Third-Person Omniscient in “Underland” and “Unenchanted” by Chanda Hahn

Homeless and alone, fifteen year old Kira finds herself kidnapped from her cardboard home and enslaved to an underground group of monsters, doomed to spend the rest of her life doing the bidding of hideous snake people, vampires, witches, and zombies. After failed escape attempts, Kira is forced to participate in “the games”—a chance to make a name for herself and possibly earn her freedom.

This fantasy YA book was an intriguing read if you can get past the first couple chapters (they drag). While the excess of back story interludes initially weighed down the narrative, the payoff was surprisingly rewarding as it differentiated her character from that of other popular YA novels such as Katniss from Hunger Games and Mare from Red Queen. While it was nice to have a different kind of character, Kira oscillated inconsistently between being brave and vengeful, and frightened and sappy. The inconsistencies drove me a little crazy, and took me out of the story.

I enjoyed that this book was set in similar world as our own — that Kira comes from the world we already know and love. This gave me a shared perspective with Kira as I experienced the new world of Underland through her eyes.

However, Hahn’s use of third person omniscient surprised me. By jumping from Kira’s perspective to other characters’ perspectives for short periods of time, the reader ends up knowing quite a bit more than Kira. I worried that Kira’s lack of knowledge (or my excess of information) would make me frustrated, but I was pleasantly surprised. While third person omniscient still bothers me a little bit, Hahn did a decent job.

I recently read another of Hahn’s books titled Unenchanted in which she again uses third person omniscient, but much less frequently, and it bothered me much more in that book. She changed perspectives just enough that I noticed it, but not enough that it felt consistent or useful. I think that because Hahn used third person omniscient more frequently in Underland, it felt more purposeful.

Unenchanted‘s premise is that the main character has inherited her family’s curse: that she will relive all of the Grimm fairy tales until she dies or until the fairytales run out. I enjoyed this premise and the book, but I felt it fell short of what it could have been. The book felt childish at times with the main character wavering between mature and inexperienced, naive, and ignorant.

Overall, Unenchanted was a fun read because of the premises but it was not intellectually stimulating, and it felt a bit overdone (cliche’s galore). This was a clean book, but it’s not one I’m rushing to reread or recommend. Unfortunately, while the original ideas behind Unenchanted and Underland were good, they were not executed well, and both books felt inconsistent with character and relationship development.

My recommendation: if you have some extra time to burn, pass on this book, and try a different one.

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Revenge and Choice in “A Creature of Moonlight”

Rebecca Hahn’s A Creature of Moonlight is a beautifully written tale of a young girl finding and making her home and her destiny. In a world where everything is chosen for young women, many have been drawn to the magical forests in an attempt to escape their seemingly inevitable destinies. Once these young women enter the forest, they are never seen or heard from again.

This is the case for all except one. Marni’s mother came back from the forest, pregnant, but otherwise unharmed. But when her brother discovers her pregnancy, he tracks her down and her young child. He kills her, and threatens to kill Marni too, but she is saved by her Grandfather, the king, who trades his kingdom for her life.

After growing up near the forests, Marni is being pulled between two worlds: that of the magical forest where her father, a dragon, lives, and that of the kingdom to which she is the sole heir.

Hahn does an excellent job of telling this original fairytale through a feminist lens, focusing on a woman’s right to choose her own destiny, and the importance of that choice.

(Warning! Some minor spoilers lie ahead). Continue reading “Revenge and Choice in “A Creature of Moonlight””

Avatar the Last Airbender meets Fairytale

In a world where people can speak to the elements and magic flows from nature, there lives a princess.  She’s timid and unassuming, an insecure princess who wants to be only what others expect of her.  At least, until someone steals her throne.  On a quest to get her throne back, Ani discovers who she is, who she is meant to be, and what she can do.

Goose Girl is a story of discovery, empowerment, and kindness.  The main character, Ani, is an empowered damsel in distress who learns how to stand up for herself and fight back without becoming hardened or losing her newly found self..

I enjoyed the freshness of this story and the characters.  Shannon Hale created beautiful characters who are relatable, complex and realistic.  The main character, Ani, while initially weak and pitiable, develops quickly and fully into a strong, yet soft young woman.  That kind of character seems hard to find – many female protagonists in YA lit tend to be masculinized (such as Katniss from The Hunger Games) or overly weepy and dramatic.

This book is slower paced, and a bit heavy on descriptions for a YA book, but it is beautifully written and contains a wonderful story about the importance of love, laughter, standing up for yourself, and friendship.

The Princess Curse – Bringing me back, way back

I read this book when I needed a break during finals week.  Sometimes you just need a book that you can sit down and read in an hour or two, and doesn’t make you think too much.  This was one of those books for me.  Since I was a little girl I have loved fairy tales.  They’re like my go to genre when I need something familiar, relaxing and/or comforting.  So this was just what I needed during finals week.

This book surprised me.  Over the years I have read a lot of re-imagined fairy tales, and a lot of re-imagined versions of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.  But Merrie Haskell’s rendition of this classic fairy tale surpassed my expectations. Haskell took the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Beauty and the Beast and did a stunning job.

Picture taken from Amazon.com
Picture taken from Amazon.com

Typically the story involves twelve princesses (duh), an invisibility cloak, a curse and a young soldier.  Already you can tell that this has the makings of a good story.  However, most of the renditions I have read I was not especially impressed with.  Classically, the princesses are under a curse or spell to dance all night.  Although their bedroom door is locked they somehow disappear during the night and in the morning all the princesses and their shoes are worn out. The King then issues a decree that to anyone who can solve the mystery of where the princesses go will receive one of his daughters’ hands in marriage.  But, if anyone tries to discover the secret and fails, they are either put in prison or executed. This is where the soldier character comes in.  He, a poor young man, is travelling to the castle with only a few belongings to discover the princess’s secret when he runs into an old woman (or man) who gives him an invisibility cloak in exchange for some food (a classic fairy tale move). So when night comes he slips on the invisibility cloak, and follows the princesses down a secret passage way and frees them from the curse. That’s the basic outline at least.

But if you take out the invisibility cloak, and the soldier, and throw in a bright thirteen-year-old girl with a knack for herbs, you get The Princess Curse. What I loved most about this book was the main character, Reveka.  The relationships she created with the other characters and her positive view of the world around her inspired me and reminded me of what it was like to be thirteen when the real world is still unreal, and you feel that, given the freedom, you can do anything with your life.  The plot is fairly predictable given that it is based on a well-known fairy tale, but it had enough surprises to keep me interested and the characters kept me invested.

Haskell’s writing reminded me of Gail Carson Levine’s (author of Ella Enchanted, Fairest, etc.), and if you liked Carson’s books I would recommend you give The Princess Curse a try. I haven’t read any of her other books yet, but I am excited to explore them.  Although the back of this book recommends The Princess Curse for ages 8-12, I would recommend it for anyone that enjoys fairy tales, needs a little pick-me-up, or wants to feel young again. This is a book that will transport you to another world, and bring you back with a better outlook on life.

Happy Reading!