By Alethea Kontis
October 1, 2013
Ages 12 and up
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reviewed: ARC from Publisher
Rough and tumble Saturday Woodcutter thinks she’s the only one of her sisters without any magic—until the day she accidentally conjures an ocean in the backyard. With her sword in tow, Saturday sets sail on a pirate ship, only to find herself kidnapped and whisked off to the top of the world. Is Saturday powerful enough to kill the mountain witch who holds her captive and save the world from sure destruction? And, as she wonders grumpily, “Did romance have to be part of the adventure?”
As in Enchanted, readers will revel in the fragments of fairy tales that embellish this action-packed story of adventure and, yes, romance.
My favorite fairy tale writer, Alethea Kontis, pulls off another slam dunk with HERO, the second of her stories about the Woodcutter sisters. HERO is a gender-bending, swash-buckling tale about Saturday, the second youngest sister to Sunday, whom we previously met in Enchanted. While Sunday was a whimsical girl with an art for words, Saturday is a strong and willful girl with plenty of heart (plus some added snark). Her story proved to be just as enthralling as the first!
Alethea has a knack for reminding readers why many of us love fairy tales to begin with. In this entry we are once again given a delightful story with some obvious (and some not-so-obvious) nods to classic tales, such as The Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin and more. It was so much fun picking out the various references. Just like Enchanted, HERO is built upon these familiar stories, but her overlying story and characters are entirely of her own creation. You never think “Wait, this is just a retelling of Cinderella!” or “I feel like I’ve heard this before…” because Alethea’s story and characters are wholly unique and distinguishable – not to mention they have so much more personality.
Alethea made some daring decisions in developing the roles that the ill-fated Saturday and Peregrine would play in HERO. Gender issues are front and center in this installment, and her characters go against the “status quo” in every way possible. I’m not an active pusher of the feminist movement (though I am 100% behind equal rights, don’t get me wrong – I am female), nor do I require “girl power!” in everything I read, but I certainly appreciate the gender role reversal in HERO. The… er, extent… to which Alethea reverses the roles of her two leads is unlike anything I’ve every read before. The gender role reversal also adds to the humor within the story and helps to develop the personalities of the two characters. Peregrine, for instance, was even more endearing because of his place in the story. I have difficulty choosing between him and Rumbold as best fairy tale male lead ever… They’re just so different!
Just as the tagline asks “Does romance have to be part of the adventure?”, HERO is more about action and adventure than it is about love and ballroom dances… In fact, there’s not a single dance in these (almost) 300 pages. (That is, unless sword fighting can be considered a dance? Some think it is, but I digress.) My point is this: There are more bantering words thrown between the two main characters than there are sweet nothings. The main characters have to use their brains and brawn to fight an evil witch if they want to survive to the end of this story. They have to decipher friend from foe and they have to learn to trust each other before they can even consider falling in love…
…Alas, as the tagline question reveals, there is some romance in HERO. But that’s kind of a given, right? This is a fairy tale… and what is a good fairy tale without romance? Plus, if you stick two equally awesome characters together in a dark and dreary cave with limited living space, they’re sure to form some sort of bond. In fairy tales, that bond usually leads to romance. So no matter how much Saturday wishes she could fight it, her fate is inevitable. Now whether or not she can survive long enough to follow through with said romance… that is the real question. Luckily, Saturday’s adventure is full of excitement, error and unexpected turns before the ooey gooey romance begins to take over.
While the dialogue exchanged between the characters had its ups and downs during the scene in which Saturday first encounters Peregrine and the witch, Alethea certainly appears to have refined her already effortless writing style in HERO. (Some of the issues I had in this particular scene may be limited to the early copy I was provided and final edits may have fixed these items for the final copy.) There are many quotable passages within these pages, and the story progresses in a way that is both exciting and unpredictable. Only a master of storytelling can accomplish all these things within a single novel. And although the book gets off to a somewhat slow-ish start, it quickly picks up with the throw of an enchanted mirror. Not to mention, the friendship between Peregrine and his chimera friend (cleverly named Betwixt) fills even the early pages with a bro-mance that feels genuine and more fully-realized than many friendships in YA. Betwixt has the honor of delivering some of the best lines in the book, even. If you like chimeras, you absolutely must meet Betwixt.
If you found much to love about the first installment, you will surely find even more to love in HERO – the story will leave the reader wishing for thirds! (Luckily, at least one more book has been confirmed by the author; Beloved, the story of the third youngest sister, Friday.)