Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When a Fairy Tale is Good... and When it Isn't

Sometimes, you really need a slice or three of your favorite pizza. (Go on, admit it.) Other times, nothing but a bowl of decadent ice cream (you know, the good stuff) can quench that craving you feel. And often, only the thought of a stiff drink at the end of a long day can put things to rights in your world.

When it comes to books, though, what is an equivalent treat/reward, when you're feeling sort of done in, when you're effectively "toast"? Something not too heady, too erudite, clearly; if your goal is escapism and guilty pleasure, you’re not exactly gonna pull out the Dostoyevsky or Hawthorne, are you?

No, for me that sort of release—the polar opposite of a trying day—is generally going to involve a fantasy… and one on the more effervescent, playful end of the spectrum rather than the elaborately-built-out-worlds end, because if it’s escapism I’m after, I really don’t wanna be tasked with thinking too hard.

So, over the past month or so, I’ve found myself flipping through two such lighthearted little bits of frivolity, in between other books and, you know, life. One turned out to be exactly what I needed; the other… eh, not so much.

And here’s the kicker: both were by the same author... with rather different results. I present, W.R. Gingell’s Masque and Spindle.

* ~ * ~ * 


The description of Masque hooked me from the start: “Beauty met the Beast and there was… bloody murder?”. (Major points for adapting a fairy tale; what could possibly be more escapist than that?)

Better yet, though, the book followed through on its promise. Lady Isabella Farrah is the perfect heroine for this sort of piece—beautiful, charming, spunky, ever-so-witty, and (conveniently, for the plot, natch) an “old maid” (at the advanced age of 28, gasp!). While her younger siblings are at home or off doing other things, she is acting as her politician-father’s aide while they’re in the capitol city seeing to political business. When, during the course of an evening at a big party, she stumbles into a murder scene—the victim being one of her friends, no less-- she finds a new/secondary purpose for herself: to (help) solve the murder.

The only problem with that? The man tasked with solving it—one Lord Pecus (Commander of the Watch, as well as rich, eligible, and suitably-mysterious bachelor)—has no desire to have her help. At all.

What follows is, of course, somewhat predictable… but who reads fairy tales (light fantasies, etc.) expecting to be gobsmacked, anyway? (Certainly not about the final outcome.) But it’s an utterly-delicious ride from those first pages to reach the end of the story, full of little twists, plenty of humor, a good sense of place, and a host of very well-drawn supporting characters.


Spindle, on the other hand, provided me with very little of what I had found so utterly fun and absorbing in the previous book.

Oh, it started off with some promise; where Masque was clearly a riff on “Beauty and the Beast”, Spindle took on “Sleeping Beauty” (which, in and of itself, was certainly fine). The problem, though, is that Spindle almost entirely lacked in great (or even, particularly good) characters.

Polyhymnia (thankfully, “Poly” for short) is the long-hidden princess who’s been slumbering away whilst under a sleeping curse… which is finally, after many decades, broken by one Luck, a—erm—rather lucky enchanter. The surprise for Luck? Poly insists she isn’t a princess. (Of course, she also insists she has no magic in her, which is clearly not the case.)

Now, it’s certainly no shock that these two are destined (by the author, if not by the reader’s common sense) to wind up together. But, as just intimated, that’s sort of an issue, here… chiefly, because neither of the two main characters acquits her-/himself in a particularly interesting manner, nor do they have any discernible chemistry. Like, none at all.

In fact, the only character in Spindle I actually found myself enjoying was a dog who… well, is more than he appears. (And even the novelty of that wore off after a time.)

Additionally, if I were editing Spindle, I could easily (and would joyfully!) have hacked off a good third of it, and suggested it be offered up as a novella rather than a full-length work. (It still wouldn’t have been aces, but removing so much sheer drudgery—page after page, chapter after chapter—of nothing of any interest or import happening, would at least have tightened up the story and made it considerably better.)

As it stands, though, I was so weary of a whole lotta nothingness that when the end was in sight—and the few things that were going to happened actually did—that I had a hard time caring.

 * ~ * ~ * 

Ms. Gingell definitely has some talent for this sort of tale, and—on the basis of Masque, alone—I’ll definitely look at some of her other works… but I’m going to need a while, because I simply couldn’t face the potential disappointment of finding I’d had the misfortune to latch onto something more like the dreary Spindle than like the delicious Masque, quite so soon. 

~GlamKitty  




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