Absolutely fantastic. This was so good I didn’t want it to end. Bardugo does an excellent job with the stories and Kipin’s illustrations evokes the fairy tale setting and characters so well. I may just buy this in hardback for the illustrations alone. These stories are a great blend of retellings as well as something darker that leaks into each story that makes it just as much a cautionary tale as Grimm’s original fairy tales. Here are my ratings for all of the stories, but spoiler alert, each one got 5 stars from me.
“Ayama and the Wood Thorn”-A retelling of Beauty and the Beast mixed in with some Cinderella, Snow White and Rose Red, and even the Greek myth of the Minotaur I thought. A young girl who (Ayama) who is not as beautiful or loved as her older sister, is asked by her family to do the impossible, soothe a monster. I really liked this one and loved the dual destinies of Ayama’s sister Kima and the handsome prince along with Ayama and the prince who was shunned. I think this may have been the only story that we get a somewhat happy ending. I adored the character of Ayama, didn’t care about her parents, and thought her grandmother kind of sucked. The other stories I thought were far darker.
“The Too-Clever Fox”-I honestly don’t know what this is a retelling of and I will have to look it up later. But the story follows a fox named Koja that was rejected by its mother for being too ugly. Koja though is a clever fox and we get to follow some adventures he has. However, when animals in the forest start to disappear, he investigates a renowned hunter and his sister. I thought this was very well done and I have to say Bardugo does a great job of luring you into a story that you think is going somewhere else.
“The Witch of Duva”-A retelling of Hansel and Gretel. But this time we have an older girl named Nadya. The woods near her home seems to eat girls. And when Nadya’s mother dies, and her father remarries, she is scared that her new stepmother has something planned for her. I have to say, this was great. I did not see that reveal or ending coming.
“Little Knife”-Well this one did have a happy ending, but only for some, others not so much. Once again, this story feels familiar to me in some sort of way, but no idea what fairy tale it is based on. A duke’s daughter who is more beautiful than anything ever known named Yeva is being offered as a bride to whatever man can perform three tasks her father asks.
“The Soldier Prince”-A retelling of the Nutcracker with some Velveteen Rabbit to boot. Definitely darker. The story follows a clockmaker who is focused on creating something to entice a young woman (Clara). The clockmaker creates a nutcracker that she can tell all of her secrets to. However, things change when Clara is somehow able to have the nutcracker transplant her into a world she wants to be in with him as her prince. I thought this one had a sadder ending for some of the characters. It definitely plays into desire and wants, and what do we do when someone else’s wants are always swamping your own.
“When Water Sang Fire”-A retelling of The Little Mermaid and kind of a backstory of sorts for the sea witch known as Ursula that we all know and love.
I loved how Bardugo set up the story of two mergirls named Ulla and Signy and how their songs were able to create magic for the merpeople (called sildroher). The two girls are stronger together and eventually capture the eye of one of the prince’s named Roffe. When he asks them to accompany him to the human kingdom (every year for 3 months the sildroher walk on land with two legs) Ulla ends up finding out more than she ever wanted to know about the humans as well as people she considered her friends.
Here is one of the illustrations from the book.