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August 14, 2023

4 Books of Fantastic Folklore and Fantasy

by MK French

book covers of the 4 fantasy and folklore novels reviewed

If you love losing yourself in the pages of a great fantasy novel or story based on folklore, then you will want to pick up these four books.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

Medusa's Sisters by Lauren J. A. Bear

book cover of folklore novel Medusa's Sisters by Lauren J.A. Bear
August 2023; Ace; 978-0593546857
audio, ebook, print (368 pages); folklore

Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale were unique among immortals before they were transformed into Gorgons. Medusa and her sisters were curious about humanity and searched for a place to belong among them. Unfortunately, it put them at the center of a dangerous rivalry. Too late, they realize that a god's love is a violent one.

People remember Medusa due to Perseus' quest to bring her head back to save his mother. People often forget that she had two sisters, and she was the most mortal of the three. Stheno and Euryale take center stage here, showing how all three sisters lived and influenced each other over centuries. For those who aren't knowledgeable about Greek mythology, Stheno gives the tale of their family and birth. The Gorgons were all born human-looking instead of monstrous as their siblings and essentially raised themselves. Fascination with humans and Euryale's intention to get Poseidon's attention brings them to Thebes and then Athens, interacting with humans and gods alike. This brings the sisters joy, friendship, misery, and grief.

Mythology has changed over time, and this is acknowledged at the end of the novel. I liked seeing how the variations were woven into the novel, as well as the reason why the sisters were cursed to be Gorgons. It's heartbreaking and potentially triggering for Medusa to be abused in such a way, with more description than other mortals were. The Olympians rarely answer for any of the crimes they commit against mortals or the Titans. It's a world where 'might makes right', after all, so Stheno and Euryale get revenge in the only ways that they know how. It doesn't thrust them into the limelight by any means, and it's also incredibly sad for me to see how it all comes together in the end. Many of the monstrous creatures are not treated well in mythology or by the beautiful Olympians, and this book forces us to see them as creatures with feelings, emotions, and loves all their own. I liked seeing this side of myths, in a manner I hadn't ever thought of before.

Buy Medusa's Sisters at Amazon

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

book cover of folklore novel Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher
August 2023; Tor Books; 978-1250244093
audio, ebook, print (128 pages); folklore

When Toadling was born, she was stolen by fairies and grew up in faerieland. Once an adult, the fae ask Toadling to return to the human world and offer a blessing of protection to a newborn child. Centuries later, a knight approaches a towering wall of brambles, where the thorns are as thick as your arm and as sharp as swords. He's heard there's a curse here that needs breaking, but it's a curse Toadling will do anything to uphold.

This is not the first variation of Sleeping Beauty that T. Kingfisher has written, but this novella works with the premise What if people should have feared Sleeping Beauty? What if she was kept away for a reason? Toadling has kept watch over the tower and the brambles, watching as time went by. She has little magic as a changeling that lived with the equivalent of fairy country bumpkins, so the job she was given centuries ago went awry. I enjoyed seeing her POV, and how she gradually opened up with a knight curious about her and her role in the story. What she says and does matters, and this is more than she'd received from the fairy goddess. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and wished it was longer so I could see more of Toadling's future.

Buy Thornhedge at Amazon

A Multitude of Dreams by Mara Rutherford

book cover of young adult fantasy novel A Multitude of Dreams by Mara Rutherford
August 2023;  Inkyard Press; 978-1335457967
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); YA fantasy

Princess Imogen of Goslind has spent the last three years within the boarded-up castle that keeps her and its inhabitants safe from the bloody mori roja plague. As King Stuart descends into madness, the secrets she keeps are at risk of being revealed. Rations are dwindling, and murmuring threatens to upset the fragile balance among the castle residents. Nico Mott lost everything in the plague before Lord Crane took him in. When Lord Crane sends Nico to search for survivors in the castle, Nico meets Imogen. They will have to work together to survive what's coming.

Does this sound like Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" to you? Good if it does! We're introduced to the princess in the castle first, and we're told of her secret right away. Nico is introduced next, and he discovers Lord Crane's true intention for looking for survivors in the castle. The plague that covered the land killed most of the people, though some were naturally immune and had markings on their wrists to indicate that. The people who were in hiding are considered to be "immaculate," and the macabre nursery rhyme in the area indicates that there is most definitely an ulterior motive for finding them. With Nico impersonating a prince and the princess herself full of secrets, we know it's not going to end well or simply.

This novel essentially revolves around blood. The mori roja killed people by having them bleed out everywhere in three days. The survivors are either immune, immaculate or reborn; their blood status essentially determines what kind of risk they'll have in this post-plague future. Blood is the life, after all, and that does imply exactly what you think it does. In addition to this is the concept of blood as in bloodline, with royalty and nobility getting their way due to an accident of birth and the ordinary folk suffering. Jews in this world suffer much as they had during the plagues of our world, a parallel that the author saw in her research and carried over into the novel. I was drawn into the story and had to know what happened to all of the characters, staying up far too late to finish it. Definitely worth the exhaustion the next day!

Buy A Multitude of Dreams at Amazon

Her Radiant Curse by Elizabeth Lim

book cover of young adult fantasy novel Her Radiant Curse by Elizabeth Lim
August 2023; Knopf Books; 978-0593300992
audio, ebook, print (432 pages); YA fantasy

Channi's father sacrificed her to the Demon Witch, causing her to be cursed with a serpent’s face. Channi is now the exact opposite of her beautiful sister, Vanna. At seventeen, Vanna is to be married off in a contest that will enrich the village leaders. Channi, plans to defend her sister against the cruelest of the suitors, but that makes her his target. A grisly battle ensues, creating a quest over land and sea, forcing Channi to make an impossible choice.

Featuring another gorgeous cover by Tran Nguyễn, this book is full of details. Exploring beauty and sisterhood, Elizabeth Lim weaves Asian folklore into a Beauty and the Beast type of tale. Vanna sees marriage to a king as the only way out of their tiny village, but they literally bid on her and don't intend to make her queen, only a concubine. They plan to exploit the divine light emanating from her, so Channi steps in. Cursed and full of venomous blood, she spent her time in the jungle when not hiding her face or getting beaten. Trying to keep Vanna safe sets in motion the prophecies that were laid when Channi was a child: one sister will rise as the other falls. The Witch is searching for the other half of a dragon’s pearl, which gives it magic and enables it to truly fly. The dragon in question is cursed to never see it, and the reader will figure it out before he does. 

The book is very much an adventure story, with the sisters' love for each other at its heart. Vanna wanted a better life for Channi, and Channi just wanted Vanna safe. Channi certainly has the more difficult part of the story, battling the dragon, demons, and creatures along her path. The Witch has allies borne of fear, after all, and Channi has too little to work with. She tries and continues, even when she feels like all is lost; the end was not one that I predicted at all. It's a beautiful and compelling read, where I had to continue to the end. Like Elizabeth Lim's other novels, it's well done, finely crafted, and will leave you with a book hangover.

Buy Her Radiant Curse at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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