Fairy tales with a twist

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

Six Crimson Cranes
By Elizabeth Lim
Knopf Books, 2021

Shiori’anma is the only princess in Kiata and she has a secret. In a kingdom where magic is forbidden, it runs through her veins. She usually keeps it hidden, but eventually loses control of her magic on the morning of her engagement ceremony, where she will meet her husband-to-be for the first time. While this stops the wedding (which she never wanted to start), it also draws the attention of her stepmother, Raikama.

A sorceress herself, Raikama banishes Shiori to a far corner of the kingdom and turns her six brothers into cranes – warning the princess that for every word she speaks, one of her brothers will die. Destitute, voiceless and dumb, Shiori searches for her brothers. Along the way, she uncovers a conspiracy to seize the throne and realizes she can make things right – with the help of a shape-shifting dragon, her trusty enchanted paper bird, and the same boy she fought not to marry.

“Cranes” is a story that combines elements from Western fairy tales and East Asian folklore.

Lim does an amazing job putting them all together into a story about a young woman forced to start her life over, away from everything and everyone she’s ever known. I really enjoyed how Lim took the archetypes that many of us know – the ‘evil’ stepmother, a young woman relegated to a lower social position, a prince in search of a missing princess, with only a slipper as a clue. — and her own twist on it. It’s also nice to see how these different elements eventually come to fruition.

Shiori is a strong and smart character. And while she’s always had a rebellious streak as a princess, it’s not until Raikama curses her that she really learns to stand on her own two feet and stand up for what’s right. She shows readers how being voiceless doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for yourself.

Once More Upon a Time: an enchanting romantic fairy tale
By Roshani Chokshi
Source books Casablanca, 2021

Meet Imelda and Ambrose, a princess and prince who meet, fall in love and get married over the course of a few days. But unlike other fairy tales, the wedding is not followed by the couple riding into the sunset and living happily ever after. Thanks to a poisonous tomato that leaves Imelda sick and on her deathbed, Ambrose makes a deal with a witch that makes them forget their love for each other in exchange for Imelda’s life.

Then a year and a day pass and their true story begins.

To win back their hearts’ desires, Imelda and Ambrose embark on a quest together, braving magical landscapes and defeating horrific creatures along the way. They may not have a trustworthy steed, but they do have an enchanted cloak that thinks it’s a horse. And as they get closer to the end of their journey, the magically estranged couple draws closer and discovers their true hearts desires.

“Once More” is a fun twist on the traditional fairy tales that many of us are familiar with. While the story features many of the usual archetypes – princes fighting dragons, a witch’s curse, finding your true love after knowing them for an extremely short time – things aren’t always what they seem. Which I really loved. And because it is Chokshi, the author of my beloved Pandava quintet, there is humor and commentary from the narrator of the story that will keep readers smiling until the very end.

One thing I especially appreciated was how Chokshi takes the usual fairytale style of meeting someone and immediately knowing they are your One True Love, and making readers really question it through Imelda and Ambrose. Throughout the story, as the couple grows closer, they wonder if love is enough to build a strong relationship and marriage, especially since their past experiences with love have meant different things and not always positively. have been. This never happens in fairy tales, and I’m all for asking ourselves whether we should persevere just for tradition or if we should think twice about it.

The magic fish
By Trung Le Nguyen
Random house image, 2020

As a young boy growing up in the United States and an immigrant from Vietnam who struggles with English, Tien and his mother come from different cultures. One of the things that brings them together is reading fairy tales they read from the local library. The stories allow Tien’s mother to practice her English, while the stories of love, loss and travel around the world give him a glimpse into the experiences of his mother who came to the United States.

But as much as these fairy tales bridge the gap, there’s one conversation he still doesn’t know how to translate into Vietnamese. How does he tell them he’s gay? And if he finds out, will they accept him?

“Magic Fish” is the story of a family caught between two worlds. Nguyen features fairy tales from different cultures, some of which readers will recognize. He does a great job of showing how these stories are truly universal and that we can identify with them no matter where they come from or where we come from. It reminded me that one of the reasons I love stories is that they are universal and how they bring people together.

In addition to the stories – from those of Tien and his mother to the fairy tales themselves – ‘Magic Fish’ is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel. I haven’t read much of the medium, but Nguyen shows how a picture is worth a thousand words. He is able to tell these stories without much text, conveying what is happening through images, characters and their expressions. I also appreciated the different styles he used when he went between the stories of Tien and his mother and the fairy tales – which for someone who is not so artistically inclined, was very impressive.

Samantha can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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