Fairy tale is a hard genre to explain, perhaps because we know fairy tales when we see them, but it’s difficult to pin down exactly what differentiates them from other works we just call “fantasy.” Those who claim to write them have to hit just the right chord, made up of notes beautiful, strange, and yet totally fitted for this sort of story and no other.
Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s are perhaps the best of the fairy tale genre: new and tantalizingly original, yet somehow as familiar as hot chocolate and The Blue Fairy Book.
In Starflower, the story begins amid a flutter of faerie folk, tucked safely away behind their magical waterfall gates, most silly and vain though ancient. Eanrin, Chief Bard of Rudiobus, lover of no one so much as himself, unwittingly introduces a terrible evil into his world — an evil which promptly carries off the woman Eanrin supposes he loves. Vowing to find and rescue her, and in the process entangling himself in a wager with a rival, Eanrin leaves the safety of Rudiobus in search of the cursed city of Etalpalli and its even more cursed queen. Along the way he stumbles across a young mortal woman enchanted to sleep by a mischievous river, and against his better judgment he rescues her.
It is a decision that will change his life, for Starflower, the mortal girl, possesses powers no one dreams of — and she alone can unearth the secrets at the heart of Etalpalli.
Like Stengl’s other books, Starflower is skillfully written, with a blend of pure enjoyment and surprising depth. The characters are engaging in their various ways; the villains of this piece are especially well drawn. Starflower herself is a strongly feminine and resilient heroine: though she does need to be rescued via kiss at the start of the story, she is anything but helpless. Instead, her love gives her power others can only dream of — and it as they learn to love that others, too, become strong. Through unexpected twists, the story becomes a telling picture of oppression, especially treating the oppression that often comes against women in our world, and of the sort of truth that can unravel oppression and set the captives free.
Note: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my review.