Of Thorns and Beauty review

Of Thorns and Beauty review graphic

Note: I received a copy and this is an honest, voluntary review.

If you love mystery, a snowy setting and a big brooding love interest in your romantic fantasy, Of Thorns and Beauty is for you. Besides being a Beauty and the Beast retelling, this engaging story has all the elements to keep the pages turning well into the night, which is exactly what I did.

Of Thorns and Beauty Cover

Zaina, the narrator, uses contemporary language, in contrast to the king she marries through a mysterious scheme by her conniving mother-figure. His more old-fashioned language gives the whole kingdom a traditional feel, like she’s stepped back into another era. The atmosphere at the castle, where servants are masked at all times, was one of the best parts for me.

Though this ends on a cliffhanger, I enjoyed reading it all the way through and seeing the slow-burn romance. The push and pull between Einar and Zaina was wonderfully executed, too. I look forward to reading more of this series.

My rating:
5/5

To learn more about these authors, visit mahleandmadison.com.

The Cracked Slipper review

A review of The Cracked Slipper by Stephanie Alexander

Note: I received an ARC and this is an honest, voluntary review.

When the Prince who swept Cinderella (or in this case, Eleanor) off her feet turns out to be a poor match for her, The Cracked Slipper asks the question, what if the man she should’ve danced with at the ball wasn’t the prince? And what if it was too late by the time she realized it?

Since falling for someone else and acting on it is treasonous, Eleanor tries to ignore her feelings for another fellow at court. With her trusty human-like parrot Chou Chou at her side (all the animals are anthropomorphized, including the delightful unicorns), Eleanor swears she’ll forget her actual Mr. Right and be a good wife to Prince Gregory. If only he was interested in being a good husband to her… Thankfully, Eleanor and Gregory’s relationship didn’t go half as dark as I thought it would from the description, and the potential affair never felt tawdry.

This was a well-written book that engaged me, though the plot relied heavily on the forbidden romance in the middle, even as some pleasantly underhanded schemes were afoot. Only a couple of the sinister plots are fully revealed here, leaving the rest to be discovered later in the series, and I wished I’d gotten at least a few more hints of what was to come.

The Cracked Slipper Cover

Overall, the Cracked Slipper is an interesting read with wonderful world-building (again, the unicorns! And I really should mention the witches, too!), with a heroine I can root for. While I wished Eleanor leaned more on logic than dreams of romance at times, maybe that’s the point: love muddies the waters just as much as the lack of it. And after life with the wicked stepmother, who can blame Cinderella for wanting to be loved?

My rating:
4/5

To learn more about this author, visit stephaniealexanderbooks.com.

Heart of Cinders review

A Review of Heart of Cinders, by J. Darlene Everly

Note: I received an ARC and am leaving an honest, voluntary review

I picked up this book looking for a fun, exciting Cinderella retelling with a kick-butt heroine, and that is exactly what I got–plus a pair of touchingly loyal friends and modern Red Carpet-worthy gowns. Heart of Cinders is the story of a steely assassin who finds her heart softening and starts to question what she’s been taught.

Once MC Cinder headed to the palace, this book really picked up and was hard to put down. And what is a fairy tale retelling without a cheeky nod? Cinder’s ladies-in-waiting are Gus and Jacquetta, and it was so fun and lovely to see the friendships developing and see Cinder kick butt in a whole new way, this time as the lady she was meant to be (with knife skills and archery lessons on the side). I rooted for Cinder and her friends at every turn.

Heart of Cinders Book Cover

But the ending of this book! Heart of Cinders ended on the bad kind of cliffhanger, the kind that left me exclaiming “What do you mean it’s done?!” I actually enjoy a well-executed cliffhanger ending, but this one ended in mid-scene. The worst part is it worked and I wish I could grab book two right away. There were enough breadcrumbs along the way to make me extremely curious about where this series will go next, too.

My rating:
4/5

To learn more about this author, visit jdarleneeverly.com.

Retellings to thrill any fantasy reader

Do you love retellings? Whether of classic books or fairy tale retellings, they make up a large portion of my reading list. I’ve reviewed quite a few, so now it’s time to put them in one place!

Retellings to Thrill any Fantasy Reader

Note: This list will be updated as I review more titles.

Fairy Tale Retellings
Enchanting Fate cover

Enchanting Fate – This Beauty and the Beast retelling by debut author Ashley Evercott has a Downton Abbey-style romantic twist. When the servants get POVs, you know you’re in for a fun and thoughtful retelling!

An Enchantment of Thorns – Veteran retelling team Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince take on Beauty and the Beast with the A Court of Fairy Tales series, bringing serious action, swoony romance and cottage core vibes to the tale.

The Fox and the Briar – Understated, Darcy-esque, a villain with swagger—all ways I’ve described the contents and characters of this fae Sleeping Beauty retelling by Chesney Infalt. The Fox and the Briar also has slow burn romance and the arranged marriage trope.

Of Silver and Secrets cover

Of Silver and Secrets  – Famous for her romantic fantasy stories, author Sylvia Mercedes puts her unique spin on Rumpelstiltskin. Though the retelling part comes in toward the end, this tale of a dream-walking witch and a trained mage is filled with non-stop action and major romance.

Six Crimson Cranes cover

Six Crimson Cranes  – Elizabeth Lim takes on The Six Swans in an East-Asian inspired fairy tale world of dragons, curses and truly lovable characters.

Spindle  – W.R. Gingell’s madcap take on Sleeping Beauty has a unique thread-based magic system and no shortage of quirk.

Thorn – Now a traditionally published book, clean YA fantasy writer Intisar Khanani takes on the Goose Girl fairy tale with a Middle Eastern-inspired setting and a princess torn about her duty.  

Throne of Sand This is the first retelling by the powerhouse writing team that is Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince.One Thousand and One Nights(specifically the story of Aladdin and the lamp) gets a female lead with a penchant for trouble.

Classic Book Retellings

Ariadne  – Jennifer Saint gives Ariadne and her sister Phaedra a voice in the Theseus myth with unforgettable imagery.

The Chosen and the Beautiful The Great Gatsby gets a queer, female makeover with dark bargains, lusty Roaring Twenties party animals and secret magic, courtesy of the wonderful and creative fantasy author Nghi Vo (her Singing Hills Cycle books are also some of my favorite recent reads.)

 

Music of the Night, by Angela J. Ford, book cover

Music of the Night – Angela J. Ford writes two types of fantasy: steamy romances and epic. This The Phantom of the Opera retelling is the former, with two narrators who are instantly attracted to one another. Unfortunately, one carries a terrible secret involving the local theater, and the other must become its star in order to survive.

Within These Wicked Walls cover

Within These Wicked WallsJane Eyre is the love story that defied social class and the idea that only pretty, accomplished young women could be the object of love stories. Author Lauren Blackwood adds a super creepy cursed house and a streetwise spell-breaking protagonist to this tale of love that goes beyond the superficial.

Enchanting Fate review

It’s time for another Beauty and the Beast retelling! In this Enchanting Fate review, I’ll take a look at the clean romantic fantasy (with swearing but no spice) and the promising writing of a debut author. To learn more, read on!

A review of Enchanting Fate by Ashley Evercott
Note: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
 
Ashley Evercott’s debut novel, Enchanting Fate, is a Beauty and the Beast retelling with shades of Downtown Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs. Told through four POVs by characters of varying social standing, this version stays true to the original tale’s spirit by focusing on money and social class without sacrificing romance.
 
That romantic side of the story is where Evercott’s writing excels. I only wish there was more of it. For Marguerite, who has fallen on hard times like Belle, breaking the Beast’s curse is mostly transactional. Yet those tuning in for the romance won’t be disappointed with descriptions like “All she wanted was to be looked at like how he was looking at her now—like she was spring itself, breathing life into his soul” and “He remained the keeper of her prickly heart.” Not to mention “If she had the choice, she would capture time, rearrange the stars, and hold this moment in her hands forever.” More of that, please!
Enchanting Fate cover

Because I enjoyed these moments of pure romantic storytelling so much, I wished the rest of the story was as polished. The pacing of Enchanting Fate can feel rushed. I also thought the characters needed deeper exploration. In particular, the POV-wielding servants in the cursed manor, Claude and Isa, could’ve used more backstory and personality separate from their situation and love interests.

That being said, the plot and overall message of being true to yourself is told in a unique and interesting way. Evercott has the potential to write like Sylvia Mercedes or Hannah Whitten (both authors of swoony fantasy romances with darker backbones). As this series of fairytale retellings continues, I hope to see more wonderfully described romance and the character-driven storytelling to match it.

My rating:
4/5

To learn more about this author, visit ashleyevercott.wordpress.com.

Review: A Trial of Thorns (Rookwood & Vince)

A Trial of Thorns (Rookwood & Vince) Review Graphic

(Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

A Trial of Thorns departs from its roots as a Beauty and the Beast retelling as a major plot twist plays out, dropping Aster in the middle of court fae trials to determine who will be the next king or queen of the fae. Best of all, Aster, whose character is drawn from Belle/Beauty, continues to forge her own path.

Caught in a contest of fae heirs as an unwilling champion, Aster flounders more desperately in A Trial of Thorns. And it’s no wonder: she’s in unfamiliar territory. Everything about the fae of this series sets them apart from humans, from their unearthly beauty to their superhuman abilities and lifespans. Aside from Thorn and the Forest Court, humans don’t mean much to the average fae—and are treated accordingly. Worse still, Aster’s abilities as a greenwitch and enchantress are rendered null in the Sky Court, where the only plants are contained in greenhouse.

I appreciated but did not fully love A Trial of Thorns at first (excepting the parts with the wonderful brownie Mosswhistle, who is perfect in all scenes). The last third to quarter of the book, however, is superb. The authors don’t let Aster and Thorn have a mindless happily ever after that ignores their problems. Instead, they lean in to the severe issues between humans and fae.

It’s a pleasure to see Aster not let Thorn and her other fae friends off the hook, and to take charge of her situation. The serious conversations between them are well-rendered and everything you’d want from an independent and compassionate heroine.

The descriptive writing is not as strong in this book, largely because Rookwood and Vince excel at writing about the natural world—especially when it skews toward dark fantasy. The Sky Court is almost clinical in nature, full of marble and character-less luxury (the House Hunters crowd would be unimpressed, but hey, Faolan’s got his own style). The Trials themselves are creatively designed, and reminded me pleasantly of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, with a dash of Greco-Roman mythology. Which means there’s always a clever twist for readers to enjoy. Those are my kind of trials.

I did miss the authors’ forest descriptions and the constant danger of the Folkwood. The dangers Aster faces in A Trial of Thorns come more from brutal, conniving fae plots and politics; those who enjoyed reading about Tyrion and the other Lannisters in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series will be happiest, while fans of Alexis Henderson’s The Year of the Witching will be rooting for Aster to find her way home.

A Trial of Thorns is something of a transitional book, as so many second books are (I’m looking at you, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!), and that usual means some growing pains. But I put down this book satisfied with the direction the series is going in, happy with Aster’s evolution (get ’em, girl!) and excited for whatever happens next.

To learn more about these authors, please visit helenarookwood.com and elmvince.com.

Interview: Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince (An Enchantment of Thorns)

Today, I get to bring you all something special: an interview with An Enchantment of Thorns co-authors Helena Rookwood (The Thief and the Throne) and Elm Vince (Tapestry of Night).

This interview was conducted via email with the Scotland-based authors. True to form, they’ve even written many of their answers together!

An Interview with Helena Rookwood & Elm Vince, authors of An Enchantment of Thorns

First of all, congratulations on your new series! How does it feel to be writing together again?

Helena Rookwood and Elm Vince: It feels GREAT. We had such a fun time writing Desert Nights, and working together on a new project has been a dream. We haven’t been able to see each other as much as we usually would with the pandemic, so having this joint project has been a nice excuse for (almost daily) regular catch-ups online!

You’re both long-time friends who ended up as writers. How long have you known each other?

Helena & Elm: Too long *cackles.*

Literally our whole lives—we have photos of us as babies together. Our families are friends and we went to school together, then we ended up both moving to Scotland around the same time.

We’ve always had the same reading tastes, and have run a few creative projects together in the past, so moving onto writing together seemed like the natural next step!

Your first collaboration was the Desert Nights series, a retelling of Arabian Nights. Did both of you want to tackle Beauty and the Beast next, or were there other contenders?

Helena & Elm: We’d spoken about a Beauty and the Beast retelling before we’d even finished Desert Nights. We plan to cover other fairy tales in this new series, but we already had the kernel of an idea for a Beauty and the Beast retelling—and it’s one of the most popular fairy tales for a reason!

So what convinced you individually that Beauty and the Beast was the right story to work on together?

Helena: Aladdin was always Elm’s favorite fairy tale and Beauty and the Beast is mine, so I was really excited to move onto this one next. I’ve been wanting to write a Beauty and the Beast retelling for a really long time, and it’s a fairy tale I can’t read enough versions of, so I’ve loved working on this one.

Elm: When I think of these two fairy tales, I can’t help but think of the Disney movies, which were such a huge part of my childhood. Aladdin was my favorite, with Beauty and the Beast a close second. I was always drawn to the dark-haired, strong-willed princesses!

Right from the beginning of chapter one, Rosehill and the Folkwood felt fully fleshed out, and the Cursed Court was its own unique world. How did you develop these settings as a team?

Helena & Elm: The setting was the thing we’d discussed before we’d finished writing Desert Nights—we both had this really clear picture of an enchanted forest and a woodland court. Luckily, we’re usually on the same page with these things because we tend to read the same books!

At the start of a new series, the worldbuilding happens quite organically with us having open-ended conversations, “What if…” or “How about this…”, with one of us (Helena) scribing, until we land on something we’re both excited about writing.

Partway through plotting An Enchantment of Thorns we did have a sudden panic that maybe we were picturing something quite different, so independently drew out how we imagined the Folkwood and the Cursed Court to double-check. We had almost identical drawings!

In the best-known versions of Beauty and the Beast, Belle starts out as a kind and dutiful daughter and not much more. But Aster, her counterpart in An Enchantment of Thorns, has a life of her own, from an ex-lover to a full-time job. How important was it to give Aster her own life and profession?

Enchantment of Thorns cover
An Enchantment of Thorns is the first book in a new series by indie authors Rookwood and Vince.

Helena & Elm: Part of what draws both of us to the Beauty character is that she’s a dreamer; in the original fairy tale, when her father promises to bring her and her sisters gifts, her sisters ask for dresses and jewelry while Beauty asks for a single rose. In that version, and a lot of the retellings, she’s also often quite an alternative character—she doesn’t always fit in—and that was something that appealed to us both, too.

In terms of how we made the character our own, the books we love to read are those with strong female leads. We also knew we wanted to make something more of the roses, which is how Aster ended up as a greenwitch. We wanted her to be kind like the Beauty in the original tale, but also talented and driven, so she could hold her own in a world ruled by fae.

Thorne is a really interesting Beast. I loved that he was humane and fair, yet you weren’t afraid to have him outright annoy Aster and have his bad moods, too. What are your favorite things about Thorne?

Helena & Elm: Thorne has a lot to learn from Aster. When we meet him, he’s kind of given up hope that the curse will ever be broken, but he hides that with this detached, often insolent, persona. The more you find out about his backstory, the more you realize there’s a lot of depth to him and why he acts the way he does.

He’s spent a lot of time wallowing in self-hatred, but Aster brings him back to himself. We like how they challenge each other, but in a good way.

As you were developing An Enchantment of Thorns, did Thorne always walk the line between dangerous and misjudged, or did he skew more in one direction more than the other? 

Helena & Elm: We actually had quite a tough time with Thorne, exactly for the reason you stated. We knew we wanted to make sure he was really fae—and for that to mean he would act in a way that wasn’t always human, not just for him to be really powerful or beautiful—but we also wanted to make sure he wasn’t totally unlikeable.

In the beginning, he probably skewed too far in the direction of being dangerous, so we ended up adding in sections to make his character feel a bit warmer during the editing process.

Helena, you’re two books in to the Carnival of Fae series (The Prince and the Poisoner and The Thief and the Throne), and Elm, you have the Star Cast series (Tapestry of Night), which provides another take on the fae. So clearly you’re both drawn to stories involving fae! What is it about fae that inspires you both?

Elm: I think for me, it’s the creative range. You can have these monstrous kinds of creepy folk that you see in, say, Holly Black’s writing, or the beautiful, almost elf-like High Fae in Sarah J Maas’s worlds. We wanted to include both in our world and explore different types of faeries.

Helena: I love anything involving fairy tales and folklore, so fae books are a natural way for me to explore those interests in my writing. Weaving mythology and plant lore into my books are two of the things I enjoy most, and I find them a big source of inspiration.

The Carnival of Fae and Star Cast series each point to future encounters with fae characters, but haven’t introduced any yet. They share a concept of fae being separated from humans. But in An Enchantment of Thorns, Aster and Laurel have direct encounters with fae from the beginning. How different was it to write a story where fae and humans are neighbors?

In both of our previous series, those worlds had been shaped by past interactions with the fae. That made our world in An Enchantment of Thorns very different to write as we were setting up the fae world and the human world at the same time, so had to give both equal weight!

Both of us enjoyed writing a world where the fae were present from the outset—so you might see more of that from us both in the future.

What’s next for each of you?

Helena: As well as continuing to work on the sequels to An Enchantment of Thorns, I’m also currently reworking an old series that will be re-released under the series title Faerie Awakens later this year. It was the first series in the genre I wrote, and I (shamefully) never got around to writing the sixth and final book, so readers have been waiting a long time for me to get back to this one! Having left it for such a long time, I’ve struggled not to see all the things I’d do differently, so it’s turned into a larger rewriting project than I imagined it would be.

Elm: I’m working on Herald of Fire, the second book in my Star Cast series. I’m also excited to continue with the A Court of Fairy Tales series this year. We have two more books planned following Aster, before moving onto other fairy tales featuring her sisters. The second book, A Trial of Thorns, is already written, so readers won’t have to wait too long to continue Aster’s journey with us!

Thank you for joining me today. I’d like to wrap up with a fun question and a bit of a challenge. Please complete the following sentence individually:

And they lived happily ever after…until the next book, where we throw more drama their way!

(I know you said to write this individually, and we did, but we’d basically written the same thing. That’s how in sync we are!)

An Enchantment of Thorns is available for pre-order, and will be released on May 6, 2021 . To read my ARC review, click here.

Helena Rookwood writes romantic fantasy. She is the author of the Carnival of Fae series, the River Witch series, and co-author of the Desert Nights series with Elm Vince. For more on the author, visit helenarookwood.com.

Elm Vince writes YA fantasy. She is the author of the Star Cast series and co-author of the Desert Nights series with Helena Rookwood. For more on the author, visit elmvince.com.