This novel takes place in England at the start of the Industrial Revolution, a very clever choice on the author's part as it gives new context for the old tale. By setting the novel in such an unstable time for craftspeople, Bunce alters the way that the reader views the spindle as a machine and enhances the problems that a miller would face in the age of advancing technologies. Charlotte Miller is the young heroine who must try and keep her family's mill afloat in a new era of English history. Yet the odds are against young Charlotte, as it seems there is a curse upon both her mill and her family, but all that changes when a mysterious man named Mr. Spinner offers Charlotte his services. Can Charlotte maintain the source of her family's livelihood or will they be forever cursed? And just what is the price that Mr. Spinner demands for his services and is it something Charlotte is willing to pay? Check out Elizabeth Bunce's official website!
Mercedes Lackey's heroine is Maya Witherspoon, the daughter of an English surgeon and a high-caste Hindu woman, who has inherited both her father's doctoring talents and her mother's magical abilities. Maya flees to London in the early 20th century because her mother's evil sister, Shivani, has murdered both her parents. Maya creates a new home for herself in the strange city with the help of her loyal household servant, Gupta, and her seven pets she inherited from her mother, which are more than what they seem. Alas, Shivani pursues Maya to London, but our heroine has many loyal friends to will come to her aid, including the handsome Peter Cook, a British elemental Water Master.
This novel is so well crafted that I didn't even know that I was reading a retelling of a fairytale until the second reading! Lackey gives the novel a whimsical quality by enhancing the London world with magic, elemental masters, and supernatural pets. Moreover, the author also discusses serious topics such as mixed parentage and racial and gender prejudices, as well as the mistrust of foreigners, women's sufferage and Hinduism. I know that sounds like a lot packed into a couple hundred pages, but it all fits and flows really nicely together.
Other retellings of fairy tales in the Elemental Masters series include:
The Gates of Sleep is the story of Marina Rosewood, a woman who was cursed in her infancy and raised in the countryside by three of her parent's closest friends. However, when tragedy strikes, Marina is forced to go live with the same aunt who placed the curse on her as an infant. Can Marina escape her aunt's clutches and break the curse?
Phoenix and Ashes is a tale of the repercussions and pain of war, as well as the story of a young woman forced into servitude by her wicked stepmother, a dark Earth-mage. Our heroine, Eleanor Robinson, a budding Fire-mage, is magically bound to the household hearth, after her father dies in the trenches in WWI. Yet this doesn't stop Eleanor from falling for a neighboring baron, an Air Master and war hero. If only she can make it to the costume ball, then perhaps her lot in life will change.
The Wizard of London follows the adventures of two young girls boarded at the Harton School for Boys and Girls, a school dedicated to teaching children with magic that does not pertain to the four natural elements. Sarah Jane is the daughter of missionary parents away in Africa and Nan is a smart ex-street urchin, both attending the Harton school. Together the two friends develop their own unique abilities and face a dark, insidious woman in this retelling of the Snow Queen and Grey's Ghost.
Resevered for the Cat is the tale of young ballet dancer, Ninette Dupond, who strives to become a famous dancer. Following the advise of her feline friend Thomas, who is actually an Elemental Master, Ninette impersonates a famed Russian ballet dancer. Yet the recognition that Ninette receives arouses the attention of another more sinister nature, a dangerous elemental spirit, one that seeks to use Ninette for its own purposes.
The Fire Rose artfully weaves the real world event of the 1905 San Fransisco earthquake with the tale of Beauty and the Beast. Rosalind Hawkins leaves her home in Chicago for San Fransisco to become a governess in the household of a wealthy rail baron and Fire Master, Jason Cameron. Upon arrival however, Rosalind discovers that there are no children, but that it was her services as a medievalist and classical scholar that were wanted instead. And so, Rosalind settles in as research assistant to a man whose face she is forbidden to see.
The Black Swan delves into the tale of Swan Lake from the perspective of Odile, the lonely and manipulated child of Baron Eric von Rothbart, as she watches and cares for the enchanted flock of swan maidens. As Odile develops a closer bond with the enchanted maidens she discovers that her father is not the honorable individual she thought he was. Will Odile challenge her father's authority and help the women she has come to call her friends?
This is a reworking of the fairy tale Cinderella set in Ancient China. This retelling is particularly thought provoking because it is not set in the typical European setting. Fourteen-year-old Xing Xing is a young girl who is bound and abused in many ways. Following the death of her mother, Xing Xing's father remarries and the young girl gains a stepmother and a stepsister, Wei Ping. A short time later tragedy strikes again when Xing Xing's father dies. The young girl is forced to work as a servant for her stepmother and stepsister. With only a gold and white carp for company in a pond near their home, whom Xing Xing believes is a reincarnation of her mother's spirit, the girl tries to maintain a sense of pride and strength. Xing Xing is bound by the cultural traditions of ancient China because without her parents to arrange a suitable match for marriage she cannot find a husband. She is also bound to forever be a servant in her own household, thus becoming an invisible part of Chinese society. However, Xing Xing is not the only girl that is forced into bondage. Her stepsister, Wei Ping, is forced by her mother to bind her feet to make them small and delicate, thus illustrating the girl's grace and desirability. One night at a celebratory festival all the stability that Xing Xing has sought to create could be gone with the loss of one slipper...
If you enjoyed this book by Donna Jo Napoli be sure to look into some of her other fairy tale retellings:
Beast is the story of Orasmyn, a Persian prince, who is transformed into a lion and can only regain his true form with the love of a woman.
Sirena is the story of a siren, or mermaid, who must earn the love of a human man to gain eternal life. She and her sisters sing to lure men to them. However, after a shipwreck, Sirena begins to rethink what she wants from her life and the way in which she wants to receive love.
Spinners is the tale of a young tailor that sought to impress his would be father-in-law by clothing his beloved in gold. He attempts to spin gold thread, but becomes crippled in the process and is rejected by his lover. Years later the daughter to his once-betrothed is singled out for her skills in spinning thread by a young king that hungers for gold. Zel is the story of a young girl growing up and finding love in 16th century Switzerland. When Zel attracts the attentions of Konrad, a count's son, her mother becomes afraid that she will lose her daughter forever and imprisons the young woman in a tower. Can Konrad find his beloved and rescue her...read and find out!
This novel is a re-imagining of the Rapunzel tale, set in a 1960s, all girls, British boarding school. The protagonist Megan is not held captive in a tower room by an evil witch as in the original story. Instead, Megan and her two best friends, Bella and Alice, choose to bunk in the tower room because of the privacy and seclusion it offers. A young science teacher by the name of Simon catches the eye of Megan and the two lovers begin a passionate affair that will come at a cost.
This is the first book in a trilogy involving Megan, Alice and Bella. If you liked The Tower Room be sure to pick up the second and third books in the Egerton Hall series: Watching the Roses tells the story of Alice and her vindictive aunt, who holds a grudge because she was not invited to Alice's christening. Pictures of the Night is the tale of Bella and her beauty obsessed, jealous stepmother who will go to great lengths to be rid of Bella, whom believes she is a threat to her beauty. To learn more about Adele Geras go to her website!