I’m supposed to be doing a ‘Once Upon A Time’ reading challenge. I got all ambitious at the start of the year and signed up to read 20 books that fit in that ‘category’ – happily ever after, that is. I even bought a lot of them. Except now I’m in a bit of a funk, those lovely books are sitting neglected on my shelf, and I’m not reading anything new. BUT! There is one book that I’ve been meaning to feature on My Favorite Reads for a while which features a fairy tale theme. So I’m going to talk about it even though it doesn’t count for the challenge, and hopefully convince myself along the way that fairy tales are the way to go.
Young Emma Pennington is accustomed to a very comfortable life. Although war rages abroad, she hardly feels its effect. When she and her mother travel from their home in Britain to the family estate in Belgium, they never imagine that the war will touch their lives - but it does.
Soon Emma finds herself stranded in a war-torn country, utterly alone. Enemy troops take over her estate, leaving her with no contact and no way out. With all of her attention focused on survival and escape, Emma hardly expects to find love. But the war will teach her that life is unpredictable, people aren't always what they seem, and magic is lurking everywhere.
I’m just going to put this out there – I’m a huge World War I fan. I mean, I’m not a fan of war. Or any kind of atrocity. I just have a thing for stories set in that time period (the nineteen teens, if you will). A couple of my favorite fiction books are set in the early 20th century or an alternate history equivalent – Rilla of Ingleside, Leviathan and Phoenix and Ashes, for example. So Suzanne Weyn’s Water Song already has that going for it.
It is also an interesting adaption of the fairy tale of ‘The Princess and the Frog.’ This is not exactly a lesser-known fairy tale, but it isn’t often re-told for the older crowd, either. More mature fairy tale re-tellings often use the Snow White myth or others that already incorporate a dark twist. Myself? I’ve always thought that ‘The Princess and the Frog’ was very moral – almost a fable. I mean, the main idea is to learn that selfishness does not pay, right?
Water Song does not take the usual route. Emma is utterly isolated, though she does epitomize ignorant and spoiled at the beginning of the book. Normally that sort of person can’t lure any sympathy from me – but Weyn draws the other characters in the book with a deft hand, and creates enough action and tension and mystery that I was drawn into this novel. And Emma does show development over the course of the book. There’s definitely not an exact moment where you feel she ‘learned her lesson’ – more like real life creeps up on her through the entire story, and you know she’s not completely grown up even at the end of it. I like stories that let you imagine a little bit of the epilogue on your own, and this one fits the bill.
I can’t claim that Water Song is without faults. There were a couple of times (the first few pages, anyone?) when the narration was a bit stiff. But the ‘frog’ is unique and really the story’s saving grace, and the famous golden ball that goes into the water is interesting, too. It’s not perfect, but it’s entertaining and appealing, and I think that’s enough sometimes. Plus – Belgium during WWI? I’m in.