Friday, July 10, 2015

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey by Jane Yolen, 2012

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Gorse is the thirteenth and youngest in a family of fairies tied to the evil king's land and made to do his bidding. Because of an oath made to the king's great-great-ever-so-many-times-great-grandfather, if they try to leave or disobey the royals, they will burst into a thousand stars.
When accident-prone Gorse falls ill just as the family is bid to bless the new princess, a fairytale starts to unfold. Sick as she is, Gorse races to the castle with the last piece of magic the family has left--a piece of the Thread of Life. But that is when accident, mayhem, and magic combine to drive Gorse's story into the unthinkable, threatening the baby, the kingdom, and all.

(304 pages)

Isn't the cover just gorgeous? That's why I picked it up in the first place - well, that and the fact that it's written by Jane Yolen. I was interested to read a longer book by Yolen, because while I enjoyed her book A Plague of Unicorns, my big complaint was that it had a very rushed ending. The writing had been great, though, and the story a fun idea, so I thought a 300 page book by Yolen would have a lot of potential.

And boy, did it! Yolen took the entire story of Sleeping Beauty in a direction utterly different from every other version I've ever read (and let me tell you: I've read quite a few). For one thing, the very reason the fairies are at the christening is really neat - a complete change from the usual "this is just what fairies do" shtick. I don't want to describe it too much because it isn't completely explained until pretty far into the book, but basically they aren't coming by choice; they have to obey the royal family, including by blessing new children, or they will literally burst into a thousand stars.

The other big issue in A Plague of Unicorns (a ton of world-building before the action actually begins) shows up a little bit in Curse of the Thirteenth Fey as well: all of Part One (the first seventy pages) is basically just setting the stage for what happens in Parts Two and Three. However, this time around it works a lot better. For one thing, the world that Yolen builds is pretty breathtaking. I mean, it's so unique everything literally has to be laid out for the reader to understand; there's no "and you know the rules of the fey, yada-yada-yada." Instead, we're starting on square one with "this is where the fey live, this is who they are, this is how their magic works," and on and on. It's really fascinating, if perhaps a little dry for the beginning of an adventure novel.

The story itself, once it gets going, is a very interesting mix of the traditional and the new. Everything feels like it comes straight from a storybook, and yet it's a little . . . different. Gorse makes quite a few discoveries that feed into what she knew of her Family's past (again, going back to the long backstory in Part One), while also struggling to get an understanding of the men who seek her help.

I really enjoyed reading Curse of the Thirteenth Fey, and I'm already looking forward to re-reading it. It's a great book, but I wouldn't call it amazing because I don't think everyone would enjoy it as much as I did. It's full of a lot of talking, a lot of complicated Family history, a lot of danger covered by talking and sitting and doing (apparently) nothing. A fast-paced adventure novel it is not, and while I liked it, I wonder if less patient readers might find it rather dry. If you've read it, I'd love to hear whether you enjoyed it as I did or if you had a harder time getting through it.

Also, I think I'm officially in love with Yolen's books. Does anyone have any recommendations for which I should read next?


  1. I enjoy fairy tale adaptations - and this one sounds like a lot of fun! My only problem is that, like your teaser says, I don't like to put a good book down - and life with a busy infant means I rarely have opportunities to read in long sections (so I read a lot of nonfiction, which I find easier to put down, instead :-P)

    This is my first time on your blog - I got here via Semicolon's Saturday review. I'll have to take a look around!

    1. Hi, bekahcubed! Thanks so much for stopping by. Fairy tale adaptations are awesome - when they're done well, that is! I can understand your frustration with not being able to read very much in one sitting. If you're looking for some shorter fairy tale retellings, Wendy Mass's Twice Upon a Time books are pretty short (the first two are 200 and 180 pages, and they're standalones) is a good one. I also really love Vivan Vande Velde's retellings of fairytales, where every chapter is a completely different reimagining. The Rumpelstiltskin Problem is my personal favorite. It has such varied stories, and all of them are perfectly contained in single chapters.


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