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Ten stories that shine like the stars
on August 12, 2005
These stories vary a lot in content and feel, but they're all wonderful. Each is well-written, with strong female characters.
"Rikiki and the Wizard" is written as a "S'Rian Folk Story", for a book of stories about an imaginary place called Liavek. It begins with a wizard who is very lucky and very famous. But, having fame, he wants it to last forever. So he decides to offer his daughter Ryvenna (beautiful, but more importantly, clever and kind) in marriage to a god. The gods are miffed that he didn't ask her or them, so they agree not to come when he summons them. One god, the blue chipmunk Rikiki, forgets. The wizard can't get Rikiki to fulfill his wish, since the only thing Rikiki is interested in is nuts. He doesn't know what fame is, so he can't bestow it. The wizard rapidly looses patience and tries to get rid of Rikiki, but his third attempt is foiled by Ryvenna. She explains things to Rikiki- but the result (I've told most of the plot, but I won't tell the entirity of this) is more like Midas for the wizard than anything else. Ryvenna, however, prospers.
"The Princess, the Cat, and the Unicorn" is about a talking cat, a vain unicorn, and a princess from a country called Oslett where nothing goes the way it does in the usual fairy tales. The fairies don't live close enough put curses on the Princesses, the only giant in the kingdom is nice, and the middle princess, Elyssa, is the one who gets an adventure. No one minds except the king's councelors, who are a pain. That's why Elyssa leaves; unlike in many stories, her family is enthusiastic. Also, she goes on an adventure for the sake of adventure, which very few women in fantasy do. Most of them are either running away or rescuing someone, which is fine, but overmany stories go like that. This one's fun.
"Roses by Moonlight" opens with a teenaged girl named Adrian on her driveway smoking to avoid her sister's party. Her mother comes home and on the way in, says, "If you are given a choice, be careful, be wise", and "I never thought there might be other dreams..." A strange woman then appears, taking Adrian into a rose garden that never existed before. Adrian is told that each rose holds a possible future, and if she plucks one, that is what will happen. She smells each flower to see what hte possibilities are. Some are wonderful; some are terrible, like a vision of herself dying because of her smoking. But in all of them, she finds an undercurrent of hate for her sister Sam, who is the kind of person everything goes right for. Adrian finally finds a barely opened rose that shows only a small future: not a vision of a time when she and Sam are on good terms, but a time when they talk about their envy for each other. She nearly picks it, but the memory of what her mother said keeps her from taking it. She ends up deciding to make her own future like everyone else. This is set in roughly modern times.
"The Sixty-Two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd" is about a girl called Imani, daughter of the grand vizier. It's set in an Arabian Nights kind of setting. Caliph Arenschadd is a wizard, and he has a list of sixty-two curses which he puts on anyone who gets on his nerves. Imani says that she can tell how long someone's been at court by which curse he has. Since the caliph curses peoples' families along with them, she and her mother (a sorceress) have been through fourty-seven curses with her father. Imani found some fun, some boring. This one is different. There's no cure, and it has made them werewolves. Imani enjoys part of htis, but it is too dangerous to let it stay. She manages to get rid of it when her parents (and the caliph) fail, with a little help from a friend who turns out to be the prince. The only story I've ever read where getting the ruler mad solves the problem rather than causing it.
"Earthwitch" is about a woman named Mariel, who is a vessal of the Earth Magic, and Evan Rydingsword, a king who used to be her lover. This isn't a story I can describe well, but it is good. THe idea of life as well as death being "the coin of hte Earth" was interesting, clever, and sensible.
"The Sword-Seller" is set in the Witch World. The main character, a mercenary named Auridan, is given a sword which he insists on paying for, a sword with a handle carved like a feathered serpent. He is then hired by a forthright, poor woman named Cyndal to take her to a relative. Cyndal is a strong character, but not very much in the story. Another hard to talk aobut one but good. While in "Earthwitch" the magic rules the characters and helps them for its own price, in its own way, in "The Sword-Seller", Auridan refuses to obey the laws of the magic in the story, thus destroying the artifact of magic, and freeing the sword-seller from an old and perilous duty.
"The Lorelei"- a high school girl outwits a siren-like creature and saves the life of a classmate she doesn't like much. Set in modern times.
"Stronger Than Time" Everyone says this story is dark. It is not. It is a story of what might have happened if the prince in Sleeping Beauty had been too impatient, and come in the wrong time. It's a sad story, but it is gracefully written. Una's words, quoted by Arven- "Time and death are the greatest enemies all of us must face, and the only weapon stronger than they are is love." That's what the story is about- not ghosts, curses, or magic. It's about love and faith, and righting one's own mistakes.
"Cruel Sisters" is my least favorite story in the book, although it's written well. This is the darkest story. Princess Margaret has spent all her life in between a terrible rivalry between her sisters Anne and Eleanor, who basicly hate each other. It gets worse when Eleanor marries the man both she and Anne love. (Margaret, called Meg, dislikes him.) Shortly after, Eleanor drowns in the river. The entire court- even Anne- mourns. Then, a few monthes later, a minstrel brings a harp to court that is made of Eleanor's bones and strung with her hair. It also sings with her voice and accuses Anne of murdering her. Anne tehn smashes the harp. Everyone thinks that this proves the trut hfo what it says- eccept the last sister. Meg says, "My sister Eleanor was a liar all her life, and all her life she cast the blame for her own errors on Anne. Why should death have changed that?" Meg isn't certain that Anne is innocent, since she hated Eleanor and had a fiery temper, but she does not trust the harp's words. She is the only one to doubt. Anne is put in a convent and dies. Meg feels remorse at not telling everyone how deep her sisters' rivalry went, but can't change what happened or what everyone beleives. She can only talk about her insights into others, and hope to avert any ohter tragedy. The unsolved murder mystery and the harp made of Eleanor's bones, make this story dark. But it is still well-written. A master's tale, but not one that is easy to read.
"Utensile Strength" takes place in the Enchanted Forest, with Cimorene, Mendanbar, and Daystar. The story is hilarious, and involves the Frying Pan of Doom, which was made by an enchanter trying to creat an ultimate weapon when he tripped over his pet pig and enchanted his wife's best frying pan. They can't give it to a hero because no one can touch it without an oven mit, and heros find taht undignified. With a combined cooking contest/tourney, interupted by another mighty enchanter, the propper weilder is found. MUCH better than it sounds.
"Quick After-Battle Chocolate Cake" is the recipe that won the cooking contest.
Wrede explains at the back were the ideas for each of hte stories came from. That's a great part.
These aren't really children's stories. Actualy, some are good for kids, but some are way too dark for young ones. I like "Stronger Than Time", "Earthwitch", "Roses by Moonlight" and "The Sword-Seller" "The Lorelei" now, and I can read "Cruel Sisters", but a few years ago I wouldn't have understood or liked them, and "Cruel Sisters" would have disturbed me. Some of hte others are just complicated, or have dark elements like death and hatred that I needed time to deal with. "Rikiki and the Wizard", "Utensile Strength", "THe Princess, the Cat, and the Unicorn," and "The Sixty-Two Curses of Caliph Arenschadd" were fine for me when I was yougner, though.
A great book! Read it.