by Alethea Kontis
(ARC review; 'Dearest' will be available on Feb. 3)
Due to some technical difficulties, this post comes a day late. Apologies for that, but better late than never, right?
First of all, I'd like to thank Alethea not only for the ARC of 'Dearest', but for signing so beautifully the books I bought, for sending enough swag to go around, the much-appreciated Princess Bride references, and for being all around awesome. ^_^
The latest installment of the Woodcutter Sister series deals with Friday, the sweetest, kindest, and gentlest of the Woodcutter clan. While I have nothing against Friday, she was never my favorite of the sisters. Compared to pirate queen Thursday, Wednesday in her black gowns with her poetry and prophecies, sword-hacking Saturday, and Sunday and her magic words, Friday with the big heart and the magic needle seemed a little dull.
I was wrong.
Friday was the perfect sister for this story because it played right into her wheelhouse -the need for an open heart and mad sewing skills. She discovers that the seven swans in the palace pond are only swans by day. By night, they are transformed into their true form of seven cursed brothers and she is determined to do everything she can to help them.
Much like Friday herself, I learned how a big heart can become a powerful strength, for yourself and everyone around you. 'Dearest' explored a lot more of Friday's character and she may have just become my favorite of the sisters. She isn't a warrior or a hero; she doesn't have any loftier ambitions than becoming a master seamstress and a nun in the abbey of the earth goddess. She loves to help and serve people, and I love that this was used as a character strength. I found her a perfectly wonderful character because she's sweet and kind, but never simperingly so. Sometimes the goody-two-shoes characters can be grating in stories, but Friday is an easily relatable character with very real emotional struggles.
Like the other books in the series, 'Dearest' is a love story, and it's split into the perspectives of the hero and the heroine. Something I have always appreciated about this series is that their personalities are never too romanticized. They each have flaws, which they usually overcome on their own, they clash at times, and they always ALWAYS have their own struggles and story lines outside of the romance plot. It deepens the whole experience for me when there's more than just a love story going on. Throw in a bloodthirsty warmonger or political conspiracy to go along with it -that's my kind of story.
Something I didn't mention in my video review was how much I liked Conrad. This new character's role surprised and intrigued me. I can't wait to see where he leads the story in the future. Could we be headed to an Agrabah-like country soon? Will we have jinn or some Aladdin references? A girl can hope. ;)
There was only one thing about this book that I was kind of disappointed about. 'Hero' ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, but 'Dearest' does not advance in the time line. This book takes us back to Arilland and shows us what happened there parallel to 'Hero' instead of taking us on to what happened next. 'Dearest' is a great book and, even though I didn't see what happened next, it still advanced deeper into the larger unfolding story, by bringing a couple more connections into play. But now I have another long wait to find out what happens!
One thing I adore about the Woodcutter Sister series are all of the tongue-in-cheek references to the fairy tales of yore. Unlike a true 'retelling' of these tales -like Ella Enchanted or Princess of the Midnight Ball- where the story is the tale, albeit with a new twist, Alethea's use of the classics feels almost incidental. Yes, you could say that Dearest is a retelling of The Six Swans and you could say that Enchanted was a retelling of The Frog Prince, but that would not be doing justice to these books as they are so much more than that. The Woodcutter series inhabits a complex world of Fey and magic, gods and prophecies. Fate and Destiny. And if some of the events that occur happen to tickle a memory, well, that's just coincidence. Alethea's nods to the classics know no bounds, but they are sewn into the fabric of the Woodcutter's reality so gracefully and seamlessly, that it never once distracts the reader, but becomes more of a private joke between us and the author. (Case in point, the orphans that Friday takes to looking after being referred to as 'her Darlings'.)
In 'Dearest', we get a new flavor of the world than we have in previous books, specifically with the kind of deities and religious practices that exist. This combination of gods and Fey is particularly interesting to me. In my experience, these have always seemed like opposing ideas in the fantasy genre. You either have gods and religion or fairies and magic, but Alethea has blended them together with a realistic flourish. Fey inhabit another realm, where magic abounds, and they sometimes intermarry with humans and their offspring can be born with magic. It also seems that the ability to use magic can be a blessing bestowed upon favored humans by their patron gods and, like the Greek pantheon, there are plenty to choose from. There is not so much in this book about the gods and religious practices as to make it dull or even too different from the previous novels, but just enough to explain some occurrences in the story and to clue you in that this is a seriously complex and detailed world spread out before us, and we still have a lot to learn about it. I, for one, can't wait to learn more.
Four stars to Dearest by Alethea Kontis and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy, especially fairy tale retellings.
In fact, I am so convinced that you will like this series, I'm doing a giveaway for the first book, Enchanted. I do apologize that this will only be open to United States residents, but if you'd like to enter, just subscribe to my YouTube channel and leave a comment the YouTube page of the video at the top of this post.