The fairy tales children grow up with aren’t separate stories – there aren’t that many witches around. The ones that do exist, however, travel the world for decades before they perish in the center of a bonfire. One witch, young and good (or at least with good intentions), has had a hand in several of the classic tales. She once brought you Beastly, and is back for more with several stories wrapped up into one chronicle of her various successes and failures. She’s traveled the world and caused all kinds of mishaps, but some turned out better than others, like her main story, of an evil stepsister who’s not the one you’d expect. This witch, eternally young, has found something to pass the lonely span of time that she must live through: righting the wrongs of modern American high school. In this story, though, after centuries of a solitary life, will she finally find a friend?
The story of this book began with a mystery, and aptly so. I get books from publishers and authors periodically, from a mix of Goodreads giveaways and other promos for bloggers or readers. Usually I get some notice, or there’s a note in with the book. When I found the cheery padded envelope from HarperCollins (thanks to them, by the way), I figured it was going to be one of my Goodreads requests that I submitted during a recent post. It wasn’t. It was Bewitched, by Alex Flinn. I loved Beastly, and the movie adaptation, though it takes a lot of liberties with the story, is definitely a guilty pleasure (as I’ve mentioned before). I’d heard about/seen that the author had written other books about the witch from the story, but I’d never had an urge to go out of my way to find them because I’m not generally a person that enjoys fairy tales (gasp, I know, but I’m more of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller kind of reader). Actually, Beastly was one of the only modern retellings I’ve ever loved.
But I am not one to turn my nose up at a free book, so after searching through the 10,000 (no, honestly, I added it up and it was about 11k) unread emails in my inbox I found the alert I’d missed that congratulated me on my win. (I am the kind of Goodreads enterer that browses the lists at four in the morning and doesn’t really remember what I signed up for after I’ve had some sleep). I hunkered down on a rainy afternoon when I’d blissfully checked everything off my to-do list, and read. And read and read and read. At first, I didn’t really enjoy Bewitched. For the first couple chapters it’s written in an antiquated English that I found clunky. I am a huge fan of contractions, and the first story in Bewitching had a severe lack of them. But I read on, because I still had some faith in the author and someone had seen me reading it and said they thought it was good.
Before I continue, some background on the story and the form of the book. Bewitching follows the witch, Kendra, who turned Kyle into a beast in Beastly (I am going to assume everyone here knows the Beauty and the Beast trope and doesn’t need me to explain that one), who apparently has quite a history with classic fairy tales. Bewitching has stories inspired by Hansel & Gretel, The Little Mermaid (interwoven with the Titanic– what), The Princess and the Pea, and most glaringly, Cinderella. It starts out with Kendra telling her own story about herself and the witch that lured her to her gingerbread house and tried to bake her in 1666, then moves on to the first part of a twisted Cinderella, then to The Princess and the Pea, then back to Cinderella, then to The Little Mermaid, then back to Cinderella with commentaries thrown in there by the well-meaning witch herself. This was an interesting way of telling the story, and would’ve worked to build the suspense around the Cinderella part if I were the type of patient reader who followed the rules. Actually, I just read the Hansel & Gretel and all three Cinderella parts, skipping the other two and going back for them after I’d picked my jaw up off the floor about the ending to Flinn’s Cinderella.
First off, a word on the first part of the book, Girl to Woman to Witch: England, 1666 (wordy titles seem to be a thing here). It was a great rethinking of Hansel & Gretel, and had elements of plague in there that appealed to me as a dark, contagion kind of girl. I was majorly turned off from the story by the wording: long, ancient sentences with no modern tricks, which I usually enjoy in a book. I definitely understood why it was told in that voice, but it got on my nerves and pulled me out of the story (sometimes so I could read particularly convoluted sentences out loud for the appreciation of those around me). After thinking about it for a while, I can think of another reason the book would begin in such an antiquated language style. The rest of the book, though a lot of it was set in modernish times, resonated with slightly old fashioned grammar that, had I not already been exposed to the extreme version in the beginning of the book, would have gotten on my nerves as well. As it was, I was so relieved to find some normal language (even a few slang words, though I oppose to the non-sarcastic usage of the ‘word’ “totes”) that I was alright when faced with the reality that I was about to read the rest of a 338 page novel without the use of mom, mama, mum, mummy, mommy, even momma – only Mother. Smart move, Mrs. Flinn.
Onto the Cinderella aspect of the book. Cinderella was never a fairy tale I got into as a kid, but I knew the general outline. Poor, beautiful Cinderella is exploited by the evil stepsisters and stepmother after her wonderful father dies and leaves her no other choice than to live with her evil, evil relatives. I was expecting that kind of run of the mill story. I was surprised, however, that this was no Cinderella Story (an awful movie, by the way. Not even the dancing was good). Minor, maybe a little bit of a spoiler alert, the poor, beautiful orphaned girl is the villain, and the nerdy, ‘ugly’ stepsister is the heroine. Yeah. That was cool. On the other hand, it was INCREDIBLY frustrating (so frustrating that it made me use capital letters, which is something I try to save for extreme situations). I get that way with books that have very little justice for a long time, and they often end up being thrown at things or possibly dropped in puddles, bathtubs, waterslides, etc (true story, bro). Luckily I inflicted no such damage on the gorgeous hardcover and was able to see the story through to the end, which was brilliant. The end, I mean, though I liked the story too. But man, I did not see that coming (at least not until the last couple chapters, where there were definite signs. I’ll shut up now, so as not to spoil anything, but if you read any part of this book, make it the third installment of Lisette and Emma). So that was nice.
I found the couple chapters on The Princess and the Pea fairly mediocre, though it was also a nice twist. I liked the bit on The Little Mermaid, but I’m a sucker for anything Titanic related (possibly the most awesome fiction-inspiring event in history), so I’m probably not the most impartial judge on that one. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure why they broke up the installments of Lisette and Emma, but they were an interesting addition.
Lastly, a note about the commentaries from Kendra. She would pop up to introduce and wrap up the different stories, which was a neat plot device because there was no awkward epilogue setting, just an informal explanation of what happened afterwards. I like the character of Kendra, but for some reason her commentaries weren’t as good as I really wanted them to be. There was something about the writing style that didn’t fit with the rest of the book, both the modern stories and the one that explained her past. It was like the comments were an afterthought and didn’t get as much editing attention as the rest of the book.
All in all, Bewitching was definitely worth my night. It was a look into a genre that I haven’t really explored before, and might continue to occasionally dip into, but it wasn’t a revelation or something life changing. One extremely nice thing was, even though it was the second book in a series, it stood alone perfectly. That was awesome. It was really a nice book overall, with very imaginative (in a good way) retellings of classic tales that I should probably be more familiar with. It was one of my more successful Goodreads wins (nottobringitupagainbutSandDollarwasaterribleexperience), and a chance I’m very glad to have gotten.
Happy Friday, enjoy SPRING,