Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen

Found this in the Young Adult section of the library and picked it up without reading the back because I like fairy tale things. I hadn't realized I had read another book in this series, "Snow White and Rose Red", which featured two girls named Blanche and Rosamund (neither of those names sounds particularly beautiful to my ear, maybe because I hear them with a New England accent). I just looked it up on Amazon to get the title right, and considering that I got it out of the library at Toronto City Hall, I must have taken it out at least twelve years ago. I'm amazed I remember much of anything about it. And I discovered it was by Patricia C. Wrede, whose Enchanted Forest Chronicles I quite liked.

I had a hard time getting into this book. I read the first 40 pages or so, which alternate between short chapters where Gemma (the grandmother) tells Sleeping Beauty in different snippets to her three granddaughters (abandoning the story at a later point each time for a different reason), and present-day, where the girls are all grown up and Gemma dies in a nursing home.
I actually had to renew the book at this point.

After I had taken this book out of the library, I kept coming across the name Jane Yolen on blogs I read, in reviews I looked at. She came up in Garth Nix's favourite YA authors list, for example, and she was reading at something, I forget what. This seemed weird, because somehow I had been unaware of her before. Maybe I had read something by her a long time ago, and not noticed. Maybe I just don't get down to the Y section of the bookshelves often (though I seem to spend a good amount of time nearby at W). I probably wouldn't have even finished this book if there hadn't been such a freaky buzz about Jane Yolen in Robyn's world.

When I was describing "What I'm reading right now" to my coworkers (I'm thinking I might talk too much at work, maybe I should watch that) I called it "Sleeping Beauty in Auschwitz". But that would only be because most people haven't heard of Chelmno. I know I hadn't, but then I haven't read that much about the holocaust.

Anyway, after I finished a couple of other books, one day I just sat down and read about 100 pages. This was good, because I had another new book out of the library (one I had requested several months before, which took a long time to come) and I wanted to finish this one before starting that. YA novels are good for finishing.

And that's when I got to the good part, I guess. I initially found the "wrapping" story-within-a-story device kind of annoying, and just wanted her toget on with the tale. But it was very good, because it set up Sleeping Beauty as being true in its own horrifying way. It was profoundly sad, and honest I think, in a way that fantasy literature often doesn't have to be. People seem to walk around attempting genocide and the like in fantasy without much guilt or responsibility.

Anyway, I won't wreck the story for you. You should read it. And I think I'll look for more Jane Yolen in the future (and not because Garth Nix told me to).

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