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: “Omega Star: Genesis” by Jasmine Shea Townsend

Review of Jasmine Shea Townsend, “Omega Star: Genesis”, in Fairy Tales and Space Dreams (Jasmine Shea Townsend, 2019): 49-63 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology.)

Content warning: Rape (albeit off-page).

There’s a lot of science fiction out there rooted in the recognition that things are not going well for the human race on our current planet, and if we hope to survive, we’re going to have to go elsewhere (because, of course, going elsewhere is easier, and more reasonable than trying to fix the mess we’ve made here…) Captain Alex Pulsar is doing her best to live up her name, “defender of mankind”, and is piloting a ship across the cosmos to find a new home. The first leg is a 10-year journey, and a lot can happen on a spaceship in 10 years.

I found this story, the first of Townsend’s “space dreams”, more successful than the fairy tale retellings. There was a liveliness to the language and a good pacing. I was interested in Alex and her history ()and her future) from the first page, and the other characters who were introduced were done so in an engaging and sympathetic way. These plusses were enough to make up for a few inconsistencies and plot holes that I couldn’t make sense of (if the people on the ship were tested weekly for disease, how did it take two weeks to notice that someone had died? how could a ship like tis not have an up-to-date manifest of all workers and passengers?). Overall, recommended.

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: “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.