Today’s team review is from Barb she blogs at http://barbtaub.com/
Barb has been reading Midnight Sisters by Sarah E Boucher
What is it about fairy tales that keeps us coming back to them, reimagining their details and reinventing their meanings with almost every generation? University of Chicago professor Armando Maggi who studies fairy tales, says:
We cannot live without mythology. It’s the way we reason, the way we survive, the way we make sense of our world. It’s just that the stories we’ve been using—mythic stories, fairy tales, legends—they’re not working anymore. We need something new. What we long for is a remythologization of reality. (—Armando Maggi, University of Chicago Magazine, 11 June, 2012)
But I’m not sure I agree with his thesis that our search will take us away from fairy tales. Indeed, if you follow his research into the earliest versions of familiar tales, one thing that’s clear is that while each generation may change the trappings and socially acceptable details of a story, the basic themes and stories keep reappearing.
Take The Twelve Dancing Princesses, the original fairy tale reimagined by Sarah Boucher in her new release, Midnight Sisters. A relatively recent addition to the fairy tale genre, its first documented versions were collected by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. There were also similar versions, such as Katie Crackernuts and others. But by the next generation, the tale was already being changed to gloss over bits deemed offensive by Victorian readers—such as Andrew Lang’s version where death sentences for the princesses’ prior suitors disappeared.
The tale, as reimagined in Midnight Sisters, is told from the point of view of Jonas, a teenage gardener newly-hired at the estate of the Earl of Bromhurst. Jonas is more worried about pleasing his boss than he is about the strict rules around avoiding the Earl’s twelve beautiful daughters. That’s until he meets Ariela, the eldest sister. The tale jumps forward a decade, and the now mature Jonas is completely (although hopelessly) in love with Ariela. Meanwhile, the sisters—who have grown increasingly frustrated by a restricted lifestyle from which the only escape seems to be into marriages with unappealing suitors—have found a way to escape, if only temporarily. Naturally, the discovery that his daughters have disappeared without (apparently) leaving the castle, has the Earl frantic.
Jonas, who is equally worried about the sisters’ safety, decides to try to spy on them to see where they have been disappearing. In this, he reluctantly accepts the help of Braden, a new young gardener who reminds him of his own younger brothers at their worst and best. Their fears, it turns out, are well-founded, and the two must risk their jobs and their very lives in a desperate rescue.
I enjoyed so many aspects of this retelling. The decidedly working class young gardener, Jonas, makes an engaging narrator. With his unsophisticated country background, he seems unimaginative at times, but his unwavering love and loyalty are endearing. The brash, flashy Braden is hiding secrets of his own, but it’s nice to watch as cautious Jonas is slowly won over.
There were pieces that I would have liked to see developed further. The abrupt gap between Jonas meeting Ariela and the later action in the book meant that we were told about their relationship, but we were never actually shown any of the details of how an aristocrat falls in love with a gardener. That lack made it difficult for me to get invested in the lovers’ plight, and made the first half of the book seem slow. The author glossed over the (somewhat unavoidable) sexism in which the sisters must be saved by the heroes and ‘rescued’ into marriage. And the huge cast meant that most of the sisters could only be portrayed as tropes and stereotypes.
But the second half did turn into a nice mystery thriller, with Jonas and Braden stepping somewhat uncomfortably into the role of heroes. There was even a most unconventional fairy godmother figure. And the ending was tied up with a twist in the very best fairy tale tradition, ensuring that most essential of elements: the happily-ever-after.
Midnight Sisters is an undemanding and entertaining retelling of a favorite fairy tale, and suitable for readers from YA to adult. I would give it 3.5 stars, and recommend it for anyone looking for an enjoyable romantic story.
Do not meddle with the master’s daughters.
The words rattle around Jonas’s head. What is the punishment again? Death? Dismemberment? Jonas, the newest addition to the gardening staff, can’t recall the exact penalty for breaking the rule. What does it matter anyway? He would never dream of meddling with the Earl of Bromhurst’s haughty daughters.
Until he comes face to face with Lady Ariela, the eldest of the Master’s daughters.
Her elusive smile and open manner cause him to question his convictions. In no time, he’s drawn into Lady Ariela’s world of mystery and intrigue, a world where she and her sisters will do anything—including leaving twelve empty beds at midnight—to escape their father’s strict rules.
Only Jonas can uncover the truth and save them from their father’s wrath and their own folly, if he is willing to risk everything he’s ever worked for.
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