Next on my reading list was Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, a retelling of various fairytales (yes, I'm attempting to read my way through every retelling there is). And after quite a few dark and disappointing books, it was a complete delight.

Summary on the back: Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora's throne ten years ago. Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it's too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

My thoughts: While initially a sequel of sorts to Sleeping Beauty, Princess Of Thorns ends up being more a retelling of The Wild Swans, which was a pleasant surprise. It's a fusion that works quite well, and the fast pace and entertaining writing style hooked me from the beginning and never let go. Aurora and Niklaas spent much of the first part of the book as friends, and when the relationship turns romantic, it's much more believable than most YA fiction I've read. Aurora was also a refreshing protagonist, both courageous - she saves both her brother and Niklaas - and likeable. And Niklaas, although a bit selfish at first, grew on me throughout the book, making it easy to root for the two to get a happy ending. I loved their banter, and the "drunk" scene was hilarious. Also I adored how Niklaas doesn't overreact when he finds out she's a girl - and still has just as much, if not more admiration for her.

I loved the world-building, even though I wanted more of it - I needed more fairies and ogres! - and the lighter, more magical feel of the story. A lot of re-tellings aim for a much darker, complex world, so it was a joy to find a story stripped back to the fairytale roots, where magic simply is, and happily ever after is unquestionably on the last page. It was also a complete treat to read a book so utterly lacking in the common YA tropes of insta-love, love triangles, and annoyingly prickly heroines.

Overall, Princess of Thorns was a delight, a brisk and thoroughly entertaining story.
calliope tune: "Everyday"-Buddy Holly
feeling: chipper
My second venture into YA fiction was The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, and I admit the only reason I gave it a second look was the title and that gorgeous front cover. I was expecting a light, cheesy romance with a fairytale vibe. And while romance is certainly a part of it, I was pleasantly surprised to discover there was so much more to the tale.

summary on the back: Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she's engaged to the prince, Twylla isn't exactly a member of the court. She's the executioner. As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month, she's taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla's fatal touch, avoids her company. But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he's able to look past Twylla's executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla's been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen. However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla's problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?

My thoughts:
In many ways, this book contains all the elements I love in a story - first person narration, flawed characters, sibling feels, unapologetically evil royals who get their just desserts, suffocating court life contrasted against a free peasant life, a satisfying yet open ending, and a dollop of deliciously creepy incest on top. I've long held a fascination for Sin Eaters, and despite the narrow setting (with the vast majority of the book set within just a few rooms of the castle), the world-building was flawless, folding in folklore, original mythology, customs, religion, classes, and their very own fairytales (the most intriguing of which was a delightfully dark and gory blend of Sleeping Beauty and the Pied Piper), all so quietly and effortlessly it never felt like world-building at all, and more like some long forgotten time in history. Also, despite the slow plot, and complete lack of it for the first part of the story, I never felt bored, thanks to the lovely prose. I also appreciated the crossing of genres, with fantasy, mystery, romance, and courtroom thriller all getting tangled up in a series of twists, some of which I expected, others of which surprised me.

Despite her eye-rolling Mary Sueish name, Twylla never feels like a Mary Sue, or even anything like the dubiously *strong* assembly line heroines YA churns out, and more like a very average, mostly good-hearted teenage girl. She isn't athletic, or a fighter, she isn't good at hunting - is sickened by it, in fact - and she's deeply flawed, naive, occasionally petty, and somewhat selfish. Yet, despite all this, she's the most likeable YA protagonist I've come across so far, thanks to the fact that she realizes, acknowledges, and actually puts efforts into fixing many of her flaws, as well as the fact that, unlike most so called strong female characters, her triumph and journey's end isn't in either becoming a warrior or finding her true love, but rather finding her own place in the world, and making a life of her own choosing.

Similarly flawed are the two male protagonists, and despite it technically being a love triangle, the romance is presented in a way that makes it far less annoying than usual. Neither is perfect, neither jumps out as the right choice, with Lief's lies and flashes of darkness and Merek's haughtiness and borderline obsession with Twylla. Despite my preference for Lief, due to his rebellious streak and lower station, I did warm to Merek by the ending. It's also an note to the writer's talent that she could make me both love and feel emotion for a character who never appears in the story: Twylla's waifish little sister, left behind when Twylla was taken to the castle. Their relationship was the backbone of Twylla's character in many ways, and was, oddly enough, the most believable and endearing of all the relationships to me, above either romance. The only undeveloped character is the vile Queen, and it's actually a treat for once to not have a layered or even redeemable villain, just a old-fashioned baddie with no other motive than power.

Overall, I found The Sin Eater's Daughter both a delight and a breath of fresh air in an extremely worn genre, and am looking forward to starting the sequel.
feeling: melancholy
calliope tune: "Bow Down"-Burl Ives