Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Power Princesses: Briar and Rose and Jack by Katherine Coville

All Queen Mervyn has ever wanted is about to come to pass in the birth of this long-awaited child. Only one wise woman is allowed to attend the Queen, an unsightly crone named Hilde--part wise woman, part midwife, and. some say, part fairy.

The time is at hand. Outside the chamber, King Warrick hears a lusty cry. "At last," cries the king. "An heir!"

But within the chamber, Hilde trembles, feeling a surging sympathy for the infant even as her heart sinks. She places the baby in Queen Mervyn's arms. The Queen draws back the blanket and gasps. The infant has a protruding brow, a sagging eyelid, and coarse, asymmetrical features. But something happens. The ugly little face breaks into a smile. The queen is charmed. "Ahh, the sweet little thing!" she says.

But almost immediately a second daughter is born, this one with an unearthly beauty even as a newborn, and to please the King, the Queen and Hilde decide to name her Rose and to present the beautiful child as the rightful heir. Hilde names the real firstborn Briar and agrees to raise her as an orphaned child of neighboring nobles. At their christening the Fairy Queen grants Rose lifelong beauty and charm, and by Hilde's intervention, Briar is given strength and intelligence. And then the jealous Gray Fairy intervenes with a curse on Rose, that on her sixteenth birthday the prick of a spindle will cause her to sleep for a hundred years, to be wakened only by the kiss of a true love.

The two secret sisters spend all their time together as they grow and delight in slipping away from the castle to play in the forest near the village, where they befriend the struggling Mother Mudge and her son Jack. The village peasants never seem to have enough to eat because of the Giant Tax, levied by the King to buy off the Evil Giant whose raids become ever more greedy. Despite the fearful giant, however, the three children become loyal friends and swear an oath that together, as the "Giant Killers," they will someday save the kingdom.

But sweet-natured Rose, accustomed to being loved by all, is easily misled by the "mean girls" of the court, Lady Arabella and her minions, who play cruel pranks on Briar, excluding her from their fun, and Briar finds herself turning more and more to Mother Mudge and Jack for companionship, where she resolves to save the half-starved villagers from the King's oppressive Giant Tax. And then she overhears the King telling the Queen that to save their secret fortune and their kingdom he must compel Rose to marry the old and cruel King Udolf. And when Briar tells Rose about the marriage being arranged for her, Rose chooses the prick of the spindle for herself rather than face the fate her father requires of her, and Briar realizes that she alone has the love and loyalty to save her sister.

In Katherine Coville's forthcoming Briar and Rose and Jack (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Clarion, 2019), the tales of Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk come together in a fantasy novel set within a folkloric medieval framework which affirms the power of courage, friendship, and love to overcome the magic of evil. As in her earlier fractured fairy story, The Cottage in the Woods, which mixes a classic Jane Austen story with the classic Goldilocks setting, in her new novel for savvy middle readers Coville introduces into the old tale of "spell-binding" and true love a modern sense of personal and social responsibility in the face of corruption, greed, and evil.

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