Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Wicked Thing Is Deliciously Sweet

One of the few complaints I have regarding A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas is the title itself--it's veering off into pink Harlequin territory rather alarmingly.  Also, I'm not quite sure what the title is referring to--it has little to do with the deliciously, slightly fluffy story within.

I am a huge, huge sucker for fairy tale retellings.  As of late, I've been underwhelmed.  Everything has to try to be The Hunger Games meets the Brothers Grimm, which, FYI, doesn't work out so well. Or people try to do high fantasy and really end up writing 600 pages of nothing at all, which is also depressing.


To my extreme delight, A Wicked Thing is a wonderfully fluffy, delicious confection threaded with solid self-empowerment sentiments.  The author, Rhiannon Thomas, writes a blog called Feminist Fiction, which, of course, I've now added to my reading list of blogs.  Some of her topics aren't things that are in my sphere of knowledge--like Game of Thrones--but her reviews of books are thoughtful and don't pull any punches.  This is not a bootlicking book blog, of which I've discovered quite a few.  Anyway, after having learned that about the author, I understand why A Wicked Thing dealt with the themes that it did, and that ending!  The ending was my favorite part!

This article discusses just four of the numerous global incarnations of the sleeper mythos.  I found it telling that the version that most kids in the states are familiar with, the Briar Rose incarnation, " completely neglect[s] the second half of the tale that takes place after her marriage. Like the eldest of the four tales, the story closes with the simplest of ‘happily ever afters.’"  Indeed, that's where the fairy tale most often ends: there's a kiss, maybe a dance, a marriage, and a "happily ever after" (Lethologica, 4/16/2011). The princess barely knows her new prince, and yet they still get married.  How does that work?  I mean, I'm not even dating anyone and I have marriage anxiety--how can you marry someone you just met???  

Anyway, Princess Aurora is awakened from her magically-induced slumber by the well-meaning, ever-blushing Prince Rodric, who claims he's her true love.  After all, doesn't the story say that Aurora can only be awakened by the kiss of her true love?  Fortunately, Aurora has a good head on her shoulders and doesn't react well to a) being kissed by a stranger, b) finding out that she's been repeatedly kissed for a hundred years without her consent, and c) automatically becoming engaged to Rodric.  And Rodric's not a bad guy--he's shy and sweet and just as trapped as Aurora.  "A bit hapless, a bit unsure, but nice.  yet he was a stranger, a strange, ungainly boy who claimed her as his own, and she did not know what to do.  She had nothing else..."  

Some might argue that Aurora should have, from the first, proclaimed her independence and just run away.  But consider her situation: everyone she knows is dead.  Her family is dead.  The fairy who cursed her has disappeared.  The new royal family (really, a bunch of usurpers) whisks her out of her tower and places her under lock and key.  Aurora is disoriented, alone, and (importantly) fiercely loyal to her country.  She won't leave her people, especially once she finds out that the king is wicked and cruel behind his jolly facade, and that the people don't have enough to eat.  She's willing to sacrifice herself to this loveless marriage in the hopes of bettering her people's living conditions.  Well, at first she is.

Aurora has a few skills that the new royal family doesn't know about.  Like lockpicking.  She's able to slip out of the castle and mingle with the citizenry.  At a tavern, she meets a roguish, likeable guy who opens her eyes to the truth about the King and the state of Alyssinia (her kingdom).  I don't blame Aurora for falling for Tristan, and I like her even more for the decisions she makes regarding their relationship.  You might not like Aurora when the book starts, but at the end, I wanted to give that girl a high five.

Aurora slowly realizes that she's being used, not just by the King and Queen, but by the rebels, and by Celestine (the wicked fairy).  She decides she doesn't want to be currency in their personal wars, but be her own person.  

I also really enjoyed the relationship between Roderic and Aurora.  She doesn't hate him--he's really not a bad person--but she doesn't want to marry him.  To all the interfering matchmakers out there (and I've met a lot of you, thanks!): just because a guy is nice and a girl is nice does not mean they must get married.  "He was a good person, she told herself.  But she did not love him, and every beat of her heart thudded through her, telling her that this was wrong, wrong, all wrong."  YES.  You can like someone without being in love with him or her.  

Apart from the title, my only other regret was that the book doesn't talk much about Aurora's magical powers.  They're briefly explored, but I think Thomas means to deal with them in further books.  I hope.

Overall, this was a lovely reimagining of Sleeping Beauty and a great story about self-worth, choices, and overcoming the fear of being alone.

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss and the publisher.

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