Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Classical Fairy Tale Music

1) Sleeping Beauty by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky



Tchaikovsky's ballet setting of Sleeping Beauty is the definition of classic: beautiful, dream-like, and perfect. The waltz and other selections in the ballet are recognizable because the Disney film borrowed the tunes and set words to them for their 1959 animated film adaptation.

2) Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov



Rimsky-Korsakov tells Scheherazade's 1001 Nights through music. You can hear the domineering Sultan in the low, menacing opening theme, then Scheherazade can be heard in the virtuosic, playful violin solo that follows. These themes recur throughout the piece as the frame narrative as other stories are told in the different movements, like The Sea and Sinbad's Ship, The Kalendar Prince, and The Young Prince and the Young Princess. The very last movement brings in elements of all the other movements. The ending tonality of both character's themes represents the happy conclusion to their story.

3) The Firebird Suite - Igor Stravinsky



I've always like The Firebird Suite and even though I've studied the harmony and structure of the piece, I didn't know it tells the story of a Russian fairy tale. The legendary firebird helps Prince Ivan through the perils of a magical realm ruled by Kaschei the Immortal. Of course there is also a love story with a princess and it all ends happily ever after. I love that this Youtube video has a running commentary on what is happening in the story during the piece. The piece is more modern because Stravinsky plays with unconventional tonalities and chromaticisms along with his trademark bombastic rhythms.

4) The Erlking by Franz Schubert



The Erlking is a Goethe poem set to expressive and illustrative music. The Erlking or Alder King is an elf king who preys on children from Danish and German folklore, although apparently his daughter is usually the antagonist and it's been changed here. The story starts with a frantic father trying to get his sick, feverish son to a doctor. The son sees progressively more frightening visions of the Erlking and describes them for his father, who tries to reassure him. The musical setting is amazing. The opening piano part sets the scene of frantic speed and hoofbeats as the pair travel through the night. The son's descriptions of the Erlking rise in key as his fever worsens and his hallucinations become more severe. The Erlking is entreating and nice at first, but rapidly becomes threatening, always starting in the same key. The son's final cry is in the Erlking's key, followed by the funereal and sparse ending phrase. It's my favorite of his lieds and a wonderful setting to a sad but awesome poem.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Postmodern Fairy Tale Music

These songs go against happily ever after and deconstruct fairy tales.

1) After Ever After by Jon Cozart



Jon Cozart bases various Disney films in a more realistic setting and shows the tragically funny results. My favorite is Pocahontas since the film is so good, but incredibly historically inaccurate. He sings in four part harmony with himself with impressive intonation and timing. I love this medley of irreverent reimaginings of these classic tales.

2) Shalott by Emilie Autumn



Emilie Autumn takes the classic Tennyson poem, The Lady of Shalott and adds her own perspective. The poem is about a woman cursed to weave images without actually seeing the world. She then sees (and falls in love with) Lancelot and leaves, but dies before she gets to Camelot. That's a pretty screwed up tale and it's nice to see a modern perspective. Although it's about Arthurian legend, there are typical fairy tale stand bys here: spinning wheels, curses, a tragic woman, and a handsome man.


3) Fairy Tale by Sara Bareilles



This jazzy song shows how happily ever after isn't all it's cracked up to be. Fairy tale love isn't anything close to reality and wouldn't have turned out well in real life. I especially like the Rapunzel verse where she just wants to be alone. Sara Bareilles shows a variety of fairy tales in the video with a theater flair. She ends the song in modern clothing with just herself and the piano on the stage, without the false trappings of fairy tales.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Court of Thorns and Roses


Feyre and her family are living in poverty. Her father used to be a successful merchant, but disaster struck, leaving their debts unpaid and her father grievously attacked and disabled. Feyre is her family's only source of income, so she hunts to provide for them. One fateful day, she finds a huge wolf in the woods about to attack her quarry. She chooses to kill the wolf and the deer to sell the pelt and eat the venison over a couple weeks. Things seem to finally be looking up until a faerie in wolf form named Tamlin bursts into their house demanding recompense for the murder of his friend. Feyre has two choices: either be executed or go to live in the faerie land of Prythian for the rest of her life. Of course she chooses life, but faeries are inhuman, cruel, and horrible creatures who used to enslave and use humans as playthings. Feyre braces herself for torture, enslavement, or just incarceration, but Tamlin proves to the opposite of her expectations. As they develop a relationship, it becomes clear that all is not well in Prythian. A blight that has robbed the faeries of most of their power is moving towards the human realm, posing a threat to everything and everyone. Can a weak mortal like Feyre help save her world?

A Court of Thorns and Roses is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that subverts a lot of the expectations of the fairy tale while staying true to the spirit of the story. Our Beauty is Feyre who is unlike any iteration of the character I've read or seen. She is pretty joyless, but not outright bitter. Her family needs someone to step up and get the money and food necessary to survive. Feyre is a pragmatist willing to do whatever it takes no matter how it effects her personal happiness. She has the strength and determination to hone her skills in hunting and other important skills even though she doesn't enjoy them. When she moved to Prythian, she became almost a different person. She was suddenly without direction. Her family was taken care of and she didn't need to do anything anymore, so she loosened up a bit. She focused her energy at first at trying to escape, but realized her family is better off with her there as the faeries provide for them. So then she learns and hones more unnecessary skills that she actually enjoys like learning to read and painting. She starts to tell jokes and actually get to know the faeries, who she has considered flatly evil and dangerous creatures her entire life. Her outlook completely changes and she starts to fall in love with Tamlin, the Beast. Despite some superficial changes, the core Feyre is basically the same. Later in the story, she also takes on momentous tasks to attempt to save her love and her friends despite prolonged suffering.

Tamlin, our Beast, is a mix of sensitive and callous. He was raised to be a warrior to survive his world while his true interests were in music and the arts. War and hardship have been such a part of his life that it's easy for him to forget who he is outside of all of that. He has to present a hard shell and make difficult decisions to succeed as a ruler in Prythian, but he changes as Feyre does. Both become more sensitive and learn something about each other and the culture they come from which causes both to shed their prejudices. The romance develops organically and over a large chunk of the book. That part does move a little slow, but if it were any faster, Feyre's actions at the end simply wouldn't make sense. It takes a lot of time to completely change your outlook on something that's been hammered into your head since birth. Also, I LOVE the way sexuality is treated in the novel. Feyre is very matter of fact and comfortable with herself. She had one partner in the human world who she liked but didn't love. For both of them, it was a convenient escape from their respective hardships, a spot of joy among all the misery. With Tamlin, things are more fiery and passionate because of love. I like that both sides are portrayed as positive instead of having a preachy message against different types of sexual relationships.

The book is lengthy and goes through a lot of different changes. It almost feels like it's multiple books in one due to the changes in location and tone. I read it in about 2 days because I had to know what happened next. Sarah J. Maas knows how to construct a book and I was invested from the first chapter. The fairy tale aspects are handled very well. The general story line is similar with the curse being the most obviously Beauty and the Beast aspect, but the story is free to move into past the plot of the fairy tale. I also enjoyed all the different types of faeries show, mostly of the horrific and variety. The ending is satisfying and at the same time leaves some loose ends that make me want to read the next book immediately. In the time before the next book comes out, I'll be reading all of her other books.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Wayfarer


Ellen Sinder is miserable. Her father recently died and before she could even begin to heal, her evil stepmother revealed her true colors. This marked the beginning of Ellen being treated as a servant in her own home and being subjected to all kinds of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse. She can't just leave because her school enrollment in high school and university are dependent on living in her family home. A few things are keeping her sane: her two best friends Ruby and Cami, her magical talent to charm, and the hope that she can eventually get away and make a real life for herself. Unfortunately, her situation is getting worse and worse as her stepmother gets more oppressive, her friends seem more distant, and her life is just disintegrating before her eyes. When will the downward spiral end?

Wayfarer is the follow-up-not-quite-sequel to Nameless (which I absolutely loved) and focuses on Ellen Sinder. This retelling of Cinderella vastly expands the unique fairy tale world that draws upon many recognizable tales and combines them in interesting ways. Again, Lili St. Crow just throws the reader into the deep end of her world with Families, Jacks, Twists, and the Deprescence. Things gradually come into focus, but the beginning is a little disorienting, especially having read the first book over a year ago. The Deprescence occured in the 20's and was an explosion of magic that ruined a lot of the world and a lot of people in it. People were Twisted into monsters and Jacks, which made them no longer fit to be a part of normal society. The positive side is that some people have Potential that means when their power settles, they can do wonderful or terrible things with their magic. Magic is used in everything from clothing and fashion production to medicine. The magic system is more explored here through Ellen's eyes and it seems to be a mix of magic and science, but without any specific explanation to really blend the two together. I liked the apprentice system for beginning Charmers and the way magic and Charms are integrated into their everyday lives.

Lili St. Crow takes the flat, stock characters of fairy tales and gives them dimension and at times unexpected characteristics. Ellen is obviously Cinderella, but she isn't the stereotypical enslaved but cheerful princess. The abuse definitely takes a toll on her. Hearing day in and day out that she is useless and unwanted wears on her and she subconsciously internalizes the insults. Leaving home isn't as easy as her friends make it sound. The abuse may be bad, but the unknown may be worse. At least she knows what to expect at home. Leaving could have her be without food, education, or even a place to sleep. She's determined not to be a burden or charity case to her friends. So many people are blind to Ellen's abuse that she feels completely helpless. This sentiment is repeated often, but is misguided since her friends only want her to be safe and happy. I grew annoyed with Ellen's insistence that her friends only wanted her around as charity or as some cruel joke when they showed time and time again that they were worried about her and cared for her, She also lashes out at them again and again until I was surprised she even had any friends left. I would have liked Ruby and Cami to have a more major role in the book. Most of the book has Ellen making horrible decision after horrible decision and simply ignoring or hiding from the consequences. This part was incredibly frustrating to read and I just wanted to talk some sense into her. Once she figured some stuff out and realized her own worth, I began to enjoy the novel again. Although it infuriated me, this portrayal of the effects of abuse is pretty accurate.

The other characters are equally dynamic.  Cami and Ruby are amazing friends who couldn't be more different from each other. Cami is quiet and sweet while Ruby is loud and brash, but they both care for Ellen in their own way. I felt so sorry for them when Ellen refused to accept their help or listen to their advice. Avery is the Prince Charming here and while he was sweet and nice, the romance could have been developed a bit more. The evil stepmother is the only character that is completely and flatly evil. She has the ability to charm other people, especially adults, into not seeing her horrible side, which definitely reminded me of some real people I know. I loved to hate her and the depths of her evilness surprised me, The fairy godmother Auntie is my favorite of the minor characters. She's a weird mix of a typical fairy godmother and the witch from Hansel and Gretel.

I didn't enjoy Wayfarer as much as I did Nameless, but it has the same magical world, darkly humorous writing, and realistic language. Some may be offended or condemn the language as too adult, but it's the reality of how people speak. It was nice to see a YA not censoring itself for its audience for once. My main problems were with Ellen's refusal to see sense for much of the book and the slow pace at times. I still liked the book and devoured it within a day. I can't wait to read the next book, Kin.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cruel Beauty


Nyx Triskelion is angry and rightfully so. Due to an idiotic promise from her father, she must marry the Gentle Lord, the monstrous demon responsible for ruining countless lives (including her own), countless deaths, the destruction their royal line, and the state of their home city of Arcadia being separated from the rest of the world. Nyx knows she is condemned to the sick whims of her husband and will most likely die after attempting to assassinate him, but she must try for the sake of her family and her people. Nyx resents everyone, but does her duty. The Gentle Lord defies most of her expectations and she develops an attraction to him even as she makes attempts on his life. Will she be strong enough to destroy him or will her emotions trap her and her people?

I was honestly not expecting a lot from Cruel Beauty. I expected lots of whining and an abusive love interest, but that's not what I got. Nyx is angry and resentful. She's been raised mostly without love of affection with the clear knowledge that she is a glorified sacrificial lamb. She was chosen over her twin sister for this purpose, so she had to sit by and see her sister treated as a father treats his daughter while she is held at arm's length. I completely understand her feelings and I don't blame her for being so bitter and negative. This type of character is usually a doormat, but Nyx makes all her own decisions and she's strong willed. It's ironic that the person she was told all her life that she has to kill, the Gentle Lord Ignifex, is the one who led her to experience love and happiness. It doesn't start out all roses and perfection. She is totally dedicated to her goal even if she has to commit loathsome acts. Ignifex is much nicer than she thought and never forces himself on her like she expects. They develop a real relationship with the occasional assassination attempt mixed in. One key scene between them is when Ignifex needs help to his room after dark because it causes him crippling pain. Nyx leaves him there and briefly celebrates his pain, but then feels regret. She pulled herself back from becoming a monster and went back to help him to his room. Losing her humanity and celebrating in another's pain wasn't worth getting closer to her goal. Nyx's journey and her development made over the course of the book made it impossible to put down.

Ignifiex and Shade are the two love interests in this love triangle. I usually hate love triangles, but this one had neither person being perfect and it is resolved in a very unexpected, but satisfying way. Ignifex and Shade look alike except that Ignifex has red cat eyes and a crueller visage. Right off the bat, Shade seems to be the meek, kind, long suffering prisoner while Ignifex seems to be the powerful, cruel demon. These expectations are subverted, showing Ignifex's softer side and Shade's cruel and even evil side. I like that these two men are people: not perfectly good or completely evil. Both are a mix. Nyx is conflicted because she likes both and has to come to terms with both of their good and bad qualities. All of the characters have a varying degree of the darker side of human nature. Some, like Nyx's father or many of the people lining up for Ignifex's dubious bargains, have an abundance, but no on is perfect and I'm glad the book reflects that.

The world where Cruel Beauty takes place really caught and kept my interest. The city of Arcadia in Greece is encased in a parchment-like bubble, secured away from the rest of the world for hundreds of years and ruled by the Gentle Lord. The people still worship the Greek pantheon of gods and some even practice Hermetic magic. Demons, supposedly from Tartarus, populate this world as well, including Ignifiex, his superiors who give him orders, and the Children of Typhon who escape Ignifex to drive people mad. The mixture of European fairy tales with Greek myths creates a different flavor of fairy tale book than usual. Greek myths are delved into much deeper than I would have thought and they include Cronos's downfall, Typhon's entrapment, the myth of Hades and Persephone, and the list goes on. Cruel Beauty is mainly a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but has shades of Rumplestiltskin (Nyx can guess Ignifex's true name each night) and Bluebeard (Ignifex's 8 dead and weirdly preserved wives and his only allowing her to explore certain rooms of the castle for her own safety). I love the world and that it does go through some crazy changes.

Cruel Beauty is a detailed, well written retelling of Beauty and the Beast with shades of other fairy tales and a healthy dose of Greek mythology thrown in for good measure. My only complaint is that the ending isn't super clear and could have been a little more descriptive. Other than that, I'm eager to read the next book in the series, although it's not a straight continuation of this story.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Gracekeepers


The sea has flooded the earth. The people have split themselves up into damplings, the lower class who live on boats and go from place to place, and landlockers, the upper class who have permanent housing on land. Callanish Sand is a landlocker and a Gracekeeper, one who dedicates their solitary and simple life to laying the dead to rest by the seashore. There's something special about her that she hides from the world and her past weighs heavily on her. North is a dampling who works in a floating, traveling circus doing different acts with her bear. She and her troupe travel from archipelago to archipelago, entertaining to survive. The ringmaster of the circus has plans for North that she simply doesn't want for herself and she sees no way out of it. Callanish's and North's worlds collide and both of their lives will never be the same.

The Gracekeepers is a beautiful book that mixes fairy tale imagery and whimsy with soft science fiction. In the far future, the sea has encroached upon the land and only a privileged few called landlockers are allowed to reside on its remaining spaces. The rest of the population called damplings simply lives on boats in a more nomadic life that is looked down upon. Landlockers hate and fear damplings. Damplings are stereotyped to be morally degenerate thieves according to landlockers, but this doesn't stop the landlockers from using them to their own ends for work or entertainment. Resources are scarce for all and it leads to very strained times. The floating circus Excaliber has to gauge the attitudes of the archipelagos they go to or suffer not being paid and possibly be attacked or thrown in jail. These gritty realities gave the novel a sense of realism and contrasted well with the whimsy and fairy tale elements.

Kirsty Logan creates memorable, nuanced characters to populate this futuristic world. Each chapter is from a different character's point of view. North is a desperate girl trapped in her circus with no way to escape her impending nuptials to a self absorbed idiot named Ainsel. She loves performing, the bear she trains, and the other performers, but the ringmaster Red Gold has made it clear she is no longer welcome there if she refuses to marry his son. Her pregnancy that isn't from Ainsel also complicates things. I like that North is realistic about her situation, but does what she can to try to change it. Her circus is wonderful and my favorite part of the novel, but isn't without sadness and hardship. Callanish's world couldn't be more different. She lives by herself with the barest of supplies and lays the dead to rest. The graces she keeps are birds meant to commemorate each dead person. They aren't fed and the ceremony is over when the bird dies. Callanish was exiled there as punishment and she feels guilt every day for what she did. She decides to leave her home and try to atone for her mistakes. Both characters experience their own belonging, loneliness, guilt, fear, and finally joy. I loved how their worlds collided and how they influenced each other. Even the smaller characters are well fleshed out. Avalon, the jealous and horrible wife of Red Gold, simply wants a house and a family. Her route to get them is morally questionable and pretty awful, but many can relate. Even Flitch, the man who escapes with Callanish, truly cares about her underneath his condescension and annoying behavior. It's easy to relate to each character and understand their motivations.

The Gracekeepers moves pretty slowly, but I enjoyed it. It was like descending slowly into and savoring the world. The fairy tale elements seem to be drawn from kelpies, which are Scottish water spirits, that do appear in the story. Parallels can also be drawn to other types of sea dwelling fairy tale creatures. The novel was wonderful to read and I look forward to what Kirsty Logan writes next. I would definitely recommend to people who enjoyed Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Fairy Tale Fortnight @ The Book Rat and A Backwards Story


It's the 5th (!!!!!) year of Fairy Tale Fortnight and I couldn't be more excited. It's a celebration of all things fairy tale or fairy tale-esque. I love fairy tales and recently noticed a huge build up of fairy tale related books in my TBR pile. So, to celebrate along with Misty at The Book Rat and Bonnie at A Backwards Story, I will be posting fairy tale related book reviews, movie reviews, songs, and whatever fairy tale awesomeness I can find. Feel free to participate and link up your posts here. This is going to be a magical two weeks!