Review

Review: Thumbelina: the Bride Experiment by Sky Sommers

Synopsis

Marry a toad? No thanks.

Rowing a walnut across a plate never prepared Etta for her abduction…erm…grand adventure. Rescued by a ditzy butterfly and a May bug, and playing housekeeper to a Mouse who has lost some of her marbles, is very exciting until Etta realizes she can’t escape. When girls her age start disappearing, she discovers that all is not as it seems in this enchanted nook of the woods.

Her murky past may be the key as to why the Fairy Queen keeps collecting orphaned fae girls and imprisoning them in a dead-end forest.

Will Etta escape Missus Mouse before she drugs her into oblivion? Why doesn’t her recycled wand work? And why is everyone she meets hell bent on marriage?!?

Suitable for 12+, this snarky fairytale retelling of Andersen’s Thumbelina has a multiple choice ending one for optimists and one for pessimists. If you like the Roald Dahl kind of humour, this one is right up your alley.

Additional info

Genre: Fairytale for mature audience (12+)

Print Length: 258 pages

Publication Date: December 7, 2018


*** SPOILER FREE REVIEW ***

The writing

First impression; as this story is aimed at readers ages 12 and up, I was a bit confused when I started reading the story. It gave a feeling of a proper fairytale, meaning ages 6 and below. This was due to the short chapters and how naive Etta seemed in the first few chapters.

But I must say, my second impression was: I was intrigued straight away and wanted to see how this fairytale would progress. I’ve not read Thumbelina and don’t know her story, so certain throwbacks to her story might’ve gone over my head. But there were a lot of other fairytale characters added in this story that I did know (and loved as a child). I liked how the author managed to tie all their storylines together in an organic way. Well done!

While reading this story, I constantly had to remind myself that this is a fairytale, so the ‘rules of fiction’ don’t apply as strictly. With fairytales, the plot doesn’t always have to make sense or need to be explained. After all, the reader is young (6 and below) and they tend to take more for granted in a story. They swallow up the fantastical elements and don’t bother with if it makes sense or not.

I think the reason why I kept having to remind myself is because the story is aimed at an older audience (12 and up).

I can only speak from personal experience, but I for one would’ve noticed the unexplained parts in the story (like, why did the frog not return? Why did Etta take Daisy’s place in the house of Missus Mouse? Why did she not just leave, instead of drugging the mouse?).

I can’t help but wonder why the aimed audience feels so different from the way this story was written. It feels disconnected somehow. I do think this story is better suited for younger children (though not all scenes are).

Editorial notes

In the beginning Etta doesn’t feel like a ‘normal’ 16 year old. She feels a lot younger to me. Maybe 10 or so. Perhaps that’s because of her upbringing, living so sheltered from the world. Later in the story she does feel older, so that’s nice character building right there.

Another thing I noticed, was the fact that Etta referred to the woman who raised her as ‘the old woman’. Referring to someone as ‘the old woman’ immediately sparks a visual of a woman with grey hair and wrinkles to me. But she was 35 and childless when was given Etta. Now that Etta is 15, ‘the old woman’ is just 50 years old. Would someone be considered an old woman age 50?

Time is a fickle thing in this story. I couldn’t make much sense of it. Perhaps that’s because Etta spent a lot of time in an enchanted forest but there were hints of time dropped here and there, that only added to my confusion.

Like, knowing Caroline’s story regarding a certain prince and her daily task of ‘babysitting him’. But yet, we never get to see this prince. Now, you could say but this story is from Eta’s point of view and you’re right. But when Etta leaves Caroline’s house ‘the next day’ – the prince should be included somehow, since Caroline had to do this thing (I won’t spoil what!) EVERY day.

Contradictions

There were also a few contradictions in the story. Like the butterfly helping her get away from the toad. She said she was told how Etta could fly away with her (meaning, she should fasten the threads to the leaf and she would then pull it). But later, Etta asks the butterfly if it was blind luck or something else that made the butterfly find her.

We already know the butterfly was told how to get Etta out of there, so Etta’s question doesn’t make sense.

Another example is when Etta’s locked up in Missus Mouse’ house because she had procured 2 wooden planks and nailed the window shut ‘at the first sight of snow’.

Yet, the previous scene Etta wasn’t locked up; she left the house through a window. And a scene before that (some 30 pages before) the chapter starts with “At the first sight of snow, the mouse told her to bake a cake.”

So the snow was already there when Etta left the house through the window.

Pivotal scenes

One chapter ends with Etta pretending to leave Caroline, but ducking back so she could find what would happen next with Caroline.

Next chapter, Etta’s trying to find a way out of the forest. Caroline is not spoken about, at all. If Etta’s staying behind to find out what happens with Caroline, such a scene needs to be added. Or at the very least an explanation should’ve been given why we won’t get to find out what happened with Caroline.

 Caroline explains later what happened: “She [The Fairy Queen] just flew me here, handed me the spell book and I haven’t seen her since.”

Yes, we know Caroline had a task to do, and she did do that. So, how would she know what task to do if the Fairy Queen just flew her to this house she now called her home and didn’t explain anything? Especially since her task involves a certain young prince who’s living in a castle and we as reader never get to find out where this castle is…

In the (first) epilogue, there’s also a scene missing in my opinion. One moment, Etta arrives at a certain place, the next it seems she’s weeks further. What happened in between?

Editing issues

I found quite a few unnecessary words. I know, this isn’t a huge issue, but I wanted to point it out nevertheless. To me, as an editor, it’s important that every scene, every character, even every word makes sense and is necessary to the story.

Look at this sentence: ‘They spread their beautiful wings,’ she pointed at the butterfly’s wings, ‘and catch the wind,’ Etta said.

Adding ‘Etta said’ is unnecessary. We already know she’s talking. Also, the comma after ‘They spread their beautiful wings…’ should be a dot, because the use of a comma is only applicable when talking.

As an editor myself, I would’ve suggested changing the sentence to: ‘They spread their beautiful wings,’ she said, pointing at the butterfly’s wings, ‘and catch the wind.’

The use of italics throughout the story seemed a bit off as well. Italics are used to point out Etta’s thoughts. But having a sentence like, Etta rifled her brain for a spell that would make Caroline happy. isn’t a thought, so it shouldn’t be in italics.

Same goes for the following paragraph:

So how else could Etta help with a permanent spell… A lasting spell to help Caroline… She was living through a perpetual ground-hog day and would continue to do that for however long her semblance of a life would last… Hang on…hang on…

The first sentence gives the impression that Etta thinks of herself in third person, and the sentence in the middle ‘she was living through…’ shouldn’t be in italics as this doesn’t seem to be a thought at all.

Tell vs Show

One thing I always look out for, both as a writer and as an editor, is the use of Show versus Tell. We all know the importance of not telling the reader what’s happening, but rather showing it because this gives the reader the opportunity to dive in the story and become part of it.

Now, I’m not familiar with ‘the rules of fairytales’ but I can assume that the Show versus Tell rule isn’t as important. Still, I wanted to point out that I do think Show is stronger in every kind of story.

“I heard you hum when you do your chores,” the mouse said sneakily.

Yet we never actually read this in a scene before. So this is classic Tell – Show us, she’s humming and then adding this line in a later scene, would’ve made this part stronger.

 “That’s why he has those dark glasses on when he’s here and makes me dim all the lights and draw all the curtains.”

This is what the mouse said about the mole after we’ve had several scenes with the mole already, but it hasn’t been shown. Adding this to the very first time the mole makes an appearance, would make the story stronger.

All in all, the issues I found weren’t too big, if you consider this to be a fairytale for a younger audience. But I do feel that if you consider the audience it’s aimed for, these issues become more important. I’d suggest leaving it in the middle; take what resonates. 😊

Point of view

The prologue and first chapter are from the point of view of the Fairy Queen Morgana, chapter 2 jumps to a different POV; that of Etta. The rest of the story is only from Etta’s POV.
I’m not a huge fan of switching POV’s in a story. Especially when it’s just for the prologue (and in this case also the first chapter). To me, it has to make sense why we need the POV from Morgana. What does this tell us, what we can’t find out while reading from Etta’s point of view?
After reading this story, I feel strongly that the prologue and first chapter are better off being deleted. This will make the chapter where Etta meets the May bug a lot stronger; we wouldn’t know where the bug would take her and we’d be as much in the dark as Etta was.
The issue I have with prologues is that they need to make sense. They have to hold any value and more times than not, we start forgetting the prologue all together because it doesn’t tie in with the beginning of the story. It’s like starting a story with a dream (not giving away that it’s a dream) and then waking up in chapter 3 in a completely different setting.

Characters

Let’s sum up the characters that show themselves in this fun, whimsical story, shall we?

Etta – 15, very shielded by her adoptive mother (can’t leave the house), kind of Rapunzel feel.

Etta’s mother – in the story referred to as ‘ the old woman’

Annabelle – butterfly who rescued Etta from the mother toad that wanted her to marry her son.

Stephen – May bug that took Etta from Annabelle

Morgana – Fairy Queen

Caroline – fairy girl who ends up being Etta’s friend

Daisy – fairy girl who also ends up being Etta’s friend

Missus Mouse – a forgetful, and bossy mouse that gives shelter to Etta during the winter

Mister Mole – a friend of Missus Mouse, who comes to visit regularly

Edwin – a fairy boy who happened to be a prince (not Caroline’s prince, mind you!)

Ending

The ending for optimists (epilogue 1) and pessimists (epilogue 2) has a fun ring to it. Though I’m not sure if I would explain the endings as that; for optimists and pessimists. I won’t spoil the ending(s) but what I can say is, I didn’t really understand what would be optimistic about the first and pessimistic about the second.

Both seemed equally interesting to me and I would’ve liked either to be the final ending. Not all questions were answered though, and I was left a bit confused by that. Especially in a fairytale I expected some kind of ‘happily ever after’. I don’t know what I expected considering the difference in ending; perhaps the pessimistic one with a sad ending and the optimistic with a happy (fairytale like) ending?

Part of a series?

This is a standalone book, but as explained by the author in the back of the book, the characters do find their way into different books the author has written. But none have to be read in order to read this book.

So, is this book by Sky Sommers enough for me to continue reading her stories?

Sky Sommers is an amazing, sweet and supporting person on Instagram, where I “met” her. I love the way she interacts with her followers, and what she does for authors with her platform.
But for this review, I had to shut off my personal feelings towards her and just look at the story itself.
That said, this book was whimsical and fun to read, but as I’m a pretty critical reader, I don’t think I’m a great match for this kind of writing. I’m thinking everything through (perhaps even to the point of overthinking it) and that took me out of the story way too many times.
I do however think that the fantastical elements in this story and the way this author managed to tie in all the different fairytales is proof that she’s got some serious imagination as a writer. I mean, take the way she explained using spells. Loved that!
So, I won’t say no to reading another book of hers. Though next time, it will be just for fun!

Buy Thumbelina: The Bride Experiment on Amazon.

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