underground of our own). The main heroine is quite likeable and the plot generally progressed at a good pace. There was the strange cut out, part way through the narrative when we skipped back in time to experience Evvie’s childhood. It was not my favourite section – though I do appreciate the author’s attempt to show and not just tell.
Still of all the books I have read recently, and not just the four I admit to reading this weekend (but the other’s really terrible books not worth mentioning by name) this has been my favourite. I like that it was fun. I like the twists in the plot and the character development. I liked the world in all its imperfect, smoke choked glory. I liked that it is a stand-alone (at least it is to my knowledge as I write this).