During the Nebula Awards in May, I got to meet and interview Alethea Kontis, who’s fairy tale book, Enchanted, was nominated for the Andre Norton Award. Now the second book in the series, Hero, has been released. It’s a solid, inventive, action-packed fantasy with a great romance built in.
Hero is being billed as a “Companion” to Enchanted, and the description suits, because it works just fine as a stand-alone even though it follows the events of Enchanted closely. Enchanted introduced a fairy tale world in which seven sisters each have a magical talent, with the exception of Saturday, who believes that she has no talent but who does have a magical sword.
When Saturday’s foster brother, Trix, runs away, Saturday breaks a magic mirror and accidentally causes an ocean to form outside her door. Her sister Thursday, a Pirate (!) promptly arrives, but no sooner has Saturday sailed away with Thursday than she whisked away from the ship in the claws of a giant bird and taken to a mountain. As you may already be realizing, a lot happens in this story, with the most fast paced action occurring at the beginning and toward the end.
The mountain that Saturday is taken to is home to Peregrine, a young man who has been held captive inside the mountain by an evil witch for many years. Peregrine and Saturday become allies as they try to prevent the witch from destroying the world.
Hero is a very different book from Enchanted. Enchanted is a complex multilayered look at a wide variety of fairy tale tropes. If anything, there were a few too many tropes in there. It was easy to get lost what with all the mirrors and clever names and beanstalks and magical dresses. Hero is a more straightforward fairytale, but it's action-packed and satisfying with some refreshing twists on gender roles. It also has a very satisfying romance – in fact, although this book is not a romance novel specifically, the romance ends up being the most satisfying part of the book.
Peregrine and Saturday subvert traditional gender roles. Saturday is physically strong, action-oriented, not interested in marriage because it will curtail her adventuring, and not given to wearing skirts or having long hair because those things get in the way. Peregrine spent many years disguised as a girl and is comfortable wearing skirts and dealing with long hair. He finds the skirts to be more practical than pants in his environment and the hair grows magically even when he cuts it, so he learns to deal with it. Peregrine is gentle, patient, and thoughtful, where Saturday is impatient and impulsive. They are both emotionally and physically strong, but in different ways:
Typically, Saturday was entirely self-sufficient; only Papa and Peter had ever braved her stubbornness to take car of her like this. But Peregrine had fed her and clothed her, seen her clean and helped her in her tasks. And here in this room he had presented her with the chance to perform magic, real magic, like her sisters and brothers…
Saturday let her eyes linger on the lines of his dusky olive face, the softness of his countenance reflecting his sympathetic nature. He was soft where she was hard. Saturday was sure that no matter what face Peregrine wore, she’d always be able to see that tenderness within him, a quality she lacked.
He was dark where she was fair. She had stamina, he had grace. He was a flower and she was a tree.
If you are a fan of fantasy, especially of fairy tale inspired fantasy, you’ll love this book. The only reason I’m giving it a B+ instead of an A is that I found it surprisingly easy to put down. I only give A grades to books that I get very emotionally and intellectually involved in. I think I felt a little distance from this book because of pacing. The pacing of the book is a little odd, with periods where massive amounts of action are happening alternating with slow periods, and I found the action hard to follow. The last part of the book is almost a whole different book, as Peregrine and Saturday wrap up various loose threads. It ends with this adventure and the romance firmly resolved, but Peregrine and Saturday promptly heading out another adventure, so it’s something of a cliffhanger.
Pacing aside, this is a solid, romantic, exciting fairy tale adventure. I loved the lead characters and eagerly look forward to the next book!