Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

Searched for


Second person

At tor.com, this post: 12 SFF Stories Told From Second-Person Perspective

Interesting! I have to be in just the right mood to want to read something in second person … it is such a self-conscious mode! It screams: Pay attention to the craft of this story! Do not even think about being emotionally engaged! Emotional engagement is not the point! Or so it seems to me, at least.

Twelve! That’s a long list for this particular category of SFF stories. Let’s just take a look …

1.Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.

2. The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie — oh, yes, I remember now, starting this book and thinking OH NO and closing it again.

“I first saw you when you rode out of the forest, past the cluster of tall, bulge-eyed offering stakes, your horse at a walk. You rode beside Mawat …”

I believe that’s as far as I got. Not in the mood! Do not know when I will be in the mood, if ever.

Would you call that second person, though? I’d call that … what? … interior monologue first person. It’s still incredibly contrived and self-conscious.

3. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

4. “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Gods” by Maria Dahvana Headley — this is a short story. A shorter form that’s using second person is MUCH more approachable for me than a novel. I’m much more willing to put up with the form if I know going in that the story is not that big a commitment.

5. Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North — oh, now, that’s just cheating. This is a fun choose-your-own-adventure . . . thing. Book. Book-like thing. Not a novel or a story. Lots of tiny little stories embedded in this . . . thing. Fun, though.

6. Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin

7. The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold

8. The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera — I have this one on my TBR shelves. Hmm. It says here that most of the novel, or a large part of it, is in the form of a letter someone is reading, so … let me see … okay, like this:

Shizuka, my Shizuka. If Grandmother Sky is good, this finds you sitting on your throne, eating far too many sweets, and complaining about all the meetings you must attend.

My apologies for the awful calligraphy. I know you are shaking your head even as you read this, saying something about my brushstrokes not being decisive enough.

That starts a few pages from the actual beginning of the story. Actually . . . this is a good technique. At least, for me it seems to counter some of the immediate recoil I otherwise experience when faced with second person, or monologue first person addressed to the reader, or whatever you’d call this. The point is, the conceit of putting the story into a letter that’s read after the fact does work better for me than not having this kind of framing. Interesting! I didn’t realize adding a frame would help me accept this style, but apparently it might.

Let’s see, what else —

9. This is How You Lose the Time War by Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar

10. Redshirts by John Scalzi — the codas at the end. True. I’d forgotten about those.

11. Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

12. You by Austin Grossman

A few of these sound sort of interesting. I’ve heard a lot about the Gladstone/El-Mohtar book, but (a) time travel is somewhat to moderately repellent to me as a trope, and now (b) self-conscious choices of second-person or second-person-adjacent styles are moderately to very repellent as a style, so … if any of you have read this book and love it, let me know. Otherwise no matter how much people rave about it, I’m unlikely to try it myself.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Courage in Fiction

At Kill Zone Blog, this post by John Gilstrap: Courage in Fiction.

That’s a title that instantly catches my attention, as courage is such an important quality in fiction. That is, regardless of what other qualities the protagonist may have, he or she or it must have courage. Not necessarily gung-ho leap-upon-them do-or-die physical courage, but very definitely some type of courage.

So let’s see what Gilstrap has to say about this crucial protagonist quality …

Okay, there is a long intro about important vs commercial fiction — given that this post is at Kill Zone Blog, you can imagine the general tenor of Gilstrap’s comments on that topic. Then basically one paragraph about courage, at the end:

Every week, my DVR records episodes of “12 O’Clock High”, starring Robert Lansing as General Frank Savage. I remember watching it as a kid, but all I remember are the scenes of aerial battle. The stories are really very complex and often quite moving. When you consider that the series aired when World War 2 wasn’t yet 20 years in the past, and that more pilots died in the 8th Air Force out of England than did all of the Marines in the Pacific theater, the story lines are particularly courageous. Battle fatigue (PTSD), cowardice, reckless bravery, loss of friends and the futility of war are all addressed in those episodes. They entertain because they resonate, and they resonate because we care about these young men who are forced to take exceptional risks for the benefit of others. We see courage in action. And it’s inspiring.

Those last few sentences are where I sort of thought the whole post would linger, but not really. I find the post a bit disappointing because I don’t think it does enough with the suggested topic. Let me just poke around a little …

Here is a post at Stylist: Fifteen books that taught us to have courage and be kind.

That is probably a more satisfactory post. I imagine that you can hardly throw a dart at fiction without hitting excellent examples of courage. Well, maybe literary fiction. But basically you’re going to find courage absolutely everywhere. Kindness is probably only a little less common. Hard to imagine picking out fifteen books that particularly exemplify these qualities. I would say that to teach the reader to have courage and be kind, the protagonists who demonstrate those qualities should be ordinary people, not too overwhelmingly outside normal experience. That is, Frodo, not Aragorn. Almost anybody rather than the Count of Monte Cristo. Let’s see what books this post picks out of the infinite possibilities …

Ah! The Lord of the Rings, right at the top. For exactly the reason I suggested:

They are distinctly ordinary – and so, when the world cries out for a hero to rise up and fight against evil, Frodo, Samwise, Merry and Pippin initially worry that maybe they are not good enough, or smart enough, or strong enough, to make a difference. That an ordinary person, living an ordinary life, can never hope to do something truly extraordinary.

But over the course of the trilogy, they are proven wrong. Time and time again, they are forced to stare darkness in the face – and, time and time again, they prove that anyone can do anything, so long as their courage holds, their spirit does not fail and there’s a warm dinner to look forward to at the end of it all.

Yes, yes! I’m now feeling good about this post. What are the other fourteen books this post picks out? Okay, a bunch of stories I have read, some not very recently, like To Kill a Mockingbird, and some much more recent, like The Hunger Games. I see almost nothing here I would disagree with.

My favorite book on this list: Little Women. I wouldn’t have thought of that one! But it’s a very good choice for both courage and kindness. Oh, and Charlotte’s Web! Another surprising and excellent choice. By all means click through and see what other books on this list surprise and please you.

It’s practically impossible, as I said, to pick out anything myself given near-infinite choices. Let me see. Courage AND kindness. Hmm.

Okay. I’m thinking of specific characters; for me, that’s the easiest way to manage this.

Terry Pratchett’s Captain Carrot is a good choice for a character who exemplifies both qualities. I detest those stupid names Pratchett gave so many characters, so it’s all I can do to type the above sentence, but Carrot IS a great character for this kind of list.

Maia in The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.

Paksenarrion in the titular series by Elizabeth Moon.

Cordelia in the Vorkosigan series.

And what the heck, I will end with one of mine:

Aras in Tuyo.

Aras Samaura may be the kindest important character in any of my books. Or I might say, the kindest protagonist. Although, I have to add, he is also one of the most ruthless.

If you were picking out one character in SFF who shows both courage and kindness, who would it be? Do some name dropping in the comments. Gold star if it’s a book I haven’t read, because this sort of character is exactly the kind who’s likely to lead to expansion of my TBR pile.

Please Feel Free to Share:


“Swift the Chase” giveaway

You may not recall, but this collection of vignettes and scenes was produced a year or so ago as a promotion. Lots of authors contributed. There’s a scene from one of my unpublished books, among all the others.

Complete list of authors:

  1. Intisar Khanani 
  2. Raf Morgan 
  3.  Casey Blair 
  4. Rachel Neumeier 
  5. P. Djèlí Clark
  6. Sherwood Smith 
  7. Joyce Chng
  8. Melissa McShane 
  9. Andrea K. Höst

And today — for two weeks, in fact — there’s a giveaway of a $20 gift card with this little collection. you can go here to enter, if you’d like.


Please Feel Free to Share:



Here’s a post from Anne R Allen, which I saw via The Passive Voice Blog. The post is about WordPress, but here’s the part that caught my attention:


With the Yoast plug-in, you don’t get a list of rules. You discover each one when the elves give you a red, amber or green light on your copy. If you get a red or amber light, you must scroll down and find out what you’ve done “wrong” according to the Yoast rules.

Here are the things the readability elves will ding you on:


They give you an automatic red light if you start three sentences in a row with the same word. So never quote Charles Dickens “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom…”

Ah, I said. One of THOSE “readability” algorithms. Yes, indeed. How very helpful. Other things that the “readability elves” dislike: long sentences, long paragraphs, more than 300 words after a subheading, the passive voice, words with more than four syllables.

Sometimes I’d like to go through the world of words and find examples of things that absolutely meet “readability” standards in every way, without actually being readable. I actually have a specific example in mind. Long, long ago, when I was TAing a basic Bio class of some sort, the class switched one semester from the pretty good textbook we’d been using for years — I’ll call that Textbook A — to a much less good textbook, Textbook B. So I went to the TA coordinator for this class and asked about that, and without a word she handed me the newest edition of Textbook A.

It had been revised according to current readability standards. This was a Biology textbook that now had very few words over four syllables and was trying to get by at a seventh grade reading level and whatever else was mandated by the readability standards of the time. It was therefore utterly useless. A complete waste of paper and ink. No one could have learned anything from it.

“Ah,” I said. “Textbook B looks fine, then.” And that was it for Textbook A. I don’t know if a future edition ever repaired the damage.

Even a couple of decades later, this incident is what comes to mind when I hear about readability.

Anyway, the rest of the post is about getting Google to move your blog higher in search results and I’m sure that’s interesting, but it’s not what caught my eye.

Here, if you are interested, is a Readability tester. I imagine it’s somewhat different from the one Allen refers to, but it pops right up in a Google search, so I imagine the Google elves like it. I plugged a thousand words from TUYO into this tester and here’s what I got:

Flesch-Kincade Grade Level: 4.8 — I suspect this is because Ryo usually thinks and speaks in short, relatively simple sentences.

Gunning Fog Grade Level: 7.1 — I wonder if this is because the vocabulary is more advanced than fifth grade? I don’t know how the two grade level things make their decisions.

One hundred and two “issues” that should be addressed. A hundred and two! In a thousand words! Wow. Let me see. Lots of spelling queries, which yes, that’ll happen in a fantasy novel. This readability checker wants me to break up all long sentences. It appears to think anything over 25 words is “really long” and anything over 15 words is “long.” I’m tempted to paste in some sentences that are actually really long and see what it says.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this checker would like me to remove all adverbs. I do get weary of the constant adverbs-are-bad drumbeat. I wonder if any of you noticed that Ugaro basically have two intensifiers: very and extraordinarily. Ryo seldom if ever uses other intensifiers. The Lau have a more varied vocabulary and generally speak with longer sentences and so on.

I note that the checker thinks I did a good job avoiding cliches. Well, glad it’s happy about something.

Out of curiosity … I have Door Into Light here … let’s try 1000 words or so of that one … ah, the very different style certainly comes through.

Flesch-Kincade Grade Level: 7.3

Gunning Fog Grade Level: 9.5

Interesting, isn’t it? I knew the style was different and I specifically knew I was giving Ryo a distinctive voice with short, relatively sentences and more than usual repetitiveness of vocabulary, but wow, this is sure very different.

On the first page, this readability checker thinks that ALL BUT THREE sentences are “long” or “really long.” It identifies the word “unpredictable” as a “hard word.” (!) It does not recognize somewhat obscure words like “hewn” and “skirl” and tells me those are spelling mistakes. Good heavens, it thinks that if you start a sentence with “when,” the sentence is probably a fragment. I wonder what other dependent clauses it fails to recognize.

It’s moments like this that make me think we really should just drive a stake through the heart of all readability algorithms. To the extent anyone takes them seriously, these sorts of scores have GOT to drive reading ability and general text comprehension downward, while potentially producing textbooks that are completely useless.

Please Feel Free to Share:


More griffins griffons gryphons gryfons …

Okay, first, every spelling up in the title of this post is considered correct except the last. Although normally a fan of the letter “y” in fantasy, I obviously prefer the spelling “griffin,” or at least I did when I was writing the Griffin Mage trilogy. I will add, I didn’t think about the spelling at all; this is the spelling that just fell off my fingers onto the keyboard. I still prefer it, if only because it’s the spelling I’m most used to.

It’s also the spelling Diana Wynne Jones used in her FANTASTIC books which Charlotte mentioned in a recent comment. I should have thought of those because they’re some of my favorite griffons. We see them in Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin. I don’t much care for the griffins pictured on the regular covers of that duology, but I like the audio cover:

The above griffin, incidentally, is really about what the adult male griffins from Nick O’Donohoe’s books ought to look like. BIG and rather SCARY and definitely like beasts of prey, not anything cuddly that you would want to pat. DWJ’s griffins are perhaps not really as large as the one shown above.

Okay, moving on:

“Griffon” is frequently used in the names of dog breeds, in which case it means ‘wire-coated.” The Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen is the small, short-legged, wire-coated dog from Vendee. There is indeed a Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen, if you would prefer a slightly larger dog.

The Brussels Griffon is a little wire-coated dog, quite charming. There is in fact a smooth Brussels Griffon variety, which is an oxymoronic statement and incidentally is probably going to be mistaken for a Pug or Pug mix except at a dog show.

Also, there’s a hunting breed called the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, which is a redundant name rather than oxymoronic, but once again suggests that it might be nice if people think for a second about the words they’re using before naming a breed.

So, the point is, I don’t care for the “griffon” spelling when you’re talking about half-bird / half-cat mythological animals, because it makes me think of dog breeds and that’s distracting.

Now, “gryphon.” This is another accepted spelling, of course! It does look a little odd to me just because it’s not the spelling I’ve used myself. Several of you mentioned Andre Norton’s Crystal Gryphon series, which I’ve never read. It’s got some covers where the artist made a nod to the idea of gryphons:

The animal could easily be an eagle. The musculature and proportions are not quite right for an eagle, but the artist is nevertheless cheating by failing to show the lionine part of the gryphon, which is too bad.

However, the above artist’s cover is sooooo much better than this ludicrously unsuitable Polish cover, which Alan Shampine sent me over the weekend:

Uh huh, Crystal Gryphon, right. I’ll add that I bet that’s a Boris Vallejo cover. the style is very familiar and the book is probably from the era when Vallejo was doing a lot of covers. Oh, interestingly, if I’m reading this right, Vallejo did BOTH covers above. I wouldn’t have guessed that!

How about the “gryfon” spelling? That one is not standard! It’s used in some of the most artistically beautiful books, though:

That’s the complete artwork for the cover of Skyfire, from the Song of the Summer King series. I still think this is my favorite griffin/gryphon/gryfon cover ever. This is by Jennifer Miller, who has an extensive online portfolio and offers prints, in case you want to take a look.

Okay, so, if you have a strong preference for spelling this mythological animal, which spelling do you pick? And have you seen any other spellings?

Please Feel Free to Share:


Griffin cover art

Last night I had a Twitter conversation about my Griffin Mage covers and other griffin covers, so, since I’m not sure I ever did one, here’s a roundup of all MY griffin covers, which I’ll follow with a few of the very best griffin covers of all time.

So, first, the original paperback covers for the trilogy:

The UK versions were exactly like these, but, as you may possibly know, the reflection of the face in the eye was not present in the UK cover. Don’t know why. It’s a neat detail, though I don’t particularly like the actual face that is reflected.

Obviously this artist chickened out when it came to showing an actual griffin. That’s too bad, as griffins are certainly very suitable for fantasy covers and should, I firmly believe, be shown as often as possible.

The artist for Hachette’s omnibus also apparently didn’t feel up to putting a griffin on the cover:

Fire, yes; griffins, no; and a random person who does not look much like anybody in the trilogy. Despite these flaws, I actually am pretty much okay with this cover, I guess, but I wish there had been a griffin on the cover.

Next, the SFBC omnibus cover. I don’t care for that woman, who looks much older than Kes. Honestly, if it’d been me, I would have suggested to each artist that they quit putting girls or women on the covers and focus on the griffins.

Focusing on the griffins was actually the direction taken by the artist who did the audiobook covers:

The first one could be an eagle or hawk, so that’s cheating. My favorite of these griffins, by a mile, is the one on the cover of SANDS.

My favorite of the Griffin Mage covers were done for the German edition:

I have no clue about the Dominatrix Sorceress in the Black Cloak. But the griffin is wonderful and I love the landscape. I don’t care for the second one as much, but the third is good:

So, those are MY covers. Which do you think are the best?

But moving on, let’s take a look at some of the most spectacular and creative griffins that have appeared on book covers for other peoples’ work. Here, starting with possibly my favorite griffin. I admit I have never read this series, but you can’t beat this griffin:

I like everything about the above griffin. The artist did a fantastic job making this look like a real, plausible animal. Nice tail for a flying animal; that makes all the sense in the world compared to a simple lion’s tail, though that would have been all right with me too.

Here’s a comfortable griffin:

I’m not sure what I think of humanizing the hands. That does make it easier to hold a coffee mug, though.

Below is one of my favorite literary griffins. The Inspector General is a great character and, incidentally, my veterinarian gave a thumbs up to the veterinary medicine practiced in this series.

Here’s a different kind of griffin, an owl griffin:

Here’s another owl griffin I particularly like:

And I’ll finish off with the most exotic griffin I know of:

I doubt anyone recognizes the bird this griffin is based on. Or do you? Maybe it’s better known than I think? It certainly looks to me like it MUST be based on the African hoopoe, a quite wonderful bird I enjoyed very much seeing once when I was actually in Kenya. You can read all about hoopoes here.

If you’ve met a griffin you especially liked — artwork or character — please mention it in the comments!

Please Feel Free to Share:



You may occasionally wonder what I’m working on. I don’t like talking about things that are in the early stages, but COPPER MOUNTAIN is way past that point. Also, since bringing out TUYO, I’ve seen a handful of comments like, “Well, the one I REALLY want to read is COPPER MOUNTAIN, but fine.”

I’m happy to know that various readers are eager to see COPPER MOUNTAIN hit the shelves. I honestly thought I might get through the complete revision over the July 4th weekend, but it’s stretching out longer than I thought, so that didn’t happen.

However, I am working on it, I am making progress, and I am happy with how it’s going. I am absolutely certain I will bring it out this year, but perhaps closer to Halloween.

Stuff I’m doing:

–Adding transitional material that helps the first half of the story flow better and prevents it from feeling too episodic. I think this is working pretty well.

–Trying to prevent certain minor secondary characters from being present in the first half and then disappearing from the second half. I’m not entirely sure I can quite pull this off considering how large the cast is already, but we’ll see.

–Giving Natividad a more definite character arc. I just figured out how to do that, I hope, and I’m working on that now.

–Smoothing out the last bit and making certain things happen in a more plausible and also less repetitive way. I think I know how to do that.

–Deciding whether a certain character remembers certain things at the end of the novel and clarifying for the reader the moment he forgets these things, if he does, and making him deal with them if he remembers them. There’s not much to DO here, but I have to decide which way it goes.

–Speeding up the feel of the first half, even though I’m adding transitional material. There are two basic ways to help the pace feel faster without actually chopping large chunks out of the manuscript:

a) cut at the sentence level.

b) shorten the chapter length and just have more chapters.

I will probably be doing both. Those are mechanical jobs that don’t require a lot of close attention but do take some time.

For those of you who read this manuscript earlier this year and provided feedback, thank you so much! I had to practically resort to archaeology to unearth your comments, buried way back in my email, but I very much appreciated your feedback once I pulled COPPER MOUNTAIN back out.

For those of you particularly impatient for a look at it, in the not too distant future, I would appreciate a couple of gimlet-eyed readers making a copy-editing pass through the manuscript. I hesitate to ask those of you who looked over TUYO because you did a great job, but I would feel like I was imposing to ask you to look over COPPER MOUNTAIN too. But if you happen to see this post and want to see the story early and don’t mind, by all means let me know.

Please Feel Free to Share:


The Count of Monte Cristo: not retellings but reminiscent

Yesterday, I said this:

Edmond Dantes is a fantastic protagonist because he is aloof, chilling, and powerful. Because his own internal thoughts are largely hidden from the reader, he is also an ambiguous protagonist who could very well go all the way, wreaking terrible vengeance on those who wronged him. Each time he steps back from complete vengeance, that decision is powerful.

I can think of just a handful of other novels in which a protagonist or important secondary character reminds me of Edmond Dantes as the Count of Monte Cristo. Here we go

–Aristide Courveur, in Champion of the Rose and Bones of the Fair.

Aristide is aloof, chilling, and powerful. He isn’t driven by revenge, and he isn’t a man of mystery, but he seems similar to the Count in some pretty fundamental ways. Also, although he isn’t driven by the need to seek vengeance for past injustice, you don’t want, for example, to be responsible for the death of the woman he loves. Or let him catch you aiming to do any harm to his country.

–Francis Crawford in the Lymond Chronicles

Lymond isn’t chilling in the same way as the Count of Monte Cristo, but he does pick up the mysterious background, in a way. I mean, everyone knows who he is, but almost no one knows what happened to make him the man he is when the series opens. He plays a deep, deep game, like the Count. Vengeance is something he has his eye on, though it’s not his prime motivation. He’s not as powerful; that is, Lymond is often driven by events, not driving events. Nevertheless, when I think of protagonists who remind me of the Count, Lymond is one I think of.

–Kirth Gersen in a series I haven’t actually read: The Demon Princes series by Jack Vance. Here is the description that led to my placing this series on a Count of Monte Cristo list:

The story of Kirth Geren as he exacts his revenge on five notorious criminals, collectively known as the Demon Princes, who carried the people of his village off into slavery during his childhood. Each novel deals with his pursuit of one of the five Princes.

As you see from the first entries in this list, I wasn’t specifically looking for vengeance plots, but for protagonists who remind me of the aloof, composed, secretive, deadly Count of Monte Cristo. I don’t know if Kirth Gersen has any of the same personal qualities, but wow, he sure sounds like he’s got the vengeance thing down pat. I was never a big Vance fan, but if any of you have read this series, what did you think?

–Nicholas Valiarde in The Death of the Necromancer

I know I KEEP mentioning Nicholas lately, but what can I do? Driven by long-term plans of elaborate vengeance, check. Secretive about his background, check. Not exactly aloof, but he can be chilling. He’s unmoved by a lot of things that would make other people flinch. He’s certainly very dangerous if he’s your enemy. He hasn’t got the same public aura of dangerousness, he hasn’t got the immense wealth, but still, I think he belongs on this list.

Can anybody add to this list? Who else reminds you of the Count of Monte Cristo?

Please Feel Free to Share:


Retellings of classics

At tor.com, a post by Christina Orlando and Leah Schnelbach on retellings: 23 Retellings of Classic Stories From SFF Authors. 23 is certainly an odd number. In both senses. Why not 10 or 15 or, if you’re going all the way to 23, how about 25? Still, fine, let’s see what’s on this list …

Okay: two retellings of Frankenstein. I am not remotely interested. I don’t particularly like tragedies to start with and have never been inclined to read the original, much less retellings. The Red Shoes. Two retellings of the Orpheus myth . . . this post seems heavy on tragedy so far . . . Persephone . . . Hansel and Gretel . . . Alice in Wonderland.

Oh, here’s something I’ve never even heard of: The Shahnameh, a Persian epic, it says. “A princess with poison skin, doomed to be isolated from society and her family.” That’s unfortunate. It says this is a book about a girl overcoming her circumstances, so hopefully not a tragedy.

Hah, listen: here’s one called Burning Roses which apparently merges Red Riding Hood and the Hou Yi myth. This sounds like fun. “S.L. Huang just loves us, honestly. Why else would she give us a story in which Red Riding Hood and Hou Yi the Archer team up to save the world? The mash-up of the two stories delights in weaving something new and exciting with characters from two mythological traditions. Set in a mythological landscape of fire demons, Burning Roses tackles age, identity, found family and lost relationships.”

Here’s the description from Amazon:

Rosa, also known as Red Riding Hood, is done with wolves and woods. Hou Yi the Archer is tired, and knows she’s past her prime. They would both rather just be retired, but that’s not what the world has ready for them.

When deadly sunbirds begin to ravage the countryside, threatening everything they’ve both grown to love, the two must join forces. Now blessed and burdened with the hindsight of middle age, they begin a quest that’s a reckoning of sacrifices made and mistakes mourned, of choices and family and the quest for immortality.

That sounds promising! This one isn’t out yet. It’s being released this September.

All right, let’s see, what else?

Two retellings of Snow White. One of Cindarella. Just one Beauty and the Beast — you could put together a list of the Top Twenty-Five Beauty and the Beast retellings with no trouble. Mulan. Wizard of Oz. Pride and Prejudice. There’s another one you could do at least a Top Ten list for, I bet. And all the retellings would probably suffer from comparison with the original. Very difficult to measure up to Jane Austen.

Three entries on this list cheat; Orlando and Schnelbach lumped up things like “Norse myths” or “Gothic novels” or “Korean Gumiho Tales.” Well, no. If a book isn’t retelling a specific story, it’s not a retelling; it’s a story in the tradition of.

Okay, last, let me focus on this one: A Count of Monte Cristo retelling. This is Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim.

My first reaction: Oooh! My favorite classic novel!

My second reaction: Uh, how likely is it that this YA fantasy retelling has in any way retold The Count of Monte Cristo? I am immediately nervous about a retelling; I fear the author may have done terrible things to my favorite elements in the original.

Skimming through some reviews at Amazon, I see that very few reviewers have read the original. Well, there’s no way those reviewers can assess the book as a retelling, then. So, hopping over to Goodreads and poking around a bit, I found this review, by someone who IS familiar with, and loves, the original. And, well … yeah, no, this cannot possibly be a good retelling. The departures are too important. Click through and read the full review, which is long and thoughtful. Just one point I’ll pull out (there are more, equally important):

In the original, Edmond Dantes becomes super wealthy and then vanishes for years. When the world (and the reader) sees him next, he is decades older and has forged himself into a weapon of vengeance. He’s set up hidden plans that tick inexorably forward toward the destruction of his enemies. The only thing that can prevent their complete ruin or death is his own decision to exercise restraint. From the linked review, we find out that in Scavenging the Stars, the girl protagonist gets rich and immediately sets out to bring down the unjust society. Also, she’s not developing her own plans and setting out to achieve them, restrained only by her own sense of morality. No, she’s uncertain and afraid of failing. Moreover, she’s being manipulated by older, more experienced characters.

Apart from every other potential flaw, this completely ruins the story as a retelling.

Edmond Dantes is a fantastic protagonist because he is aloof, chilling, and powerful. Because his own internal thoughts are largely hidden from the reader, he is also an ambiguous protagonist who could very well go all the way, wreaking terrible vengeance on those who wronged him. Each time he steps back from complete vengeance, that decision is powerful. Re-imagined as an uncertain young protagonist who is much more passive and following someone else’s plans, the character loses absolutely everything that made the original Count of Monte Cristo memorable.

So, well, that’s disappointing. Not sure how possible it would be to do a real Count of Monte Cristo retelling, but this doesn’t appear to be it.

Now I am thinking of whether it’s possible to do a Top Ten list for Protagonists Similar To The Count Of Monte Cristo. I can think of one or two somewhat similar protagonists. I’ll have to think about this and see if I can come up with a few more.

Please Feel Free to Share: