Everything is going according to story for CeCi (Cinderella), Bianca (Snow White), and Rory (Sleeping Beauty)—until the day that Zell (Rapunzel) decides to leave Grimmland and pursue her life. Now, Zell’s best friends are left to wonder whether their own passions are worth risking their predetermined “happily ever afters,” regardless of the consequences. CeCi wonders whether she should become a professional chef, sharp-tongued and quick-witted Bianca wants to escape an engagement to her platonic friend, and Rory will do anything to make her boorish husband love her. But as Bianca’s wedding approaches, can they escape their fates—and is there enough wine in all of the Realm to help them?
In this hilarious modern interpretation of the fairy-tale stories we all know and love, Letters to Zell explores what happens when women abandon the stories they didn’t write for themselves and go completely off script to follow their dreams.
Source: ARC from 47North (Amazon Publishing) via NetGalley
This is a solid fairytale princess retelling via the medium of letters and making sure the stories have their Grimm credentials firmly nailed on – Rapunzel has twins and her prince was blinded and abandoned in the forest, Cinderella’s step-sisters were blinded on her wedding day, Snow White’s stepmother will die at her wedding, etc – so if you’re expecting a fluffy Disneyfied world, you will be disappointed. Having said that, this is also a story about what happened after their stories ended and the difficulties of marriage, especially marriage to men one might not know all that well.
It does take a while for things to get going, and I have to admit the letter format doesn’t always work as well as it might. As nice as it is to have three different narrators providing various views on certain events, they rarely overlap and tend to follow on from each other in a way that’s too convenient at times. True, it would be beyond tedious to have three versions of every conversation and event, but it’s also easy to forget that these are supposed to be letters since they’re mostly recaps of everything that happens.
Having said that, I did enjoy getting to know each of the princesses through their letters. Ceci (Cinderella) was probably my least favourite of the three – she’s so selfish and self-absorbed. Granted, all three are pretty self-absorbed, but they’re writing letters so obviously a certain amount is expected, but CeCi takes it a step further. While there’s nothing wrong with her having a dream beyond being married to Edmund, the way she lies so easily and doesn’t value what she has got on my nerves. Of all the princesses she’s the one with the real fairy tale, but she takes it so much for granted and doesn’t really spare any thought for her struggling friends.
Bianca (Snow White) is hilarious. She’s bitchy and a bit immature, but she’s also so funny in her foul-mouthed ways and straight forward demeanour. Sure, she does have a tendency to see something she wants and head for it without regard to the consequences, but I think she’s the only one of these three who actually matures and develops through this book. At the start she’s cynical and a bit cruel, but by the end she definitely learns to think of others – not to mention falls in love. I loved how open she was to new experiences, to looking beyond her constricting Pages and to finding answers to the questions that plagued her.
Then there was Rory (Sleeping Beauty). Sure, she’s a goody-goody with an optimistic streak that could get annoying, but I really felt for her. Of all the princesses she’s the one who lost the most through her Pages (story), yet she’s also the one working the hardest to make it all true, to give her experience meaning, to make the most of what she has. Her dream might not be as big as CeCi’s, or her heart as daring as Bianca’s, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t matter. I so wanted someone to notice, to care, to help her – preferably by shooting the insufferable Henry. She’s the most grown up of the three and the one whose story resonated most for me through the book.
Away from the three narrators, the plot itself meanders around and does drag at times. There were times when I struggled to maintain my interest and having the three characters writing letters by rote sometimes irritated me – usually because I wanted more from one and less from the others (or just CeCi). It would also have been nice if Zell had been given a voice at some point – perhaps at the end. She’s such an important part of the tale, and I think her own story would have been equally as – if not more – interesting than the others. So not having any letters at all from her did leave me a little disappointed at the end.
However, overall this is a good book. The narrators all have strong voices, the fairy tale bits and pieces are fun (especially the references to other stories like Oz, Narnia and Peter Pan, amongst others), and the letter format is at least a little different from the usual retelling format. I even got a little emotional towards the end. In all this is a clever debut – I look forward to seeing what Camille Griep comes up with next.
Letters to Zell is out July 1st!
Visit Camille Griep for more details.