A few years ago, I tried to get into the TV show Once Upon a Time. Some friends of mine really liked it, and it sounded right up my alley. Fairy tales? Check. Fractured fairy tales? Check. Awesome sparkly costumes? Check. Evil queens? Check. Heroines with unknown heritages? Check. So I sat down and watched a few episodes . . . and it just didn’t work for me.
A lot of it was the dialogue, which felt stilted and cliched to me. Some of it was that I have a low tolerance for The Cute Kid in most of that role’s standard forms (though Orphan Black actually does a great job in having a Cute Kid that I find authentically cute and sympathetic). Part of it was that I felt like the intersection of fairy tales and real life wasn’t as well done as it might have been—I kept getting caught up on “wait, couldn’t they just do this?” and “why doesn’t x happen on a regular basis?” kinds of questions. Whatever it was, OUAT turned out to be a show that I wanted to like much more than I actually did, so I eventually abandoned it. But I felt frustrated, because I really liked the concept. I just kept hoping that someone would do it better.
And, happily for me, someone has. I recently finished Sarah Cross’s Kill Me Softly and the associated short story, “Twin Roses,” and they totally hit the spot that I was hoping OUAT would hit. Here’s the scoop:
True love’s kiss just may prove deadly . . .
Mirabelle’s past is shrouded in secrecy, from her parents’ tragic deaths to her guardians’ half-truths about why she can’t return to her birthplace, Beau Rivage. Desperate to see the town, Mira runs away a week before her sixteenth birthday—and discovers a world she never could have imagined.
In Beau Rivage, nothing is what it seems—the strangely pale girl with a morbid interest in apples, the obnoxious playboy who’s a beast to everyone he meets, and the chivalrous guy who has a thing for damsels in distress. Here, fairy tales come to life, curses are awakened, and ancient stories are played out again and again.
But fairy tales aren’t pretty things, and they don’t always end in happily ever after. Mira has a role to play, a fairy-tale destiny to embrace or resist. As she struggles to take control of her fate, Mira is drawn into the lives of two brothers with fairy-tale curses of their own . . . brothers who share a dark secret. And she’ll find that love, just like fairy tales, can have sharp edges and hidden thorns.
I really, really enjoyed Kill Me Softly. Beau Rivage is populated (though not exclusively) by people cursed or blessed to play out roles in fairy tales: sleeping princesses, charming princes, beasts, evil stepmothers. Seeing the different permutations of various story roles fascinated me, from the singer who has to deal with coughing up jewels on a regular basis to the boy currently in the acting-like-an-ass stage before being transformed into a beast. And Sarah Cross does a great job of melding the curses/blessings into modern life—they never felt forced or awkward.
I also think she did a great job in terms of having a main character with specific fairy tale traits. Mira’s curse (which I won’t reveal for spoilers) leads her to have a lot of curiosity, sometimes pressing forward when she oughtn’t. She does some headstrong things, but she never crosses that line that makes me pull away in a “WTF are you doing, Main Character?” pique. She was believable as a girl trying to make her own path, yet also constrained by the terms of a fairy tale curse. The same goes for Blue, the main male character of the story. As an avid reader of fairy tales, I figured his curse out pretty much immediately, then enjoyed watching him pit himself against it. (Especially since it gives an actual reason for the initial-dislike-gives-way-to-affection trope!)
After finishing the book, I immediately downloaded “Twin Roses,” even though I had other books waiting in my queue. It follows two sisters cursed with the Snow White and Rose Red roles, is as fun and tasty as the cupcakes the girls sell at their bakery, and—extra bonus—deals with a question from the story that always bugged me as a kid. The related novel, Tear Me Apart, which follows one of the minor characters from Kill Me Softly, is out now, and I can’t wait to read it.
So: a big recommendation for lovers of fairy tales and OUAT, for readers who like a bad boy in their YA, and those who like a girl who figures her own way out of bad situations.