REVIEW: “The Witch Road” by Dawn Trowell Jones

Review of Dawn Trowell Jones, “The Witch Road”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

So many stories start off with a hero or heroine who has lost all their family; more and more I find myself eagerly, hungrily seeking out the stories where the hero goes forth with the weight of their family’s strength behind them. Tempie has that — her mother, her sisters and brother; it is only the death of her father that changes the course of her life and sets her off on the Witch Road.

It’s a fine line, though, between being supported by your family and being betrayed by them, and Jones’s story walks that line delicately. Tempie and her little brother Cale were engaging and sympathetic characters from the get-go, and through the whole story I wavered uncertain as to whether their story would ultimately be a happy one or a sad one. But whatever possible ending I saw for Tempie and Cale, it wasn’t anything like the surprise Jones had in store.

REVIEW: “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 17-48 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

As a child, I was always fascinated by the fairy tale “Rapunzel”, because it was the only story that I knew that involved cabbage, and I’d never heard of any cabbage with such an exotic name. For whatever reason — I couldn’t begin to speculate — this fairy tale has always been on the fringes of the canon, even after the advent of Disney’s “Tangled”. It’s just not one of the first ones that you think of, if you think of a classic fairy tale, and it’s certainly not one of the first ones you think if, if you want to rewrite a classic fairy tale.

At 31 pages, “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden” is the longest story in Townsend’s anthology. It starts long after the beginning, when Rapunzel is already grown, still trapped in the ruined tower a witch locked her in. The twist that Townsend gives the fact that the witch who locked her in the tower is in fact her true mother.

Perhaps one reason why “Rapunzel” is always on the fringes is because it is really dark, desperate story of manipulation, neglect, and abuse, both physical and emotional. All three of those threads come out in Townsend’s retelling, and Townsend depicts narcissistic control under the guise of love with fine crafting — the reader can see that Rapunzel truly believes her mother loves her and only acted in her best interests, and it’s horrifying. While Townsend builds a plot that is more than this, for much of the story it was hard to see past it. Only at the very end do we get a sense of freedom and escape, as Rapunzel finally makes it to the realm of her fore-mothers, the Night Maidens.

REVIEW: “The Sea and the Stars” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “The Sea and the Stars”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 11-16 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

“The Sea and the Stars” is the classic fairy tale: The poor/lonesome/ugly peasant girl/princess/mermaid is given a wish (or three) and wishes for her heart’s desire — and the wish is granted. Under the sea, the merpeople are celebrating the spring equinox. All around Moonray, everyone is having fun and enjoying themselves, including her friends Shell and Lily, while Moonray herself is stuck feeling like a third wheel and overwhelmed by her introversion. But everything is about to change for her when she wishes upon a falling star…

What I enjoyed about this story was that while it followed the very classic fairy-tale set-up and structure, it incorporated into it unexpected and unusual aspects. I did sometimes feel a bit like I was drowning in the lush, detailed description, but I’ve come to recognise that this is a fairly idiosyncratic complaint: I tend to skip over highly descriptive prose in order to get to the actual movement of the story, so when a piece has a high descriptive prose:actual story ratio, it means I tend to zone out more than I would like. For those who don’t mind a bit of purple prose, this story will probably appeal to you!

REVIEW: “The Plover’s Egg” by Allison Epstein

Review of Allison Epstein, “The Plover’s Egg”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Marya ran away from home to escape her father’s disapproval of her illicit love affair with Sonya, and now works in the count’s castle. When Aleksander the mariner turns up, unexpected, with a mysterious woman that he’s rescued from beneath the ice, Marya moves from laundrymaid to nursemaid to the quiet, icy Elizaveta. Everything from there turns messy and beautiful and sad and dark.

This was such a lovely, delicate story. It’s one part fairy-tale, one part Slavic folk-tale, and one part all its own story. I really enjoyed it.

REVIEW: “Blue Lips and Frozen Lashes” by Alexandra Grunberg

Review of Alexandra Grunberg, “Blue Lips and Frozen Lashes”, Luna Station Quarterly 38 (2019): Read online. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

Of all the titles in the newest issue of LSQ, this was the one that caught my eye the most, so it’s the one I started with.

Beitris is climbing on Ben Nevis when she discovers a little girl, solitary and separated from anyone else she might have been climbing with. No child should be climbing Ben Nevis alone in winter — this much is clear from Beitris’s reaction upon discovering the little girl, but that same reaction left me wondering what business Beitris herself had being on the mountain too!

Well, dear reader, read and find out — it’s a brief little story, but despite the shortness, it has a nice, satisfying ending.

REVIEW: “Princess Snow White” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “Princess Snow White”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 3-10 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

The first of Townsend’s fairy tale retellings is the classic Snow White. The twist that Townsend introduces is that Snow White is the adopted daughter of the Queen of the Northern Lands, and the wicked step-mother role is played by her aunt instead; when Snow White’s adopted mother dies, her aunt is left as queen-regent. Snow White herself was born in the Southern lands, where people’s skin are dark as earth, “cinnamon, umber, cedar, carob, onyx” (p. 3), which makes her name ironic rather than descriptive.

Apart from these changes, Townsend follows the traditional story quite closely — the mirror, the hunter, the substitute heart, the little cottage in the woods where seven dwarves live (seven dwarves who upon seeing evidence of Snow White’s arrival sound a little bit like the Three Bears after Goldilock’s visit, alas), the little woodland animals, the poisoned apple, the glass coffin. I would have liked to have seen the twists that the story started off with incorporated into the retelling in a way that gave me a new reading of the old story.

REVIEW: Fairy Tales and Space Dreams by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

I’ve been a big fan of Jasmine Shea Townsend’s Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-Fi ever since the Facebook page launched last year, so when I heard that she was publishing a collection of her stories, I was super excited to have the opportunity to read and review them. This is exactly the sort of stuff I want to see supported and promoted on SFFReviews!

This collection is split in half, with three fairy tales and three space dreams, and as is usual we’ll review each in turn and link the reviews back here when they are posted:

The fairy tales are three classics, retold fairly closely to the originals. The space dreams branched out a bit further, presenting new tales, and as a result, I found the latter half stronger than the first half — good fairy tale retellings are tough to do well, I am finding out while reviewing for this site! But there’s a reason fairy tales have the longevity they have, and even middle-of-the-road retellings are still enjoyable.