Fairy tale retellings can be quite chancy. It can be hard to meld the whimsy with the wish, the romance and the ridiculous, the magic and the mischief without overdoing one or the other. But these nine tales by Mell Eight manage to straddle the line between the wide-eyed wonder of childhood and the lovesick sweetness of a good, love story. With such classic influences as Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White, we get to see evil witches, charming wizards, and enough prince charmings to fill the largest castle.
This is a collection of short stories, some taking place on other planets, others simply in more magical realms. A Heart’s Dream, one of my favorites, includes fairies and elves, dragons, humans, and just about everything in between. It takes the familiar Cinderella story and adds in a dash of Heart of Stone, a German story I was unfamiliar with, and turns it into a romance and a rescue story. Mina, now a servant in his father’s house under the thumb of his wicked stepmother, tries to break the curse on Paxton, a young man he met once as a child. The addition of the second inspiration source enriched the overall story.
Cinder-Elle is a more classic retelling of Cinderella featuring Elle, a young man now blind due to an attack he suffered when his stepbrother threw him down the garden stairs. In order to get to the ball to see his friend, Elle must wear a dress, which doesn’t bother him at all. So long as he gets to hear the music, eat the food, and spend time with Theo, Elle would wear just about anything. This story had, for me, the best romance of the collection. It was charming, and I appreciated that there was no magic spell or true love’s kiss to suddenly cure Elle’s sight. He didn’t need his sight to be worth Theo’s love, or to be a clever, kind, and lovely person.
But my favorite (though really, there’s not a bad story in the bunch) is Cleanly Wrong. This story has both less and more of the fairy tale element, featuring a brownie, Ladder Wrung, and his desire to do good in the world. There’s no fairy godmother, no ball, no waving wand or magic spell. Just Wrung being considerate, kind, and deserving of respect. The little touches, the intricate world building … I want a whole book about Mell’s brownies. Or a whole series. They’re adorable, and convoluted, and … they’re people. Some are good, some are not, and all of them are interesting. Even Needle.
The writing is, across the board, clean and crisp and effortless. The stories are often clever and creative, but, for the most part, the romance is not the strong suit. With one or two exceptions, all of the stories have the feel of the expected outcome. You know the prince will fall in love, so there’s no need to build up the romance. Instead, you simply sit back and enjoy the journey. This is an adorable collection, and might be able to be considered YA as most of its characters tend to be in the late teens, early 20s range. Except for, you know, the wizard who lived a few hundred years … It has a nice, light touch on the humor, and some of the snark can be a bit subtle, but overall, it’s just a great group of stories.
If you like fairy tale retellings, I think you’ll enjoy this book.