Review of “Towering” by Alex Flinn

3 out of 5 stars!

I’ve never really liked “Rapunzel.” Of all the popular fairy tales in existence, it is by far the most complicated one to retell. Walt Disney Studios tried to keep the story’s original “old world” setting, but the result was the film “Tangled,” bungled animation effectively ruining the sufficiently expanded storyline. I personally despise 3-D animation, but I suppose I’m one of the global few who was disappointed with Disney’s take on “Rapunzel.” Honestly, they could have done better ― the movie didn’t captivate me at all.

However, despite numerous attempts to envision a more detailed “Rapunzel” through novels, the fairy tale has to yet to be placed in a contemporary setting ― until “Towering” by Alex Flinn, which comes out on May 14, 2013. In the dark style of “Beastly,” she boldly steps forward and spins a mesmerizing mystery filled with inexplicable magic and secrets.

Rachel has always lived in her tower, learning of the outside world through books and her imagination. Wyatt left his life in the city to escape from his past, but moving to a small town in the middle of a wilderness seems to be provoking feelings of guilt and regret rather than burying them. The old woman he lives with has secrets begging to be revealed, but it all starts with a beautiful singing voice that only Wyatt can hear. And the more he uncovers about the town’s history, the more he’s convinced there’s more to the picture than he’s seeing… There’s destiny, a prophecy, and a love story. But Wyatt must first believe in all three before he can set both Rachel and the town free.

“Towering” is markedly darker and more sombre than anything else Flinn has written. The reason could be her puzzling, somewhat ludicrous explanation for the importance of the plant “rapunzel” (a.k.a. “mache” or “lamb’s lettuce”) in the plot, or the obvious element of manipulation that repeatedly affects all of the characters. Or that eye-catching “Wuthering Heights” connection.

In a word, “Towering” is sinister. Rapunzel is a girl kidnapped and figuratively incarcerated to prevent being kidnapped and imprisoned by someone else, Wyatt is a modern teenager suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the “’wicked witch” of the original story has no magical powers, only an altruistic purpose that becomes clearer as the tale unravels. Magic itself, which was so crucial to the original fairy tale, is very ambiguous here, never given direct participation or explanation. Instead, Flinn perplexed me by confusing magic with science and science with magic until I was baffled by her including either as the cause-and-effect for how Rapunzel could be possible in the real world. And asking me to accept that Rachel’s tower would be invisible even to passing airplanes?

I admit: “Towering” drew me in and left me breathless, forcing me to stagger through its pages in less than three days. It is quite as entangled as Rachel’s hair, taking unexpected twists and turns.

However, the fact is that the original “Rapunzel” is whimsical at best and illogical at worst, insensible and incredible. It is difficult to retell it in an old-time setting ― but a modern setting? Impossible. That’s why “Towering” feels like it is lacking something throughout its journey, even though the characters are interesting and their motives are pointed. The ending was kind of laughable ― and surprisingly, Flinn’s use of concepts like “destiny,” “fate,” and “prophecy” in the novel are unlike her. Rachel and Wyatt could have been “destined” to meet and fall in love, but while Rachel’s character development works, Wyatt is as vague as magic in “Towering,” too uncertain and blurry.

I think the center of the novel was the art of manipulation: the prophecy surrounding Rachel, her destiny to save her town, her meeting with Wyatt ― all were manipulated into being because of two drug lords and their obsession with something called “rhapsody.”

In “Towering,” there are too many contradictions: the main characters are manipulated by other characters, but then there are elements ― like Rachel’s rapidly growing hair, magical tears (sound familiar?), and her telepathy with Wyatt ― that don’t fit in with what I first assumed was Flinn’s astute and clever interpretation of what destiny, fate, and prophecies really are. It would have been better if she omitted magic altogether and made “Towering” a gothic satire, but doing the opposite took away the novel’s seriousness and credibility. In this way, it mirrors the fairy tale “Rapunzel”: it doesn’t really make sense, even when everything is explained.

Regarding romance: it’s sweet, it’s tender, but it’s not extraordinary. Rachel is a true romantic, but Wyatt is deplorable in that respect, so their love story takes on a saccharine quality that doesn’t come out to be very memorable.

The best and most creative part of “Towering” was how the old woman Wyatt stays with is a central figure of Rapunzel’s past, present, and future. She becomes both a villain and a heroine, complex to the core but empathetic and amicable all the same, and she is the key to Rachel’s salvation more than Wyatt is. However, even she falls prey to manipulation and control tactics.

I really like Flinn’s writing style ― ultimately, that convinced me to see “Towering” through, with her layered suspense and cloudy descriptions. Although I didn’t find the revelations of the mystery satisfactory, I enjoyed the novel. It showed me a different side of the author’s fairy tale retellings, and it made me think twice about “Rapunzel.”

Natalie Gorna

 

Review of “Princess of the Silver Woods” by Jessica Day George

3 out of 5 stars!

I remember the first time I saw “Princess of the Midnight Ball.”  I couldn’t put it down, I was so into the story — but I lasted through waiting the agony of a few days until I could finish reading it in Borders bookstore.  The intricacy of the storyline, the romance and mystery surrounding all twelve of the dancing princesses, and the crocheting — I fell hard for Jessica Day George’s charming fairy tale retelling on the spot.

When “Princess of Glass” came out years later, I was greeted by a not-so-fantastic love story, but the wicked Cinderella/Fairy Godmother twist was absolutely ingenious and I never forgot it.  Now “Princess of the Silver Woods,” the third and final installment in this “series” of fairy tales, is due to be released on December 11, 2012.

I think I finished reading “Princess of the Silver Woods” in less than three days after I got my ARC from NetGalley.  I love George’s writing style and her vivid imagination, plus I was very curious how she entwined retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood” and the Robin Hood legends in the storyline.  Needless to say, it was pretty spectacular.  Robin Hood is Oliver, a dashing outlaw who is the heir to an earldom.  Little Red Riding Hood is Poppy, the youngest of the twelve dancing princesses.  She’s beautiful, she’s single, she’s a good shot, and surprisingly, she’s also a talented gardener.  Oliver is handsome, cocky, and a good fighter standing for a cause.  However, their romance is not as touching as Rose and Galen’s was, and Oliver’s fascination with Poppy and her history happened too quickly to be credible.  Nevertheless, I was enthralled up to the very end.

I liked how George combined the continuing story of the twelve dancing princesses with the present.  All fairy tale retellings she’s told so far finally meet together like intersecting lines, all reaching a final point.  There are happy endings and sad endings in “Princess of the Silver Woods,” and, of course, there’s lots of magic to behold.  Invisibility, two treacherous villains, and almost a dozen evil half-immortal dark princes on the loose — “Princess of the Silver Woods” glitters all the way through, not even letting you pause to catch your breath.  Wolves and sinister plots, flowers and more knitting — all details are unforgettable.  You get to see the futures of all the characters you’ve come to really like since their introductions in “Princess of the Midnight Ball,” and you have hope for them beyond the ending even though you have to say good-bye.

The author wrote a love story, a fairy tale three times — and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each one and their differences.  “Princess of the Silver Woods” shines very brightly as both a finale and a stand-alone retelling.  Hint: you won’t be disappointed with it.

Natalie Gorna

Review of “The Selection” by Kiera Cass

I admit: what attracted me to “The Selection” was its front cover.  Yes, I know you shouldn’t judge any book by its cover, but those gorgeous, fluffy blue dresses intrigued me.  I kept wondering what kind of story hid behind such an unusual look.  It’s almost like “Cinderella.” Illéa  But there’s a catch: the plot’s set in a dystopian society with a new division of the classes, and its heroine is no Cinderella.
 

Set in a post-apocalyptic United States, renamed Illéa, America Singer is a musician working hard to support her family. She also happens to be in love with a guy who’s beneath her “caste” level. Then the event of a lifetime happens: the Selection, where thirty-five girls are chosen for a contest. The prize: Prince Maxon and becoming Queen of Illéa. America just wants to marry Aspen, but in a twist of fate, she is selected. Now enduring a competition she never wanted to take part in, America discovers more than she ever dreamed possible. Prince Maxon and Illéa are not all they seem on the surface, nor is the Selection. And true love was never so hard to win as it is now.

I was rooting for America the moment I met her. She is outspoken and strong, not to mention incredibly dedicated to her family. And she is a wonderfully talented musician! I didn’t really buy America’s relationship with Aspen, but Kiera Cass had me hung over her words despite all the drama and love scenes between those two. On the other hand, from the moment America has her first encounter with “stuffy” Prince Maxon, I couldn’t help cheering for their friendship. They have an awkward relationship at first, but the transition from less-than-eager friends to a solid friendship blossoming into romance was very sweet to experience, especially through America’s eyes. The direct honesty between her and Maxon is rare in many romantic situations. And honestly, Prince Maxon really is an adorable character, from his confusion over crying women to his gentleman-like manners and sincere courtesy. He acts admirably toward all Selection girls, but his connection with America points toward the possibility of her being closer to winning the prize (and the ultimate romance) than she knows. They make a great couple, and their dialogues are some of the most entertaining and tender in the entire novel.

It is interesting how “The Selection” so realistically creates a hypothetical scenario of what life could be like in the U.S.A. if the political world changed drastically in modern times. Cass chooses a path from the crossroads of “cause and effect” and paints an almost surreal picture of how that old adage is so true: history always repeats itself. America is the midst of a scene that is on the point of changing for better or worse, and I have a feeling she’ll be a major part of upcoming conflicts in Illéa. I can’t wait until “The Elite” comes out next spring and America comes back to narrate more of her story with Prince Maxon!

Natalie Gorna