Wednesday, December 17, 2014


First of all, let us take a moment to bask in the glory of this cover. Bask. It is glorious. The author is a graphic designer and has a whole side business in designing glorious book covers. I plan on using her myself, when I finally get some things finished and ready to publish again (soon, I promise! There will be seven. See what I did there?).

Second, let me just say that I'm pretty sure that pretty much everything that feminists and their sympathizers have ever found to hate about fairy tales in general, and the tale of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in particular, is addressed and corrected in Starla Hutchton's Shadows on Snow: A Flipped Fairy Tale. And not just because the genders of the rescued and the rescuer are flipped. Oh no.

So yes, the innocent and beautiful Snow White is, in this book, an almost ridiculously handsome prince. And he gets rescued by a princess. Dur. But wait, there's more.

Because the dwarfs, too, are gender flipped, but are also turned into something much more than mere caretakers of/providers of refuge for the hapless victim character. The seven in this tale are women. Moreover, they are magic users. Moreover, they are princesses. And the rescuing princess is one of them.

Already we're seeing fantastic levels of agency in the characters and an enrichment of the original Snow White plot that is wonderful to see. For these seven magical princesses have a deep and plot-relevant back story; the wicked stepfather (yes, more flipping. Starla flips it all, yo) has done his dirty deeds before, has a pattern of wickedness and sorcery, and these seven princesses were orphaned and exiled from their wonderful kingdom in the wicked stepfather's last go-around.

But this is all just background to the drama of the seventh and youngest princess, Rae, and her prince, Leopold, he of the skin white as snow and hair black as ebony -- but also he of considerable wisdom, kindness, martial prowess and all around quality. Snow White in the original tale is beautiful and innocent and kind, but Leopold could lead an army into war, yo. But he still winds up needing saving, because he doesn't know much about magic. Good thing for him Rae does.

But Rae also is not just a magic user. She's a fully rounded kickass heroine in the Katniss Everdine mode, with outdoor survival skills, a talent for managing horses, and believable vulnerabilities that keep her interesting even as she enacts the obvious fairy tale plot.

And this is key, when you're retelling classic fairy tales and legends. We know the story. We know the plot twists, know how it's going to end. We need reasons other than suspense to be bothered with reading the story yet again, and really, for this reader, said reasons need to go way beyond just "well, what if Snow White was a boy and he got rescued by Princess Charming."

On this, Ms. Hutchton absolutely delivers. Every character (well, except maybe the Voldemort-ish wicked stepfather, who is more of a looming threat than an actual presence in most of the novel, perhaps to the book's slight detriment, but oh well) is well-developed and unique. The novel length gives the author the chance to really explore the story's world, its politics, its history, its sexual dynamics, its humanity.

I'm pretty sure this is my favorite thing Ms. Hutchton has done. I am happily ever after.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Greg Kisbaugh's BONE WELDER

Do you love Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a whole lot? Like enough to be one of those pedants who can't remind people fast enough that Frankenstein is the scientist's name, not the monster's? Do you also love Chicago a whole lot? Do you wish these two things could be brought together into a heartbreaking further chronicle of the most misunderstood?

Then Greg Kisbaugh is definitely your huckleberry.

The main conceit of Bone Welder is that Frankenstein's Monster was real, that Ms. Shelley got most of his story right but that she got the ending really wrong. The Monster didn't kill anybody, grew to become a noble and cultivated soul, but botched his reunion with his creator on the scientist's wedding night so badly that he had no choice but to head north and build what amounts to his own Fortress of Solitude.

That is until our man Jonas comes along. Ah, Jonas, long a widower, recently deprived also of his daughter, duped by a mad scientist into believing he can at least get the daughter back, but did I not emphasize the mad enough? Anyway, this scientist (no, not our monster's creator, but someone with an intimate connection to that tragic figure nonetheless) turns out to have duped a lot of people before Jonas, producing a huge population of botched re-animations that shamble about the darker, seedier bits of downtown Chicago, immortal imbeciles who have merged with the city's homeless population, and who now count (or would if they still could count) Jonas' beloved daughter among their number...

Yes, the soundtrack music for this novel would be heavy on the weeping, wailing melodrama of the violin.  But this is not a bad thing.

Anyway, said modern day mad scientist, one Lucius Angel, has convinced Jonas that Frankenstein's Monster (who now calls himself Victor) is the only person who can help de-zombify Jonas' daughter. So off our hapless Jonas goes to track down a legend.

Soon Jonas and Victor are skulking around Chicago, trying to put a stop on Angel's operation, but of course this proves insanely difficult. For Angel is as old and immortal as Victor, but has spent his centuries more profitably, building himself an empire with seemingly limitless resources. All Victor and Jonas have to draw on is, you guessed it, an army of Angel's mistakes.

Yes, this is all exactly as awesome as it sounds.

But wait, there's more. For it turns out Angel's efforts don't always result in mindless failures. Unbeknownst to him, two of the mistakes he's loosed on Chicago are lucid. One, Cooper Shaye, is working to ease the suffering of his fellow undead. As for the other, well, he's the one the book is (at least superficially) named for: Raymond Grimes, sound (sort of) of mind but decrepit in body, a disgraced surgeon in life, Angel's Bone Welder henchman in death. The scenes featuring these two secondary characters almost steal the show, with Shaye's heroic pathos nicely countering Grimes' chilling amorality. I'd read an entire novel about either one.

But if course, this is a book about Victor, and an elegant reimagining of his story and extension of its themes. Man, do I wish I, Frankenstein had used this storyline instead of the hot mess it had. I just needed to put that out there. Hollywood missed its chance, big time. When I am queen, etc.
I do wish, though, that the ending had been tighter. I can well understand the impulse to want to preserve the possibility of sequels in this publishing climate, but this book felt all the way through like a strong stand-alone. Good as this was -- and it's very good indeed -- I don't really want to read further adventures of Victor & Jonas. But maybe that's just me.