Review Blog

Jun 07 2013

Fairytales for Wilde girls by Allyse Near

cover image

Random House Australia, 2013. ISBN 978142758510.
(Age 14+) Highly recommended. Fairytales retold. Fantasy. Isola Wilde sees things that other people don't see: a dead girl in a birdcage in the woods, fairies and brother princes. It isn't until a ghostly girl appears at her window, threatening her, that her life goes completely haywire. In the meantime the new boy Edgar who comes to live next door with his noisy family and Grape her friend are a distraction from her haunted world. The fairytales from her mother's French book are a consolation but they are dark and fearsome. She is in danger of losing everything.
There is nothing 'bubblegum-gothic' (from the blurb) about this story. It is gothic, dark and compellingly strange. The setting of a magical wood with fairies and strange rabbit-like creatures is forbidding and frightening. The fairytale world that Isola inhabits seems to be real and her brother princes are so well described that the reader feels that they know them very well indeed. There is Alejandro, the first prince, a young man who had died young. Ruslana is a fiery warrior queen, with 'berry-black lips, razor-edged, capable of severing a limb' (p35) and other equally wonderful creatures are her companions and friends. Her human companions, Edgar, Grape and James (her second prince) also come alive on the page and her romance with Edgar is sensitively portrayed .
However it is Isola herself who keeps the reader glued to the page. She is full of fantastical wonder, of vivid imaginations and deep fear. The complex layers that surround her and that are gradually unpeeled bit by bit leading to a dramatic and somewhat unexpected climax are beautifully written.
The way the book is set up is also unusual and adds to the reading experience. Near has written descriptions of the characters under the heading of Dramatis Personae and these introduce the people gradually. Short sections are separated by a symbol and there are evocative portraits of the main characters drawn by Courtney Brims, who also illustrated the front cover. The writing is clever with a wonderful combination of reality and fantasy.
Readers who have enjoyed books by Margo Lanagan, Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter and Holly Black will revel in this original story.
Pat Pledger

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