Lavinia by Ursula K. le Guin

Summary: In a richly imagined, beautiful new novel, an acclaimed writer gives an epic heroine her voice

In The Aeneid, Vergil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.

Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner—that she will be the cause of a bitter war—and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Vergil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life.

Lavinia is a book of passion and war, generous and austerely beautiful, from a writer working at the height of her powers.

My Thoughts: I know this is going to sound crazy coming from someone who reads so much Sci-Fi/Fantasy, but Lavinia is actually my first le Guin book. I never read her famous Earthsea trilogy–I had heard of them, but just never got around to it.

Lavinia as a retelling of The Aeneid was a great introduction to le Guin’s writing, however. I enjoyed it very much and was fairly engrossed by the narration and the story. It was an epic from a small voice. Which didn’t make it any less epic. Just more personal.

Author Website: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

I have read several different retelling of the traditional “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” fairytale (also known as the Eros and Psyche myth), the most notable ones being East by Edith Pattou and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. This myth is one that really works for me. Now, having read Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, I’ve found another really great retelling of the story.

Ice is the most modern take on the traditional story that I’ve read so far. Cassie lives with her father who is a scientist at an Arctic research base. She’s spent her entire life on the ice, and she knows no other “normal home.” Ever since she was a little girl, her grandmother told her a story about how her mother made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away, never to be found again. As Cassie grows up, she understands that this was just a nice way for her grandmother and father to tell her that her mother had died in a tragic accident.

Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie spots the most impressive polar bear she’s ever seen out on the ice, and sets off in chase of it in order to tranquilize it and tag it for research. However, her world is completely shattered when the polar bear speaks to her and tells her that he is the Polar Bear King, and that her mother is still alive, trapped at the ends of the earth. He will rescue her mother on the condition that Cassie agrees to become his bride.

I very much enjoyed Ice. At first, I wasn’t too sure about Cassie as our protagonist. I didn’t like her all that much, but once the adventure really got under way I thought she was a great heroine.

The romance was nicely paced and through it, the reader really got to know the personalities of both Cassie and Bear. I thought it was romantic, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and altogether very well done.

Great new take on a traditional story.

How did I get this novel? From the library
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Fairytales, Romance
Author Website: http://www.sarahbethdurst.com/

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Summary from book jacket: Princess Rose is the eldest of twelves sisters condemned to dance each night for the wicked King Under Stone in his palace deep within the earth. It is a curse that has haunted the girls since their birth–and only death will set them free.

Then Rose meets Galen, a young soldier-turned-gardener with an eye for adventure and a resolve that matches her own, and freedom suddenly begins to seem a little less impossible. To defeat the king and his dark court, they will need one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all–true love.

Review: I have read and enjoyed George’s previous work: Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow; Dragon Flight; and Dragon Slippers. Her work is very much aimed towards young adult readers, and most of her books are entertaining and good to pass an hour or two with. Not exactly deep, thought-provoking fare, but enjoyable to read if you’re looking for something light, with pretty much a guaranteed happy ending.

If you couldn’t tell already from the summary, Princess of the Midnight Ball is a fairytale retelling of the story of the 12 Dancing Princesses. Princess stuck pretty close to the original story, and improved upon it with a little more background on our soldier-hero and the setting of the story. We also find out why exactly these twelve princesses are forced to dance every night underground.

I think I enjoyed her other fairy tale retelling, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, a lot more.

There’s not really too much to say about this one; it was a good vacation from the heavier epic fantasy I’ve been reading lately.

How did I get this book? My local public library.
Author Wesbsite: Jessica Day George

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

Rating: 7 out of 10
Summary: Blessed—or cursed—with an ability to understand animals, the Lass (as she’s known to her family) has always been an oddball. And when an isbjorn (polar bear) seeks her out, and promises that her family will become rich if only the Lass will accompany him to his castle, she doesn’t hesitate. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle, which is made of ice and inhabited by a silent staff of servents. Only a grueling journey on the backs of the four winds will reveal the truth: the bear is really a prince who’s been enchanted by a troll queen, and the Lass must come up with a way to free him before he’s forced to marry a troll princess.

Commentary: A retelling of the traditional fairytale East of the Sun, West of the Moon (other versions are Cupid and Psyche, as well as Beauty and the Beast). I thought this was very enjoyable. The plot had a nice smooth flow and our heroine was strong and determined, as all heroines should be. Highly recommended.

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Rating: 8 out of 10
Summary: The gold thread shimmers in the fading light . . .

It promises Charlotte Miller a way out of debt, a chance to save her family’s beloved woolen mill. It promises a future for her sister, livelihood for her townsfolk, security against her sinuous and grasping uncle. It might even promise what she didn’t know she needed: lasting hope and true love.

But at what cost?

To get the thread, Charlotte must strike a bargain with its maker, the mysterious Jack Spinner. But the gleam of gold conjures a shadowy past — secrets and bonds ensnaring generations of Millers. And Charlotte’s mill, her family, her friends, her love . . . What do those matter to a powerful stranger who can spin straw into gold? (from book jacket)

Commentary: My experience with novels that are fairytale retellings has generally been positive–East by Edith Pattou, various others by Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier, etc–and this was no exception. If you couldn’t get it from the summary, Dark as Gold is a retelling of the traditional Rumpelstilskin myth. You know, the one where the strange little goblin man spins straw into gold three times, and asks for the nameless girl’s firstborn child as payment. In order to save her baby, the girl has to guess his name, she wins through some supernatural method, yada yada, everyone’s happy, the end.

I’ve always had several problems with this story–number one being who the heck was Rumpelstilskin? Why did he want her baby? Why did he even offer to help the girl in the first place?

Bunce’s novel fleshes out the myth and has a great story to answer all the questions. This isn’t your usual happy-go-lucky fairy tale though. There’s a sinister undercurrent running throughout the story in the form of unexplainable, supernatural happenings, amplified by the skin-of-your-teeth desperation from Charlotte and her sister in their attempts to keep their beloved family mill running.

The story Bunce creates is well-formed and solid–I can’t find anything wrong with it. The setting is a nice little village in a world on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution; there’s a bit of Big Evil Factory vs. Cute Handmade Peasant Things. But the nostalgia and politicking was kept low and didn’t overshadow the main plot. It takes a little bit to get started, about a 100 pages or so, but once it gets going, it really gets going. The plot moved along really well, and the twists in the story, while I could occasionally predict and see coming, were still interesting and entertaining.

Charlotte was a good, strong heroine, although at times I couldn’t exactly understand a lot of her motives for making decisions that she did. Jack Spinner, aka Rumpelstilskin, was fascinating and gave a really great backstory to all the questions I asked earlier. The romance was also fun and engaging–something I really liked about what Bunce did was that in many novels, the marriage/big get-together is The End, the Final Climax, and doesn’t happen till near the wrapping-up of the novel. However, Bunce showed that romance can and does continue even after the wedding, that marriage isn’t the end of the romance story (as it is so often in so man novels), but that it continues on afterwards.

My final words are: Great story, great idea, great characters, definitely worth your time. It’s classified as Young Adult or Teen fiction, but adults will be able to enjoy this as well.