Review: Unfinished Fairy Tales

When Aya Ling, the author of A Little Mermaid from the Entwined Tales series, placed her novel The Ugly Stepsister on sale, I was hoping not to get too carried away. After all, the book looks like it could easily be a watered down Gregory Maguire wannabe. However, as soon as I began to read the first paragraph, I was instantly hooked on this wish-fulfillment fantasy. Instead of another fairy tale retelling from an alternate perspective, the Unfinished Fairy Tales series is more like a live-action princess movie, in which an ordinary girl travels to another world and transforms into a princess. Even though the series is called Unfinished Fairy Tales, the books do not tell different stories like the Four Kingdoms or Timeless Fairy Tales series. Instead, all of the books are direct sequels about the same character and the same fully fleshed out "Cinderella" world, meaning that if you got hooked on the story from the beginning like me, you will be frantically jumping from one book to the next, determined to find out if Kat will get her happy ending.

I'm mainly just going to talk about The Ugly Stepsister in this review because discussing any of the subsequent books would mean spoiling the others. Katherine Wilson is your average modern-day girl who loves to read. One day, she discovers an old copy of "Cinderella" in her attic and accidentally drops it, causing the cover to rip. The next thing she knows, she is transported into the story, finding herself in the body of one of the ugly stepsisters! The kingdom of Athelia has a surprising amount of depth, with more characters, laws, and locations than an illustrated "Cinderella" storybook would have had. The explanation for this is that the goblin king created the entire fully-fleshed out world inside the book for his own entertainment. Even though the logistics can be rather hard to swallow, once you get fully immersed in Kat's story, you tend to stop worrying about them.

The closest story I could compare this to is actually a cell phone app called Lovestruck. In  "Love & Legends," one of the app's visual novels, you play a girl from Chicago who gets swallowed up into a fairy tale kingdom and falls in love with someone from the game's diverse cast of fantasy characters. What princess fan has never dreamed of being magically transported to a fairy tale world and winning the heart of a prince? Twilight is another well-known self-insertion wish-fulfillment story, but Kat has a lot more going for her than Bella does. Even though they are both clumsy and fall irrevocably in love with the male lead, whose name also happens to be Edward, Kat is a leader who wishes to change the old-fashioned customs of Athelia and make life better for its citizens. Throughout the series, she uses her advantages to create movements that end child labor, educate young girls, and tax the wealthy. Unlike characters from similar stories, she doesn't just forget about her world's customs when she enters fantasyland but fully embraces them instead. This is what attracts the attention of Prince Edward.

For the majority of The Ugly Stepsister, Kat tries to deny her feelings for Edward because the goblin tells her that she must complete the story of "Cinderella" in order to return to her own world. Therefore, she does whatever she can to try to push the prince together with her serving girl, Elle. However, it turns out to all be in vain because Edward has never met anyone like Kat before and falls stubbornly head over heels for her. Eventually, Kat accepts that she can't fight true love. However, further complications arrive in the later books that challenge their happy ending together. Even though the goblins who trap Kat in Athelia only pop up occasionally throughout the story, they have a lot of control over her fate and are basically gods in the world of Unfinished Fairy Tales. The goblin world was probably the least believable thing in the series, but I admit that it's difficult to come up with a plausible explanation for getting sucked into another world.

The subsequent books in the series are Princess of Athelia, Twice Upon a Time, and Ever After (not to be confused with another "Cinderella" story of the same name). These books are all about how Kat changes Athelia for the better by incorporating modern laws from her time period and how she and Edward are willing to sacrifice everything to be together. They also answer several questions formed by The Ugly Stepsister, such as "Will Kat's family back home ever find out what happened to her?" and "What happened to the real evil stepsister after Kat took over her body?" I highly recommend this series for lovers of princesses and romance, but I also feel inclined to warn you that it is highly addictive. Once you enter the world of Athelia, it is very hard to come back to realty until you are certain of Kat's happy ending.


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