The Guinevere Deception; a review, in which we rant about mixed feelings and why the heroine should have chosen the villain, as usual

The cover is, if possible, even prettier in person.

**Mild spoilers throughout**

Before we begin, can we talk about how Mordred, the villain, is portrayed as ever-so-subtly more feminine than the other characters? Oh hey! It’s almost as if femininity is treated as a dangerous, villainous force that is only accepted when it is smothered and tamed! Which, of course, brings us to all our other issues with this book.

This review sums up my issues with this novel (and with literally every book in YA) much better than I probably could. It’s not that it’s a bad book. It felt a little uneven in parts and the setting could have been better developed, but the pacing is good and the writing is exquisite. It’s just…

…Perhaps it isn’t quite as empowering a book as it thinks it is?

Let me regale you with my extremely irrelevant personal experiences. I’ve always been a bit of an outcast, okay? Some of that came from other people, and some of it comes from myself. I naturally prefer being alone. I’m naturally hard to categorize, a thing society finds very dangerous. I don’t *rubs chin* fit in. I don’t want to fit in. Have you ever seen me without this stupid hat on? That’s weird.

Okay, enough with the stupid Riverdale references. I haven’t even watched the show. Anyway, where am I going with this?

Simply that, when a character that society has rejected gets dragged back into society and placed into an acceptable mold, it drives. Me. Batty. It’s not that this is a bad story–it’s not, it could have used better development, but it’s perfectly fine. But I’ve seen a certain trope play out over and over and over, and I am sick of it. Allow me to explain. This story has several directions it could go in as far as the ships go. Guinevere could realize that no one in Camelot is actually really there for her except three people, embrace her inner villainess, get together with Mordred, and have her happy ending (I mean, she’d better get that happy ending. Even the legends had her usually survive till the end, and those were written by medieval writers not very concerned with the perceived feminism of their work). Alternatively, she has a cute, possibly sapphic romance with Lancelot, and I am happy, but maybe won’t read the next two books, because even though I like both characters a lot, I’m going to be quite upset if the pure, chaotic femininity of the Dark Queen* gets demonized without any reflection as to how this may contradict with the themes of this work. If Gwen gets with Mordred, she can become that pure, chaotic femininity herself. Someone like Queen Maeve, like Clytemnestra, like (heh) Morgan le Fey. That would be fun.

*Yes, the villainess really does refer to herself as the Dark Queen. To be perfectly fair, it’s nowhere near the most ridiculous thing an Arthurian character has done. Also, as you can probably tell, this story is a pretty loose retelling. The setting is also more fantasy than medieval in some ways. It threw me off at first, but I got used to it eventually.

But. Of course there’s a but. If it keeps going the same way the story left off, I am going to be very upset.

We’ve all seen the story play out in some book or another, haven’t we? A character is outcast from society in some way, sometimes even persecuted. In Guinevere’s case, she’s a witch in a society that banishes and executes them, and she’s a woman in a society that is very reluctant to give women power. Arthur is not doing much to change this. Arthur is responsible for some of this. And I am terrified that Guinevere is just going to keep trying and trying to prove herself to him. I’ve read so many stories where either the heroine conforms to society and hides part of herself to be accepted (happy endings, am I right!), or else society grudgingly accepts the nonconformist part of her—provided she doesn’t get TOO uppity, of course. Alternatively, the heroine will reject society the same way society has rejected her, embrace her inner powerful villainess, and then die. Can’t have women destroying that status quo, after all! That would be threatening. We might not even have a box to shove her in! Everyone knows only men are allowed to be trailblazers, villains, outcasts who stray from the beaten path. (And even then…a lot of male characters end up getting dragged back into a socially acceptable mold eventually. Can you tell this is my least favorite trope?)

Yeah. I’ve run into stories like that over and over and over, where a character is either forced into a socially acceptable role or killed off. Some of y’all out there are afraid of powerful women, and it shows.

I JUST WANT GUINEVERE TO GET TOGETHER WITH THE VILLAIN, OKAY. (I want her to become a villain, at least in the eyes of everyone else.) Mordred didn’t grab me at first–I thought he was pretty condescending toward her at the beginning of the book, excuse me that is your queen show some respect–but he shapes up shortly after, and I’d say he treats her…maybe a lot better than Arthur does. Let’s examine the many, many sins of Arthur Pendragon as a boyfriend, shall we?

Firstly, Arthur lies to her. Like, a lot. He lies to her about quite important things. Guinevere admits this at the end! But she goes back to him anyway.

Secondly! Arthur seems to consistently undercut Guinevere’s power while pretending to give her free rein. I don’t know if he’s doing this deliberately or accidentally, but it’s a pretty big problem either way. He takes her along to settle a treaty with the Picts, which is good! But she’s only there to look pretty and be a sign of Arthur’s trust for the other leader. She’s not informed of the politics in any way! Arthur doesn’t let her in on any of his decisions in this process and doesn’t allow for any of her input. Arthur doesn’t allow Guinevere any actual power. He only allows her to be busy with very safe things that she can’t mess up too badly, so she feels like she’s doing something while not actually doing anything important. It’s entirely possible that it’s an accident on Arthur’s part! But he’s still doing it, and it’s beyond frustrating that Guinevere never points it out and struggles against that. At one point, Arthur tells her he wants her to act as his queen, it’s a really big moment, and then cut to the next scene where he puts her in charge of seating arrangements at the tournament. (Give that job to Mordred. He’s obviously in need of something to keep him busy. For heaven’s sake.) She goes so far as to say that Arthur has given her a job not important enough for a king, but fitting for a queen. Good heavens. Have some self-respect, honey.

Thirdly, Arthur just doesn’t spend a lot of time with her. He consistently puts the kingdom’s needs ahead of hers–which, sure, he probably needs to do as king, and I can get frustrated with leaders who put either themselves or their one true luv ahead of their actual duties. But at the point where Guinevere!! gets kidnapped!! and Lancelot and Mordred take way, way more initiative to save her than Arthur ever did? Arthur, maybe it’s time to put your wife first every once in a while. Even if, in the end, you put your country first, your queen still matters, and I’ll thank you to act like it.

I’m fine with heroines who try to fit in with society’s expectations and who are more willing to try to work within the patriarchy rather than against it. But it’s just kind of frustrating to have a book all about celebrating women and fighting the patriarchy, and then the heroine goes along with the patriarchy hook, line, and sinker. She should have either gone with Mordred or made her own plans, and it’s the most frustrating thing in the world to me when she goes back to the man who consistently puts her last. I didn’t get why she would. It wasn’t as though she chose Arthur as the lesser of two evils (which would be a perfectly fair thing to do. Much as I like nature, wicked queens, and fairies, I’m not THAT delusional). She just continues to insist that Arthur is the best man in the world despite all evidence to the contrary, and I don’t understand why she would.

Also, Arthur is just kind of shady in general? Arthur is apparently ordering witch hunts? Guinevere does not question this for some reason. Guinevere does not question a lot of things throughout this story, and I’m left wanting to shake her a lot of times. More on that problem later, though. And also Arthur described Merlin as being a really great guy and then later Mordred tells Guinevere that Merlin assisted in the rape of Arthur’s mom?? I’m starting to be paranoid about everything Arthur Pendragon says and does, and I’m possibly starting to be more paranoid of Arthur than Mordred “Eco-terrorist” Pendragon??

Lancelot is really cool though–she’s a knight pretending to be a man, and she’s implied to be enby (she’s referred to with feminine pronouns so far, in case you were wondering). She and Guinevere have a really respectful relationship, and I do like them a lot, and I do ship them in their own way! It doesn’t have quite the chaotic appeal for me as Guinevere going full villainess, but I still like it!

I thought Brangien and Isolde’s relationship was really nice! Thus far, Brangien is not a stereotype or anything like that. We’ll see how it is when we actually see Isolde and Brangien together on-page, of course, but so far it’s really good! I love Brangien, and she’s my favorite character besides Mordred. I’ll admit I kind of brOTP ship Brangien and Mordred. I don’t want them to become a couple or anything like that, but I want them to become platonic partners in crime. Dindrane was also a really nice character. I don’t run into characters like her too often. I was a little weirded out that someone would rewrite Blanchefleur’s character into the harpy sister-in-law when, from all that I remember, she’s a perfectly nice character in the legends, but oh well. We didn’t see much of Blanchefleur on-page, so hopefully she gets some depth added in the next two books. I do like the focus on female friendships in this book. I will definitely say that. You can’t have a feminist book without female friendships!

Honestly, back to the love triangle, I feel like there’s something wrong with the fact that I feel that which direction the story takes is dependent on which person Guinevere takes as a romantic partner, but I don’t think it’s my fault. Guinevere’s decisions are often made based on what the plot requires rather than decisions a human would actually make in those circumstances. She’s not quite as developed as she should be, and she definitely isn’t developed enough to carry a plot by herself. And it kills me, because she had the potential to have so much bite. And then she didn’t.

Guinevere was also…maybe not quite as smart as she could have been. I understand that she’s lost a lot of her memories and isn’t working with all the information she needs! But she doesn’t ask any questions. She discovers something extremely shady about Merlin? She’ll put off asking Arthur. She doesn’t want to be a bother, and they’re so happy together right now! Arthur’s been keeping something from her? Well, she won’t ask much about it. Arthur can tell her in his own time! Literally everyone who has put her in this precarious situation has been lying to her? Well, she’ll just have to trust them, after all! Arthur is a good and true king, and he must know much better than she does! Has Arthur actually given her reason to believe he’s a good and true person to her? Well, no, but everyone else tells her he’s good and true, so he must be!

It. Is so. Infuriating. I want to shake her and tell her to wake up and embrace her inner villainess.

I’m feeling kind of like an evil villain myself as I write this review. I’m like that annoying character who screams at the main character, “lEt ThE hAtE fLoW tHrOuGh YoU” or something.

(As a side note, the one thing I refuse to blame this book for is the love square. Arthuriana was built on the backs of unholy love pentagrams, and who am I to question that? Judging an Arthuriana book for a love triangle/square/pentagram isn’t really something I’m going to spend my time doing.)

I do have plenty of quotes I like in this book! Most of them from Mordred, of course. Allow me:

Mordred slipped into the shade, finding a cushion near Guinevere and lying idly at her side. “Did you miss me?” His voice slid beneath the chatter so no one else heard.

“Were you gone?” Guinevere asked.

Mordred put his hands to his heart, feigning being pierced by an arrow. He fell onto his back and closed his eyes.

“Are you going to nap instead of hunt?” Brangien asked, cross.

Look I have a type okay

“Brangien.” Mordred put a hand to his chest as though wounded himself. “You have the soul and imagination of a hammer. Stories are not nails to be driven home. They are tapestries to be woven.”

Yeah so he’s the dumb hot villain that I will hopefully forget about/feel embarrassed for liking soon enough, but until then, let me enjoy my bright spot of a slightly disappointing novel in peace.

Am I disgusted with the fact that the hot villainous eco-terrorist is, yet again, my favorite character? Absolutely. Am I going to think about why that is? Absolutely not. I feel I would find many things about myself I would be better off not knowing.

In conclusion, do I like the book? Yes. It was entertaining and funny, even if it wasn’t, again, as developed a book as it could have been. The side characters were wonderful. I think my issues with the book could definitely be solved by the sequels. The problem is, they could also be made a lot worse, and I’m really unsure which direction this trilogy is going to take. I might wait for reviews of the next two books and try to find out what happens before I read (yes, I am one of those psychopaths who doesn’t mind spoiling a book for myself).

But it did really frustrate me to see Guinevere choose the person who she knows has been lying to her and undervaluing her the whole novel. I didn’t understand why she would. I think this book would have done way better as a dark retelling in the vein of Elizabeth Frankenstein, where we know there isn’t really supposed to be a good guy, except for the poor heroine trying to navigate it all. The Guinevere Deception is definitely not the worst book, not at all! But I am left with wracking doubt for the sequels, and there are many, many books that have never left me feeling like that at all.

Also, I was having trouble imagining Guinevere so then I just imagined her as looking like Wen Qing from The Untamed instead, because Wen Qing is beautiful. This is a completely irrelevant fact that I will probably delete before I post the review.

Kate Crackernuts

I drew Anne instead of the heroine because a.) I wanted to draw someone with a sheep’s head, b.) I’m horrible at drawing faces, and c.) I never understood what a ‘plain’ girl was supposed to look like, anyway.

This fairy tale from the Orkney Islands is an old favorite of mine that I somehow forgot about until I stumbled across it today and decided to post about it here. I just…Shame on me. I love this fairy tale!

The story opens with the familiar fairy tale family structure–mom is dead, there’s a stepmother and a stepsister, dad is…weirdly absent–but then it proceeds to turn that all on its head. The plain stepsister, Kate, is not at all jealous of her beautiful sister Anne. The fairy tale describes them as loving each other like real sisters. This is so rare in a fairy tale, and I am here for it.

Guess who is insanely jealous that Anne is more beautiful than Kate? If you guessed the stepmother, then have a cookie. You are correct. The queen decides to find some means of ruining Anne’s beauty, and talks to her friend the hen-wife about this. The hen-wife tells the queen to send Anne to her, and tells her not to let Anne eat anything before she comes.

Kate did not ask for this. Kate is perfectly fine with Anne. Just…why.

The queen tells Anne the next morning to go ask the hen-wife for some eggs. Anne goes, but she sees a piece of bread left out on the counter and takes it as she leaves, eating it along the way. When Anne gets to the hen-wife’s house, she asks for eggs, and the hen-wife tells her to lift the lid off the pot. There is nothing in there. “Go home to your mother and tell her to keep the larder door better locked,” the hen-wife says. Anne leaves, presumably very confused, and tells her mother what happened. The queen realizes that Anne must have had something to eat before she left, and watches her the next morning to make sure she doesn’t eat anything before she goes away.

However, Anne, being very nice and very hungry, stops along the way to talk to some people she sees picking peas, and leaves with a handful of peas that she eats on the way. The same thing happens at the hen-wife as yesterday, except the hen-wife is…much angrier than before. I’m kind of surprised that no warning bells go off in Anne’s head at this point? This is weird? Or maybe she does find it strange, the fairy tale doesn’t give much insight into Anne’s reactions either way.

The next day (because more time has not given her the opportunity to wonder if enchanting her daughter is a bad idea), the queen decides to accompany Anne to the hen-wife in order to make sure she doesn’t eat anything. I will assume for the sake of my own sanity that Anne really does not want to go at this point and the queen is forcing her, but as I said, the fairy tale doesn’t really say. Anne asks the hen-wife for some eggs, and the hen-wife tells her to lift the lid off the pot. Only this time when Anne lifts the lid, the enchantment works, and her head is turned into a sheep’s head.

The queen returns home, satisfied. She forgot to account for Kate in her plans, though. Kate takes one look at her newly-transformed sister and is done with the whole family. She veils her sister and leaves the place.

They wander until they come to a castle. Kate knocks at the door and asks if they can sleep there tonight. They are allowed inside, and they find out that a king lives there, with two sons. One of the sons is sick and about to die, and no one can figure out what is wrong with him. The sisters are informed that everyone who watches the prince at night goes missing, and the king is offering a peck of silver to everyone who stays up with him. You would have to offer me so much more money before I would go for that, but Kate is braver and clearly even more desperate for money than I am, so she agrees.

Everything seems normal with the prince until midnight. When the clock tolls midnight, the prince rises, dresses himself, and goes downstairs. Kate follows him, but he is out of it and doesn’t seem to notice her at all. He goes down to the stables, calls out to his hound, and mounts his horse. Kate, being the intrepid girl that she is, is not going to let this pass by without getting to the bottom of it. She jumps up behind him. The prince doesn’t react to her. See, I only get this unaware of my surroundings when I have headphones in. Nowadays, anyway. Ahem.

The prince rides off through the wood, and Kate plucks some nuts off the trees as they pass and puts them in her apron. (I don’t know if that has some cultural significance–is it some sort of protection, does it symbolize something, etc.–or if it’s just one of the weird, random things fairy tale heroines do.) They come to a green hill, and the prince stops his horse and calls out, “Open, open, green hill, and let the young prince in with his horse and his hound.”

“And his lady behind him,” Kate adds. Heh. I love her. She’s not taking any chances, which you really shouldn’t do in a fairy tale.

The green hill opens, and they go in. They are in a magnificent, brightly lit hall, and the hall is filled with fairies. Kate dismounts and hides herself behind the door, watching the prince. The fairies go to him and lead him over to dance…and he doesn’t stop. He dances and dances, until he falls onto a couch in exhaustion, and the fairies fan him until he can get back up and keep dancing.

…That sounds like a scarily accurate depiction of me whenever I go to a dance. Minus the fairies.

When the cock crows, the prince gets on his horse, Kate jumps up behind, and they both go home. In the morning, the prince’s family comes in and finds her sitting by the fire cracking nuts. Kate says the prince had a good night, which…Okay, Kate, if that’s your definition of a good night, I just…That is a brazen lie and you know it, Kate. She says that she won’t sit up with him again unless they give her a peck of gold, and the king agrees.

The same thing happens the next night, with the prince going to the hall under the hill. This night, Kate doesn’t watch the prince. She watches the fairies instead, and she sees a fairy baby playing with a wand. She overhears one of the fairies say, “three strokes of that wand would make Kate’s sister as well as she ever was.” Kate is not throwing that opportunity away, whatever the danger. She goes over to the baby and starts to play with it, rolling the nuts and letting it chase after them. Like…like a cat. Oh my goodness. The child drops the wand to pick up the nuts, and Kate grabs the wand and puts it in her apron. The prince goes home when he hears the cock crow, and this time, as soon as he gets to his room, Kate runs to her sister and touches Anne three times with the wand. Her sheep’s head turns back into her own head, and Anne is finally cured.

The next night, Kate refuses to watch the prince unless she can have his hand in marriage. I…Okay, I’ll admit I do indeed ship this, but seeing as she’s only known him for three days, she might want to slow down. But this is a fairy tale, what do I expect. I feel like I say that a lot, but there’s a reason why. Insta-love runs rampant through these stories. But you know what? I ship it anyway, and I honestly don’t care that they’ve only known each other for three days.

The king agrees, and she stays up with the prince another night. The prince goes to the hall again, and this time, the fairy child is playing with a bird. “Three bites of that birdie would make the prince as well as he ever was,” the fairy says. There is a fairy in almost every folktale who will loudly state exactly how to solve all the main character’s problems within the character’s earshot, and I’ve always been kind of interested in the deus ex machina fairies in folklore. Is it genuinely an accident, is the fairy sick of everyone else treating humans as disposable, etc. It’s a weird convention. Most fairy tale conventions are.

Kate rolls the nuts toward the child, the same as last night, and grabs the bird. After she and the prince get home, she kills the bird and cooks it. A savoury smell fills the room. The prince asks her for some of the bird, which is the first time in the fairy tale he is mentioned speaking to her. With each bite the prince takes, he gets a little better, until finally he is healed. He sits by the fireplace with Kate, and when his family comes in, they are talking and eating nuts together. Can we just agree that this relationship is goals? In fact, can we agree that everything about Kate is goals?

While Kate has been breaking the prince’s curse, Anne has fallen in love with the prince’s brother, and so they all get married. My shipping heart is happy.

This is one fairy tale that should have way more retellings than it does. I can only find one, and it was written all the way back in the sixties. YA! Stop sleeping on this one! Maybe I’ll just break down and write a retelling of it one of these days. I genuinely want to. Sisterly relationships? A weird curse to break? A clever, brave heroine who doesn’t back down from an adventure? Give me some story ideas and all the retellings! Also, I can’t exactly remember the last novel I’ve read set in Scotland, which is obviously very bad and needs to change.

Maybe I’ll make a post one of these days about all the fairy tales that should have retellings and don’t, because it is a crying shame. There are so many.

Prunella

It’s a funny thing with me that I don’t actually like Rapunzel (I mean, I don’t dislike it, it’s just not my favorite fairy tale), but I love reading the variants. There’s so much there, from Parsilette, a fairy tale where the heroine makes up with her stepmother at the end and ditches the prince, to Prunella, an Italian version which is probably my favorite. It’s kind of a nice thing about folktales, that if you aren’t exactly thrilled about one version of a story, there are probably a bunch of other variants that you might like better.

And I LOVE Andrew Lang. I freaking love him. I spent my early teen years thumbing (clicking, actually, I was online) through all the Andrew Lang books, and I want you, too, to experience the joy that is Andrew Lang. So, without further ado, an Andrew Lang story.

A wild plum tree grows in an orchard en route to Prunella’s school, and each day on the way to school, Prunella picks a plum and eats it. Because she’s seven, she doesn’t consider it to be stealing. The witch who owns the orchard does, and one day she catches Prunella doing it. She jumps out from behind the hedge and grabs Prunella’s wrist. “You little thief!” she says. “I have caught you at last. Now you will have to pay for your misdeeds.” ‘Paying for her misdeeds’ is apparently code for ‘take her away from her friends and family and keep her locked in your house, because that’s not disproportionate retribution at all.’ Prunella begs and pleads, telling her that she didn’t know it was wrong and that she won’t do it again, but the witch drags her away to her house ’till the time should come when she could have her revenge.’ Ominous. And also completely overboard for the situation.

It is an interesting thing in Rapunzel stories that the thievery that Rapunzel is punished for is never Rapunzel’s fault. In most versions, the parents do it before Rapunzel is even born, but Rapunzel is the one dragged away from her family and locked in a tower. In this version, she is SEVEN. It’s not her fault at all, she doesn’t even know what she did is wrong. But again. She’s still punished for it.

Anyway, the years pass, and Prunella grows up to be beautiful. Of course. At least she’s not described as being the most beautiful woman in the land or anything like that, but she is beautiful enough to make the witch jealous, which only serves to make the witch hate her more. Also of course. Things come to a head one day when the witch hands her a basket and tells her to go to the well and bring the basket back filled with water, and that if she doesn’t, the witch will kill her. I have questions, number one being, why do witches make life so complicated for themselves? Just grab a knife and stab her or something! Although honestly, this isn’t just witches, it’s also every fairy tale dad you’ll ever come across too. Like, there are other ways of getting rid of your daughter’s unwanted suitor than making him level a forest with a glass axe? But I digress.

Prunella goes to the well and tries to fill the basket with water, but each time she draws up the basket, the water streams out. She finally gives it up and breaks down crying, which is understandable, but isn’t doing much to help the situation.

“Prunella,” a voice at her side asks. “Prunella, why are you crying?” She turns to see a handsome (of course) man about her age, looking kindly at her, which is probably more than people have done in a while. She asks warily how he knows her name, and who exactly he is.

He tells her that his name is Bensiabel, and he is the son of the witch. (Another question, how has the witch managed to keep them so separated that they never met until this moment even though they’ve been living in the same house?) He offers to fill her basket, on the condition that she give him a kiss. Ahem. YOU CANNOT JUST BLACKMAIL A GIRL INTO KISSING YOU. LEARN ABOUT CONSENT.

Prunella gives him a flat no. “I will not kiss the son of a witch,” she replies. YES BOUNDARIES. YOU GO GIRL. Also, I totally imagine her flipping her hair as she says that and I don’t know why.

Okay, wild theorizing time, but could the reason the witch suddenly decides to kill Prunella is because she notices Bensiabel falling in love with her? A lot of abusive parents view their child falling in love as them losing control, and that’s a major theme in Rapunzel already, and…Shoot. SHOOT. I am making myself want to get back to that (awful) retelling I did of this when I was fourteen. No. I will not abandon my current story to go chasing after a theme I like.

Who knows, maybe Ben will get the reworking he desperately needs. My plans for what I’ll do after I finish my current story are definitely up in the air.

Anyway, Ben agrees and still fills up the basket, which is the only reason why I am okay with him. Mostly. I will admit he was way cuter to me before I met actual real life guys who didn’t understand consent at all.

Prunella takes the basket back to the witch, who turns white with rage. “Bensiabel must have helped you,” she says. Prunella says nothing and lets her form her own conclusions. “Well,” she finishes, “we shall see who wins in the end.”

The next day, she gives Prunella a sack of wheat and tells her that she is going out, and that if Prunella hasn’t made the wheat into bread by the time she is back, she’ll kill her. It isn’t possible for Prunella to grind the wheat, prepare the dough, and bake the bread in the time the witch will be away. She tries, at first, but not being a magician, she doesn’t get very far, and she gives up and, again, breaks down crying. Bensiabel appears again, tells her that he’ll save her if she agrees to kiss him, and gets rejected again with equal force. “I will not kiss the son of a witch,” she says. Just like yesterday, he saves her anyway, and when the witch comes home, all the bread is done. Honestly, magical cooking skills sound great. You’d never have to wait for dinner again.

The next day, she calls Prunella and asks her to go and bring back a casket from the witch’s sister in the mountains. Apparently her sister is a crueler person than herself, and she is counting on her sister to imprison her and starve her to death. I find it kind of hilarious that her sister is so predictable she doesn’t even have to send a message or anything. It’s just what her sister does. Also, what is with this lady’s Wile E. Coyote schemes to kill Prunella? Do you want to kill her or do you not?

Prunella sets off, not knowing anything about the sister’s reputation and probably just happy to get out of the house. Bensiabel meets her on the way and asks her where she’s going, though I assume he already knows if he’s meeting her totally prepared. Which he is. She tells him that she is going to get a casket from the witch’s sister. “You are being sent straight to your death,” he says. “But give me a kiss and I will save you.” He’s about as persistent as his mother, and about as ineffective, too.

“I will not kiss the son of a witch,” Prunella says. He proceeds to give her the things she needs anyway: a flagon of oil, a loaf of bread, a piece of rope, and a broom. I do love how seemingly random that is, and I like imagining Prunella’s face as he hands it to her. But Ben knows what he’s on about (in everything except the proper way to relate to your crush), and she uses the oil to polish the hinges of the door, she throws the bread to the mastiff who runs to meet her, she gives the rope to a woman trying to lower a bucket into the well with her plaited hair, and the broom to a woman trying to clean the hearth with her tongue. Um. No comment on the last one. She takes the casket from a shelf and leaves, but the witch hears her as the door shuts. “Kill that thief, I tell you!” the witch says to the woman at the hearth.

“I will not kill her,” she says, “for she has given me a broom, whereas you forced me to clean the hearth with my tongue.”

This goes on with the other people, animals, and objects Prunella has helped, and Prunella gets away. I do like this element in fairy tales. Abusing your animals and servants comes back to bite you. Don’t do it. Unless you’re, you know, the hero or something.

Prunella comes back to her house, and the witch’s mood is not improved by seeing her alive. “Did you meet Bensiabel?” she asks. Prunella doesn’t say anything. “There are three cocks in the henhouse,” she continues. “One is yellow, one black, and the third is white. If they crow during the night, you must tell me which one it is. Woe to you if you make a mistake. I will gobble you up in a mouthful.”

She makes kind of a big tactical error here, because apparently Ben’s room is right next to Prunella’s, even though this was never mentioned before and Prunella didn’t even know who he was at the start of this fairy tale, and…Whatever, forget logic. Ben is able to give her the answers–after asking for a kiss and getting rejected, of course–but finally Ben falls silent. “Bensiabel, save me!” Prunella says. “The witch is coming, she is close to me, I hear the gnashing of her teeth!”

Bensiabel, for once, does not try to bargain for a kiss. He throws the door open–because there was a door from his room into hers, did you miss that, I did too–and shoves his mother back, and she falls down the stairs. It could have been an accident. It could not have been. Either way, his mother is dead.

And then Prunella finally decides that, you know, maybe he isn’t that bad. They fall in love, presumably because of traumatic bonding, and live happily ever after.

And yes, I did a retelling of this when I was fourteen that I didn’t finish. I don’t finish most of my stories, but this wasn’t one where I just lost interest. I think I grew up. There are characters I could relate to when I was little, and now when I try to write them again, they’re just…I find it harder to relate to them. I have a lot of trouble seeing Ben through a not-problematic light, and it’s weird, because I write sort of problematic characters all the time? I love writing stories where the magical fairy forces the heroine into marriage and maybe she escapes and finds her way back home or maybe she falls in love with him. Beauty and the Beast is my very favorite story to retell. But…maybe a forced kiss is a little too mundane and just throws it into the real world too much? I know it sounds weird. It’s possible if I went back to this story I’d find my qualms gone, and I do love this fairy tale and its themes and its down-home earthy feel to it. And Prunella. Goodness I love Prunella. You go and enforce those boundaries, girl.

But there’s also the problem that, um…I’ve kind of accidentally stolen Ben’s face. Twice. Apparently I have trouble imagining more than three different types of male faces, and…Well, let’s just say I have given the same face to Ben, Ignatius the cute shadow-demon, and Mordred. Heh. Of course, that’s just a matter of character redesign, but it would still feel kind of weird. Maybe.

But I might get back to this story one day. Who knows?