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Death Be Not Proud: A Fairy Tale Retold Paperback – March 24, 2017
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More things I liked? Stunning New Zealand scenery and vivid Jazz Age setting. This book does have alcohol and cigarettes in it to carry on the time period. While the story does not have an explicit Christian thread that's easy to find, its interplay of love and justice, accepting or abdicating responsibility, and hinted character arcs of maturity, offer plenty of food for thought.
But the best effect of this book is simply the sheer joy of it. It's a book that invites you to laugh, to hold your breath, to fear, to imagine, to strive for the solution. In short, it invites you into a myriad of intense emotions that any reader--every reader--wants to experience. It's a living jewel of a story, and perhaps the sheer aliveness of its characters is what I love about it so much.
First up, Death Be Not Proud is a novella - thus a short read. I would say that it would take 1 - 3 hours to finish the book for most readers, which means it's a great choice if you are looking for a quick, complete story. The tale is told first person, and we jump straight into the action as the two main characters meet, and thus begins the mysterious unravelling tale. Set in 1920's New Zealand, we follow a young woman through her night life as a cabaret singer, and her day life as a hotel maid. Because it's a short story, we didn't get a whole lot of further background detail, as the focus quickly becomes the mystery and suspense surrounding her uncanny likeness to a brutally murdered girl. I won't give away any further plot points, as you will want to discover them yourself!
I enjoyed wrestling with the tidbits of evidence and clues presented, and trying to figure out just exactly what was going on, though I will admit it was a little confusing at times, as the genres flowed from mystery / suspense to romance, to historical novel. The atmosphere of the book is probably quite true to the age - abandon, careless living, drinking and throwing off the shackles of society. Because we're also dealing with a murder mystery, that combines to be a little dark sometimes, but I feel it was handled well and there are more mature characters with attitudes to balance that out. It didn't feel as though the author was condoning the behaviour - if anything rather exposing it for the empty sham that it is.
Death Be Not Proud feels like it's own story in a lot of ways, so I forgot to try and pair it up with the fairytale that inspired it, until the very end. Suzannah has done really well to tie it all together, and readers will no doubt have an "Aha!" moment when they figure it all out. Plenty of twists and turns along the way, and sweeping descriptions of some of New Zealand's most beautiful landscapes. Pick up Death Be Not Proud for a short historical escapism!
(I've since read some Mary Stewart, and if you like her mysteries, you'll enjoy this one.)
In fact, I found the setting affected me more powerfully than the time period, for despite the twenties references the story felt timeless, which worked for me given that it's also a retold fairy tale. And of course one of the most important themes - what is justice, and what price should any person be willing to pay to see justice done - are timeless questions.