I’ve come late to reading Bryony and Roses, the Beauty and the Beast retelling by Ursula Vernon (writing as T. Kingfisher. It’s been available for quite some time—indeed, T. Kingfisher has published more than one book-length work in the interim—and as I really loved The Raven and The Reindeer, and had been meaning to read Summer in Orcus since the beginning of the year, I figured I should perhaps also read Bryony and Roses.
One of the delightful things about Kingfisher’s protagonists is just how practical they are. Bryony and Roses is the story of a very practical gardener, the titular Bryony, who stumbles into a magical manor house in the middle of an unexpected snowstorm. This brings her face to face with its Beast, labouring—though Bryony doesn’t yet know it—under a curse. Matters proceed in fairytale fashion from there, albeit with Kingfisher’s own unique twists on fairytale matters.
Bryony is much more concerned with gardens and plants than with humans. Her practicality combines with Kingfisher’s sense of whimsy to produce a book that has a great sense of humour, while Bryony’s growing affection for her kidnapper/fellow captive builds very effectively—it’s easy to see why she likes the Beast, and enjoys his company, and easy, too, to understand her sympathy once she realises he has been trapped for at least a century. Bryony and Roses has joined The Raven and the Reindeer among my very favourite fairytale retellings: it’s a cracking good read, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
I must also heartily recommend Summer in Orcus, originally published as an online serial in late 2016. Twelve-year-old Summer, the child of a very nervous mother—a child who has learned to soothe her mother through her worries and her fears—encounters the witch Baba Yaga and, offered her heart’s desire, finds herself catapulted into a strange world. She sees a wondrous tree, one whose leaves transform when they hit the ground—but it is dying. Summer sets out on a quest to help the tree. Along the way, she encounters things she never could have imagined, and finds herself on a path that clashes directly with a great wickedness. She finds allies in a talking weasel, a hoopoe in a waistcoat—the dandy Reginald, unexpectedly brave—and a wolf named Glorious who transforms by night into a cottage. (He is a were-house.)
Summer in Orcus in its structure and its practical protagonist—a child, but one who feels like a real child—and its delightful oddities with serious underpinnings reminds me of Digger, albeit in prose rather than comic-strip form. It isn’t a portal fantasy about saving the world. It’s a portal fantasy about saving just one thing, for a little while. It’s also a story about using one’s hurts, one’s painful experiences, to do good, as opposed to evil.
It’s really brilliant, both touching and very funny.
Dianna Gunn’s Keeper of the Dawn (Booksmugglers Publishing) is a novella I wanted to like. Set in an epic fantasy world, with a young asexual woman as its protagonist—a young woman who is brave and stubborn—its individual elements all seem like things I should enjoy. But its prose is more workperson-like than elegant, the pacing is uneven, and I could not determine its thematic argument. For me, I think, it is at best an interesting failure, though I look forward to seeing what other people have to say.
What are you guys reading lately?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.