I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on June 2, 2015
Genres: YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult
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Fairy Tale Survival Rule #32: If you find yourself at the mercy of a wicked witch, sing a romantic ballad and wait for your Prince Charming to save the day.
Yeah, no thanks. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks—like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the brooding prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future.
Talk about unhappily ever after.
Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving the kingdom in chaos and her parents stuck in some place called "Kansas." Now it's up to Dorthea and her pixed off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse...before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story.
I signed up for this book without any real expectations. I just wanted to try reviewing a YA fantasy novel for a change, and the fairy-tale retelling aspect drew me to this title even though I’m not particularly into The Wizard of Oz. To be honest, I’d put off reading it for a while. When I finally gave it a go, it managed to do what some of my recent reads hadn’t been able to do. It captured my imagination. More than that, it made me laugh.
“I’ll get you, my princess. And your little fur ball too.”
First off, let me correct myself. Spelled is not a fairy-tale retelling. It’s a fairy-tale reinvention mashup. Or mashup reinvention. Forget comparing it to The Wizard of Oz. That’ll just give you a headache, because everything’s so different. Yet there are these familiar names, such as Dorthea (of course!) and even Beauty and Rapunzel. There are also these familiar faces, such as the hookah-smoking caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. And I can’t not mention the very modern things that made their way to the Spelled universe, such as the Hans Christian Louboutin heels, UPS (which stands for United Pegasus Service, but of course!), and cloud storage (and I mean, literal cloud storage)—to name a few. It’s such an imaginative read that entertained me from the get-go.
I won’t get into the plot, because it’s better enjoyed as it unfolds on the page. All you need to know is that Dorthea/Dot gets tired of being cooped up in the Emerald Palace, makes a hasty wish on a star, and sets the magical world into disarray. Oh, and she turns her not-so-charming prince Kato into a chimera too. Together with the ever-growing Kato and the kitchen girl-turned-frog-turned-prickly companion Rexi, Dot must undo the consequences of her wish and save her parents and the Emerald Sorceress Verte. If it sounds crazy, that’s because it is. I’m not quite sure I understood it all, but that’s okay. It’s one of the stories that you don’t think about. You just grab on and enjoy the ride.
One of the things we often criticize traditional fairy tales for is how they portray females as powerless and unimportant if not for their beauty or royal status. I like how Betsy Schow tried to turn that around in Spelled. Yes, Dot starts off as your typical spoiled, entitled princess. But as she goes on in her heroine’s journey, she learns to find her inner strength and to listen to her instincts. It’s not an instantaneous change, but it’s growth that’s hard-fought, which makes it count all the more. I especially admire how she sticks to what she believes is right, even when it’s a lot easier to do otherwise.
“I can’t decide if the Storymakers are brilliant or mad as hares for bringing us together as partners.”
“Partners is an awfully strong word. Let’s go with associates for a brief duration until the everafter part.”
“Well, I suppose that’s an improvement over disgusting beast.”
Of course, there’s a love story too! It’s not as evident in the first part, but later on in the story, Dot and Kato’s bickering transforms into a romance that truly gave me the feels. You might be wondering how that goes when Kato’s not exactly human. You’ll just have to read the book to find out. Despite the wait, when it happens, it’ll make you swoon. I love how Kato’s not your typical prince either. He’s not charming, but he’s steadfast and strong. He’s not afraid to let Dot take the lead, but neither is he a pushover—and that makes him a pretty good book boyfriend in my standards.
“True love is like a stalactite meeting a stalagmite. Complete opposites, but with time, calcium, and a healthy drip system, they meet in the middle. Or one crushes the other. It depends.”
The other characters gave this story plenty of flavor as well, including Rexi, Verte, and the creepy Hydra. Many of them had me wondering whether they were friend or foe, which added excitement to the story. And I have to mention Hydra specifically because I love the concept of her changing heads and “unpacking” a different house depending on the need.
Spelled is a debut novel that doesn’t read as one. It’s witty, whimsical, and Though it’s my first encounter with Betsy Schow’s writing, it will in no way be my last. If this is what her first novel reads like, I can’t wait to get my hands on the next ones. I’m thinking there’ll be a sequel to Spelled, and I am definitely picking it up when it comes out. Highly, highly recommended!
Feel Factor Rating
Most of the crowd had dispersed. The final few stragglers looked at me with the alltoo-common look of fear mixed with trepidation. Pix ’em. They were just servants. It wasn’t like their opinion mattered.
Only one remained, watching me with open curiosity. He looked to be in his late teens or was magically enhanced to appear so. He could have been a hundred for all I knew. I’d never seen him before in my life. He was handsome enough, for a commoner, even in his worn leather pants and cracked work boots. A foreigner, his hair was unruly and dark auburn, which complemented his tanned but dirt-smudged complexion, though the tall, dark stranger vibe was ruined by his piercing pale blue eyes.
Well, I’d had enough of being a sideshow for the day. “If you’re the new gardener, the hedges are overgrown and in need of a trim.” I pointed in the direction of my father. “While you’re there, you can help the king with the wisps.”
The young man’s expression clouded over, but he didn’t move.
I stamped my foot and pointed more forcefully. “Off with you. Courtyard’s that way. Be sure to clean those awful boots before coming back in.”
“Someone told me I’d find a princess of great worth here. One with the strength to be the hero this realm needs.” He stared at me with those unsettling blue eyes. They were cold, like ice water—made me shiver from head to toe. Then his gaze seemed to search even deeper. Finally, he looked through me, like I was nothing.
In brisk steps, he strode across the marble to the courtyard. But before crossing the threshold, he turned back to glare at me with his lip curled ever so slightly. “It seems she was mistaken.”
Just like that, I had been sifted, weighed, and found wanting.
I felt my own lip curl in response. How rude! Who the Grimm was this peasant to judge me? I was wearing a Glenda original. Original! Not some fairy-godmother knockoff worn by those servant girls turned royal. I was a crown princess, for the love of fairy, and no one dismissed me.
Before I could put the boy in his place—down in the dirt, where he belonged—a clatter came from behind, making me nearly jump out of my shoes. I checked and was relieved that Sterling had simply dropped his sword. By the time I looked back, the gardener was gone.
After stowing his blade, Sterling held up his shield, not in defense of the entrance but so he could look at his reflection. “Clearly he’s blind and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
I didn’t ask for Sterling’s opinion, but it made me feel better.
Until he opened his mouth again.
“Worth, pffft. I mean, look around at all the jewels. Your palace has everything you could ever want. Honestly, I don’t know what you’re fussing about. Why would anyone want to leave?”
Because a cage is still a cage, no matter how big or glittering the bars are.
And I would find a way free, no matter the cost.