Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George

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Welcome back to Fairy Tale Friday!  Today we’re looking at the conclusion to the Princesses of Westfalin series.  Even though this book came out in 2012, I didn’t know it existed until this year.  This is the first novel-length retelling I’ve read of “Little Red Riding Hood.”  The only others I’ve read are two short stories by Angela Carter.  It was lots of fun to see how a tale like this can be adapted to take up a whole book.  I’ll be interested to read other “Little Red Riding Hood” retellings for future Fairy Tale Fridays and see how they compare.

My Rating: 4 stars

Warning: Contains spoilers

As a Retelling:

This is the loosest retelling in the whole trilogy, which is probably due to the nature of the fairy tale.  Unlike “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “Cinderella,” which both take place over longer periods of time, “Little Red Riding Hood” takes place in a single day.  In order to fill a whole novel, a lot has to be added.  It’s also difficult to create a plausible straight retelling of this tale.  How can you come up with a decent explanation for girl being unable to differentiate between her grandmother and a wolf?  George mostly utilizes motifs from the original tale until a scene toward the end of the book.

It’s also interesting to note that the only big differences between variations of this story from different cultures are the ending and the moral.  In some versions, such as Charles Perrault’s French one, Little Red Riding Hood dies at the end and the moral is to not engage with strangers.  In others, such as the German one, a huntsman rescues her and her grandmother and the moral is not to stray from the path.  Naturally, George’s Little Red Riding Hood character, Princess Petunia, survives, and the theme of straying from the path comes up several times throughout the book, so I would say George mainly draws from the German version.

As in Princess of Glass, George changes who the villain is in the story.  The role of the wolf is played by Oliver, a young earl turned bandit in order to provide for his people.  He and his men wear wolf masks when ambushing carriages going through the forest, causing them to be known as the Wolves of the Westfalin Woods.  Though he does attempt to rob the royal carriage and accidentally kidnaps the princess, Oliver is the hero of the story and Petunia’s love interest.  The main antagonists are Rionin, the new King Under Stone, and the rest of his brothers.  They are assisted by the Grand Duchess Volenskaya and her grandson, Prince Grigori, who act in the role of grandmother and huntsman.  The grand duchess is a daughter of the Russakan emperor and widow of a Westfalin duke who Petunia met while visiting Russaka.  Grigori has permission from the king to hunt down the Wolves of the Westfalin Woods.

The book opens with a situation that directly corresponds with the fairy tale.  Petunia is traveling to her grandmother figure’s home and is ambushed by the Wolves of Westfalin Woods.  Shortly after, Petunia strays from the path for the first time.  Once they get away from the bandits, the carriage crashes.  While waiting for things to get sorted out, Petunia goes into the woods alone and is kidnapped by Oliver.  At the beginning of the German version of the tale, Little Red Riding Hood’s mother specifically instructs her not to leave the path.  However, the wolf convinces her to go into the woods to look at the flowers.  While she picks flowers and wanders further and further from the path, the wolf goes to the grandmother’s house.  The next time Petunia wanders from the path is even more similar to the incident in the original tale.  This time Prince Grigori acts in the role of the wolf.  While the princesses ride through the woods with him, Petunia spots yellow roses blooming in the woods even though it’s the middle of winter.  Her sisters tell her not to go pick them, but Grigori encourages her, just as the wolf does in the fairy tale.  It turns out the flowers are a trap to bring her back into the realm of the King Under Stone.

The third time occurs in the silver wood from the first book.  The princesses mange to convince Rionin to allow Petunia to go there and gather silver branches to supposedly use as knitting needles.  In an effort to antagonize the princes accompanying her, Petunia leaves the path and wanders further into the silver wood, knowing it will cause the princes pain if they follow her.  She comes across a house and finds the Grand Duchess Volenskaya and Prince Grigori living there.  Petunia learns that they have both been working with Rionin and that the grand duchess is actually his mother.  She has been tricked into believing the grand duchess is a kind woman who poses no threat, just as Little Red Riding Hood is tricked into thinking the wolf is her grandmother.  Since we aren’t dealing with an actual wolf here, George doesn’t utilize all the questions Little Red Riding Hood asks about the wolf’s appearance.  But Petunia does comment on the grand duchess’s eyes, which she realizes in that moment look exactly like Rionin’s.  Petunia tries to get away and a pistol is fired during the struggle.  This brings Oliver to the house wearing his wolf mask and brandishing an ax, putting a twist on the original tale’s situation of the huntsman rescuing Little Red Riding Hood and the grandmother from the wolf.  Here it is the wolf rescuing Little Red Red Riding Hood from the huntsman and the grandmother.

George also makes use of the famous red hood the main character of the tale is named for.  In this book, it is a red cloak Petunia made from an old dress of her sister’s.  In most variations of the fairy tale, the red hood merely serves as a way of identifying the main character; it doesn’t have any importance to the plot.  However, there is a French variant called “Little Golden Hood” in which the hood has magical properties and plays a big role.  In this version, the wolf only catches the hood when he goes to eat the girl and it burns him because it is magic.  George incorporates this version into her novel.  Petunia used blessed silver to make the cloak, which causes it to have protective powers.  During the climax, a fire blocks the path for Petunia to escape the Realm Under Stone.  She leaps through the fire while wearing the cloak and it protects her from being burned.

My Thoughts:

I thought this was a great conclusion to the series.  It’s just as good as the first two.  George wraps up plot points from the previous books while still bringing in new material and characters.  Even though years have passed since the incident of the worn out dancing shoes and the war in the first book, we continue to see the long-lasting consequences.  Oliver’s earldom was lost in a peace negotiation after the war and his mother wasn’t able to petition the king to reverse the decision due to the kingdom falling into an uproar when the princesses were accused of witchcraft.  As a result, Oliver and his people turn to stealing as a way to survive.  It feels realistic that such major events in a country would keep having repercussions even years later.

And once again the princesses are not just damsels in distress.  Petunia actually gets the bandits to not rob her carriage by threatening them with a pistol.  And she does a decent job fighting off Grigori at the cottage in the silver wood; Oliver is really more for backup than anything.  The rest of the princesses are just as badass.  Several characters comment on how the princesses are capable of protecting themselves; they all know how to shoot pistols.  After Petunia is transported to the Realm Under Stone, the other princesses overpower Grigori and his men.

Out of the three princesses the books focus on, Petunia is probably my favorite.  How can you not like a girl who responds to a bandit saying he won’t hurt anyone if she gives up her valuables with, “Correction.  No one will get hurt if you crawl back to your filthy den and leave us be.  If you try to take my jewels, however, you will be very, very dead.”  All while holding the bandit at gunpoint, of course.  Petunia’s role as the youngest princess also makes her particularly interesting.  She was only six in the events of the first book, so she can’t remember the midnight balls very well and isn’t traumatized by them like some of her other sisters.  She even remembers the dancing as kind of fun.  So when she returns to the Realm Under Stone, she isn’t completely terrified.  And while she doesn’t like Kestalin, her escort to the midnight balls, and certainly doesn’t want to marry him, she’s fairly comfortable with him because he’s familiar.  Some of her earliest memories include him.  Even though he and his brothers are the antagonists, she’s not scared of them and is frequently snarky toward them.  I really enjoyed the dynamic of the whole situation.

My big problem with Princess of the Silver Woods was the romance between Petunia and Oliver.  It’s basically insta-love.  They meet once, can’t stop thinking about each other, and Oliver is ready to risk his life to help her.  I found this especially disappointing since George managed to avoid insta-love in Princess of Glass so well.  I didn’t feel there was any good reason for them to be so interested in each other.  Both characters were great, but they didn’t know each other well enough for it to be at that level.  I wanted more buildup to their relationship so that them falling in love actually felt reasonable and real.

Other Reading Recommendations:

As I mentioned, this is the first novel-length retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” I’ve read.  As such, I can’t really recommend much with a whole lot of authority, and I had a bit of a problem finding other retellings of the story that I thought I’d actually like.  The starred titles are ones I have read myself.  The rest are the ones that sounded most interesting to me and may end up being future Fairy Tale Friday books.

Other Retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood”:

More Retellings by Jessica Day George:

About the Fairy Tale:

This review is also posted on aliteraryprincess.tumblr.com

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