fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFrancesca Lia Block The Rose and the Beast: Nine Fairy Tales book reviewThe Rose and the Beast: Nine Fairy Tales by Francesca Lia Block

The Rose and the Beast: Nine Fairy Tales was my first look into the writing of Francesca Lia Block, and I was immediately captivated by both her style and tone and her unsurpassable use of imagery, and her ability to make old fairytales into new, darker and profound creations. It is gradually becoming clear in the general world of literature that fairytales in their original form were not at all intended for children, and the advent of sweet little fairytales, beginning with the Brothers Grimm and accumulating in the works of Enid Blyton, are gradually heading back to what they were originally used for: deep insights into the minds and souls of human beings as a whole. With that in mind, Francesca Lia Block perfectly captures their essence and meaning.
The cover art also captures this regard for fairytales — the front shows a beautiful young woman — but by turning the book around to see her lower half, one can see that her hands are talons. Needless to say, this book is not for children.

There are nine tales in this volume, four of which are set in an entirely fairytale world, separate from our own, (“Snow,” “Glass,” “Rose,” “Beast”) and five of which are ‘misplaced’ fairytales, being played out in our contemporary world (“Tiny,” “Charm,” “Wolf,” “Bones,” “Ice”).

“Snow” is a retelling of Snow White, which highlights a new angle on the tale — bringing forth not the love of Snow White’s mother or her lover, but that which the old stories always forget to mention — that of the affection between Snow and the seven dwarfs. My favourite quotes: first when the dwarfs look upon her as a baby: “they knew then that she was the love they had been seeking in every face forever before this,” and when it is pointed out that “She loved them. This is what no one tells. She loved them.”

“Tiny” is a reworking of Thumbelina. A mother looses eight children to death, but her ninth child is the size of her thumb, though “there was a perfectly normal heartbeat flickering on the screen like a miniature star.” Tiny grows, unaware of her difference, till she sees her first male — a young man, searching for his Muse. Falling in love, Tiny appoints herself a Hero, and goes after him…

“Glass” is a stunning retelling of Cinderella, in which our heroine is caught between the safety and predictability of her sisters, and the love she finds with her own Prince Charming. A natural storyteller, she is unawares of how easy she is to love, of her gift to transform, and of how she can change herself from sand into something clear and pure — like glass.

“Charm” is the dark and disturbing tale based on Sleeping Beauty, in which the spindle is a heroin needle, and thrown into a world of drugs, photographs and glamour. But in this case, Sleeping Beauty cannot sleep, and only one person in the world can help her find rest and awaken her from her nightmare.

“Wolf” is Little Red Riding Hood, where a Stepfather takes the place of a wolf and threatens the lives of a young girl and her mother. Running for the desert and her grandmother, the heroine finds that she has to face her greatest fear when he turns up at her one place of sanctuary.

“Rose” is the tale of Rose White and Rose Red, the dearest of friends, and the inevitable breaking of their friendship when one of them falls in love. It is simple, heartbreaking and yet utterly true in its message — the everchanging role of love and connections with other people. If you are familiar with the story, you may be saddened by the loss of the character of the dwarf that hinders the girls so badly, but the great black bear is still intact.

“Bones” is perhaps the most ambiguous of the stories simply because it is based on “Bluebeard,” a tale that many may not know. The old story goes that a young woman marries Bluebeard who tells her she can go anywhere in the house expect in a particular room. Needless to say, the instant he leaves the house she open the door…and finds the bodies of his previous wives. In this case, Bluebeard is Derrick Blue, a talent scout who lures young women to his home in order to do what the original Bluebeard did. For a girl who begins wishing she was in a fairytale as “at least the girls in the stories were alive before they died” she ends vowing to listen to the tales of the ‘bones’ of the previous victims, and let their stories be known.

“Beast” is another favourite of mine, with the fascinating angle of having Beauty prefer the beast to the man he changes into. The imagery in this one is also beautiful, as Beauty becomes more and more wild and “tries to retrain herself from licking her hand as if it were a paw.”

But Francesca Lia Block saves the best for last. In “Ice,” based on the Snow Queen, we meet two lovers utterly enveloped in each other, until K. is lured away by the perfect beauty of the Snow Queen. Block exceeds herself here with the potency of her words — a girl too afraid to fight for her love as she is convinced that something as perfect as their love cannot possibly last, a boy trapped between two women, and of course, the regal Ice Queen that we’ve all met in our own lives at one time or another, and her ability to make us see the worst in ourselves. This is my favourite short story of all time.


  • Rebecca Fisher

    REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.