Sunday, January 26, 2014

"Enchanted," by Alethea Kontis

The Protagonist: Sunday Woodcutter. The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, she feels lonely and superfluous until she meets (and grows to love) a talking frog by the local well.
Her Angst: Just as she comes to realize her feelings for the frog, he disappears, and her family is swept up into a centuries-long conspiracy of kings, fairies, and forbidden magic.

The Other Protagonist: Prince Rumbold. Turned into a frog by a meddling fairy, he falls for the beautiful Sunday Woodcutter, and her love sets him free.
His Angst: He returns to human form in time to confront his father's evil machinations, his mother's ghost, and the fact that Sunday's family blames his for the death of their son, Jack.

Secondary Cast:

Jack: Sunday's father - holds a grudge against the Royal Family for the death of his son, Jack Junior.

Seven: Sunday's mother, who only speaks when she's criticizing or barking out orders.

Saturday: Sunday's crazy axe-wielding older sister.

Friday: Sunday's super-nice pious churchgoing sister.

Wednesday: Sunday's Super Emo Magical Poetry sister.

Sorrow: Rumbold's Fairy Godmother. Evil.

Joy: Sunday's Fairy Godmother - somehow not seen as Evil.

YA/Fantasy Angst Checklist:
  • My Emo Journal entries keep coming true!
  • My mother never has time for me
  • Insta-Inter-Species-Love
  • I'm in love with a boy my family hates
  • Dead Relative Angst
  • Daddy Issues
  • Fairies Are Really Just Terrible People. WHY Do We Even Listen To Them?

The Word: So I'm back! Well, not really. I promised myself I would cut down on the book reviewing while I struggle to write something vaguely fictional. I didn't want to give up reviewing, but I decided for the next little while I would only review books that were exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.

While Enchanted is a very good book - it's more exceptionally interesting than anything else. Another word for "interesting" is weird.

Sunday is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter - and despite her large, unusual, but loving family, she often feels useless and lonely. That is, until she meets an enchanted talking frog at the local well. Sunday and Grumble, the frog, strike up a friendship that very quickly (in the nature of fairytales, natch) deepens into more. What sounds like a by-the-book retelling of The Frog Prince turns out to be something else entirely.

Sunday's kiss has a delayed reaction and Grumble changes back into Prince Rumbold after she leaves. Unfortunately, it's not all smooth sailing from then on. You see, Sunday's parents hate the Royal Family, whom they blame for the death of their firstborn son, Jack Junior. And the meddling fairy who cursed an innocent Rumbold to become a frog? She's Sunday's godmother. There's bad blood on both sides, on top of the fact that Rumbold's father, the King, is up to some Very Naughty Shenanigans.

This book is very, very weird and it's both a good and a bad thing.

In fact, I would probably say that almost every aspect of this novel is a double-edged sword. The writing style is whimsical and clever - but it can also be melodramatically purple. The story borrows many structural cues and references from fairytales, which serve it well when it comes to setting, atmosphere, and the wonderfully loopy history of Sunday's family - but it hinders it when it comes to plot progression that makes any sense whatsoever. Like fairy tales, there are sudden, out-of-the-blue revelations and just as sudden, out-of-the-blue solutions that pop up in the nick of time. It works in fairy tales but in the longer format of a novel it's difficult to establish real stakes.

While Sunday and Rumbold are relatively relatable, many characters behave in ways that serve the otherworldly nature of the fairy tale rather than understandable human motivation - for instance, one character purposefully chops herself in the leg with an axe to get out of going to a dance because she's shy. It's laughed off as wacky shenanigans and it's meant to call to mind the story of the enchanted axe that attacks the woodcutter but - but - dude. She nearly chopped her own leg off to get out of wearing a dress. That's insane. She needs psychiatric help and supervision. How are we supposed to understand her as a human character?

Overall, I felt the novel could have used a little more structure. I don't just mean realism - but it could have been bit more grounded, just when it comes to reactions and consequences. It reminded me a bit of Deerskin by Robin McKinley - and yet Deerskin still managed to balance the illogical, otherworldly setting with realistically human characters.

And yet, I still really enjoyed Enchanted and couldn't really put it down. I loved the mishmash of fairy tale references, explanations and tidbits that were thrown in willy-nilly. I loved the concept of the seven sisters, the power of words, and the nasty politics of Fairy Godmothers (seriously, why Godmother Joy is seen as a positive character is beyond me). And even though the ending makes no goshdarn sense I still wanted to keep reading to find out what gonzo Grimm-flavoured thing would happen next.

So like I said - Enchanted was an incredibly interesting book, and I look forward to reading the sequel, Hero. Even though the heroine of that novel (Saturday) is the same nutcase who took an axe to the leg to get out of dressing up. Cray. Zay.

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