To Kill a Fairy Tale Retelling: Outgrowing the Source Material

One of my most disappointing reads last year was Alexandra Christo’s To Kill A Kingdom, the hyped up “dark” retelling of the Disney classic The Little Mermaid. That YA fantasy was such a let down that I felt personally betrayed. Not because Ariel was my favorite princess back in the day, mind you, but because the book was genuinely enjoyable for the first few chapters. To Kill was a gorgeous blend of fantasy and gore – the main character, Lira, literally ripped out a prince’s heart in the first chapter! It was intriguing. It was exciting. And, best of all, it was refreshing. Anti-heroes might be a dime a dozen these days but Lira was outright morally bad that I was convinced that her development was going to be very nuanced.

Thus, my massive disappointment was set up.

Right around chapter 10 when I was reminded in an excruciatingly cringey, convoluted, ridiculous scene that this book was indeed a Little Mermaid retelling – at that point, the book had done a good job in distracting you from its marketing ploy – I knew in my heart how wrong I was. After I finished reading To Kill a Kingdom, I considered writing a review on it but couldn’t really bring myself to put in the effort because I had no special enough feelings for it. I didn’t like it, didn’t really hate it – I just didn’t care about it. And for a whole year I put it out of my mind until one afternoon when I remembered the prince that Lira killed at chapter 1.

You see, that prince turned out to be a really good friend of the other main character/Lira’s love interest, Prince Elian. And you might think that that the simple fact that Lira killed Elian’s friend completely for shits and giggles would throw a wrench in their budding romance… well, you’d be wrong. I was extremely disturbed at how Elian still got together with his friend’s coldblooded murderer. Personally, I don’t think I’d ever even consider being friends with anyone who’d hurt a good friend of mine, regardless of how physically attractive they are. How anyone can not only forgive but also conveniently forget the killer of a good friend is just… it boggles the mind.

Having remembered that messed up factoid, I was dragged back into the story and the more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me how absolutely hopeless the book was after it announced to readers that it was (and could only ever be) a retelling. What bothered me about this book was that I actually do love retellings. In fact, one of my favorite series of all time, The Lunar Chronicles, is a retelling of several fairy tales. And even in cases where I didn’t know for sure that they were retellings, I still enjoyed them. Ella Enchanted, for instance. If you weren’t told in advance that it was a Cinderella reimagining, you wouldn’t know it until halfway through the book. 

So where did To Kill a Kingdom go wrong? I wanted to answer that question rather than just roasting the book for the entirety of this post. But in order to understand how To Kill failed as a retelling, I’m going to compare it with a retelling that didn’t, Ella Enchanted. The two are vastly different books (one is YA, the other is Middle Grade) but they are both high fantasy retellings of popular fairy tales that were adapted into Disney classics (which I suspect was the two books’ main source but we’ll get to that in a minute). 

First, an overview of the two books in question:

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Big Bad Wolf Book Haul: In Which I Tried but Failed to Control Myself

So! Apparently it’s been more than a fortnight since I last posted anything on my blog. And no, I didn’t purposely wait for two weeks so I could use the word fortnight on my opening line. I was just… really lazy. And almost worryingly absentminded. I kept meaning to brainstorm a new blog post but whenever the thought occurred to me, I’d immediately get distracted with something else. And here I was congratulating myself last month for being really active on my book blog. Didn’t realize I’d slide back to my old habits immediately after.

That being said, last week I was able to at least come up with two blog post ideas that I’ve vaguely considered for a while now. One is a personal post – a homage, really – to my love for notebooks and journaling while the other is, as of writing this, a messy rant about a certain YA fantasy book that really disappointed me last year. I fully intended on just forgetting that book for the rest of my days but its absolutely absurd ending (and implications) kept hounding me. So naturally the only way to free myself from it is to pick it apart in a detailed blog post.

While I’ve already outlined both future posts – the book rant-y one even has a messy intro – I didn’t spend enough time and energy on actually writing them so I wasn’t able to finish them by the end of last week. Now I’ve had my heart set on posting something, anything, on my blog this week so I’ve resorted to writing something that I’m confident I can churn out without too much fuss: a book haul.

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7 Reasons Why You Need to Read The Oremere Chronicles

So the War of Mist blog tour has been extended for a couple of days which means I can talk about The Oremere Chronicles even more! If I haven’t yet convinced you, dear reader, to pick up this incredible fantasy trilogy by Helen Scheuerer, I clearly haven’t talked about it enough. Although I’ve written essentially three posts discussing just how great this series is, I don’t think I ever really went into the minor details that really made the books so damn enjoyable to read.

Here’s a quick listicle on my top 7 reasons why I love the Oremere Chronicles to death and why you’re sorely missing out if you don’t read it.

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Blog Tour | Jade War by Fonda Lee: Clan War… but make it slow burn [Book Review + Fan Art]

At the beginning of this year, I picked up a book that nearly everyone on my Twitter timeline was obsessed about. Jade City fever had hit the book community towards the end of 2018 and it was difficult not to succumb to the hype when practically every reviewer that I trust swore by it. Once I started reading it, I immediately understood why.

Jade City was A RIDE so WILD that I struggled to hold on to my dear life. I had no idea where we were going but I enjoyed every moment of it. There was a magic mafia, martial arts, and family drama – Jade City has been described as The Godfather but with magic and for good reason.

When Shealea (@Shutup, Shealea and @CaffeineTours) announced that she had the honor of organizing an international blog tour of Jade City‘s sequel, Jade War, I signed up for it so fast that I barely had the time to blink. I knew that there were only limited slots and with my humble blog’s stats I didn’t really have much hope but still I had to shoot my shot.

By some stroke of luck, I got in! I returned to Janloon, said my oaths to the Pillar of No Peak once again, and experienced the absolute rollercoaster ride that was Jade War.

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5 Filipino Superstitions that Shaped My Childhood

Gail Villanueva’s My Fate According to the Butterfly is about a young girl, Sab, who believes she has days left to live after seeing a black butterfly. For non-Filipino readers – especially those in the west – Sab’s belief in an otherwise baseless superstition might be a bit silly. But for Filipinos or people raised in the Philippines, being affected by superstitious beliefs isn’t as strange as one might think. I mean, as kids we’re warned about certain superstitions by our parents/relatives, grown adults who we trust and rely on. How can you not believe in a black butterfly’s death omen when your own parent tells you that this is so?

No matter how educated, rational, or skeptical you are, it’s hard shake off these superstitions without warning bells ringing in the back of your head. While my family isn’t as superstitious as others, I still believed in a lot of superstitions as a child. Here are just the top five that really affected me back then

1. Sleeping on a Bed directly facing the door leads to an early death 💀

I’m starting off this list with this one because it affects me even now. Months ago I rearranged the furniture in my room, my bed pushed to the corner opposite my bedroom door. I knew about the superstition but I really wanted to change things around my space. When my mother saw this, she was adamant that I find some other place for my bed. I halfheartedly protested but moved my bed hours later. I didn’t like dragging my stuff around my room all over again but the urgent tone of my mother’s voice reignited the cautiousness I used to have about this specific belief.

I looked it up and apparently this superstition is believed in many other cultures. Something to do with feng shui. Apparently dead bodies are typically transported out of a room feet first and to sleep in that position isn’t a good look. Quite morbid but at least there’s some basis for the belief. Sort of.

2. Dropping a fork during a meal means you’ll get a visitor soon 🍴

This one though just doesn’t make sense to me even now. I remember when I’d eat lunch with my high school friends and every time one of us accidentally drops their fork, we’d all tease them for their upcoming visitor. Now, I’m not sure if this superstition means an actual human visitor or something more supernatural but I’d always feel uneasy when I’d drop my fork. I don’t want to entertain any sort of visitor just because of a utensil, corporeal or otherwise.

While looking up the background for this superstition, I learned that dropping a fork means you’ll get a male visitor while a spoon means a female visitor. No explanation as to why. Huh.

3. Complimenting a baby too Much brings bad luck 👶

Actually, this isn’t even limited to babies. Throughout my childhood, whenever an older relative or a neighbor would compliment me and my sisters, they’d always followed it up with an explicit “pwera buyag(pwera usog in other parts of the country).

Basically, it’s believed that if you praise a baby too much, you’re essentially inviting bad luck or sickness on to the child. Sometimes it’s feared that the opposite of the compliment will happen. Like if a baby is remarked to be active and healthy, it might end up weak and sickly. You have to ward off the jinx with a good ol’ “pwera buyag!”

It’s strange because, from an outsider’s perspective, replying to a compliment with “buyag” seems like an act of modesty – and that’s actually how I understood it when I was younger – but in reality there’s an underlying danger of being struck with negative energy.

4. Sleeping With an Empty Stomach will make your Soul leave your Body in Search of food 👻

As far-fetched as the concept of buyag/usog is, this superstition, in my opinion, is far more ridiculous. Mainly because, as an irresponsible adult person in charge of her life, I’ve fallen asleep without dinner countless times and my soul has never once evacuated my body to look for sustenance. At least, not that I can remember.

However, I was constantly warned by my parents and elders to never go to sleep hungry because my soul or spirit or whatever won’t stay put otherwise. I was even warned that there’s a chance my soul will be trapped in our rice cooker and I won’t be able to wake up then. Some grown ups would go so far as cite an incident that happened to their friend or relative or someone who did this and almost couldn’t wake up. If they were telling the truth – which is doubtful – I’m pretty sure their friend or relative was probably suffering from sleep paralysis or something. No wayward souls to blame, I think.

5. Trying on a Wedding Dress When You’re not the bride means you’ll never get married 👰

A lot of Filipino superstition has to do with not tempting fate in some way. This one is a good example. Unless you’re the one getting married, you shouldn’t ever try on a wedding dress because then you’d be dooming yourself to never get married.

Similarly, trying on a graduation toga before you’re set to graduate leads to the same fate. I had a college friend try on his graduating friend’s toga and when we reminded him of the superstition, he hurriedly took it off. He tried to laugh it off but we could see actual fear in his eyes. To be fair, he was a fourth year engineering student. Best not to risk it.

There are plenty of superstitions that I’ve left out but these five are the ones that I have distinct memories of. Are any of them real? Probably not. But still, sometimes it’s better safe than sorry, right?

Blog Tour | My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva [Book Review + Author Interview!]

Of all my anticipated reads of 2019, Gail D. Villanueva’s My Fate According to the Butterfly was at the very top of the list. A story set in contemporary Philippines – in the midst of Duterte’s drug war, no less – and written by a Filipino author? I didn’t just want this middle grade book, I needed it.

Before I get to my book review and the author interview, let me just first say how important My Fate According to the Butterfly is to young Filipino readers. Not only is seeing a Filipino writer (based in the Philippines) thrive in the international publishing scene incredibly inspiring, learning about the drug war through the innocent and empathic lens of a child can really help young readers make sense of the relentless (and oftentimes violent) situation in our country.

One of the biggest hurdles drug addicts face is the constant vilification by the general public. Drug addicts are seen as “bad” people that need to be punished so the government’s mistreatment of them is justified by most people to a degree. To some, there’s almost no room for sympathy when it comes to victims of drug abuse. And this lack of compassion or empathy just keeps the terrible cycle going.

That’s why My Fate According to the Butterfly is such an important read for kids. I’d even go so far as to recommend it as required reading in schools. This book sheds some light on the realities of the drug war. It’s not as black and white as so many people want to believe. Drug addicts can recover when they are given the opportunity and the resources. Unfortunately, only a very small percentage of drug addicts even come close to rehabilitation.

But anyway, I’m already getting ahead of myself. On to the review!

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Blog Tour | War of Mist by Helen Scheuerer [Book Review + Giveaway!]

It’s no secret that The Oremere Chronicles has a special place in my heart. The first book, Heart of Mist, enchanted me with its well developed characters and riveting premise. I even wrote a Book Talk on Heart of Mist about writing with empathy – one of my favorite blog posts to date. The sequel, Reign of Mist, did not disappoint with all shocking twists and raised stakes. Check out my review of that book here.

When the third book was announced, War of Mist, I was ecstatic and terrified at the same time. One of my favorite fantasy series was coming to an end… and the blood red cover and the ominous title could only be a harbinger of inevitable heartbreak.

After essentially devouring the book in a span of three days, I was SHOOK. Did I finish War of Mist or did War of Mist finish me?

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Sequel Sundays | Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell

I’m a bit late yet again but considering all the blog tours I’m scheduled for this month, I figured it’s better to post this month’s Sequel Sunday a day late (or six days early?). No one really cares about this except for me but still… it’s in the name, y’know?

But whatever. This month I’m finally going to talk about an ongoing fantasy series that’s, in my humble opinion, criminally underrated: Sebastien de Castell’s Spellslinger series. I raved about the first book, Spellslinger, about a year ago and I even described it as the Harry Potter antithesis that we didn’t know we deserve. No tea, no shade to The Boy Who Lived, of course. Just saying that Harry Potter’s story, compared to other fantasy books, is really quite underwhelming, even considering the younger target audience. Also, HP’s magic system is so basic that it’s walking into class late with the latest Starbucks monstrosity and constantly on the verge of cultural appropriation every time it speaks.

Anyway. On to the review!

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#YARC2019 Updates: Girls of Paper and Fire | Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon | Descendant of the Crane

This took me a lot longer to finish despite my reckless claim to post this soon after the first part… mainly because I got a bit sick in the middle of last week and couldn’t get my brain to work right. Apparently it’s been so long since I got sick that I forgot how annoying a simple cold is when you’re writing. But anyway, here I am and here we go.

The first half of my #YARC2019 update featured contemporary novels. This one, however, will talk about the asian books I read that fall under the genre of fantasy/high fantasy. As I said a couple of times before, the older I get, the more appreciative I am of fantasy books. I actually struggle to balance out my monthly TBR since only a fraction of my unread books aren’t fantasy in some way.

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#YARC2019 Updates: Lucy and Linh | The Weight of Our Sky | Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Now, the last time I posted a #YARC2019 update wasn’t all that great since I basically admitted that I almost forgot about this reading challenge. However, this time I come bearing good news. For me, at least. The past month or so have been pretty great in terms of reading books by Asian authors and/or starring Asian leads. In fact, my recent streak of 5-star reads were all penned by Asian authors – two of which were Filipino!

Instead of compiling all 6 books here, I’m gonna be splitting this update post in half. If all goes well, I’ll be posting the second update later this week. Though, to be honest, I’m actually leaving out two books – Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi and My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail Villanueva – because I already talked about the former in a blog tour post and the latter I’ll be reviewing for a blog tour in the near future.

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