Review: Embers: Beastly Curses

Last week, I received an advance copy of Embers: Beastly Curses by Sky Sommers in exchange for an honest review. This is the second book in a new fairy tale series called the Magic Mirrors Saga. I felt that there was a lot I missed by not reading the first book even though this one is supposed to work as a standalone. It is a creative and unique retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood," but it loses direction so many times that I wasn't sure which fairy tale I was supposed to be reading after I got several chapters in. Magic Mirrors reads like an ambitious attempt to reboot Once Upon a Time with new fairy tale characters who are related in various ways, and it suffers from the same flaws as a result. The further I got, the more difficult it was to discern who the main character was supposed to be. It is unique for being the first time I've ever seen the "Red Riding Hood" character as a little boy, but the story is more focused on the wolf, Grace, while constantly jumping around to other witches, fairy godmothers, and princesses with their own convoluted backstories.

Embers: Beastly Curses by Sky Sommers

The first thing I noticed about Embers is that it is written by someone who hasn't taken a lot of writing classes. It is filled with capitalized letters, exclamation points, drawn-out words, and expository dialogue that violates the "show, don't tell" rule. Still, the book is written with a great deal of passion for fairy tales and princesses. Sky Sommers is clearly a huge fan of Once Upon a Time who wanted to create her own version. The story starts with a boy named Henry telling his father, Peter, about a friendly wolf he met in the woods. Since "Little Red Riding Hood" is a cautionary tale, my first instinct was to fear for Peter's safety. Those fears were put to rest when the wolf is revealed as Grace, Henry's mother, and Peter's long-lost wife, who was cursed to live out her days in a wolf's body. What follows should have been a touching story of a mother protecting her son without being able to communicate with him through words, but instead, it jumps in a hundred different directions.

What threw me off the most about Embers was the setting. There are several references to contemporary movies like Shrek and Beauty and the Beast, but the characters' lifestyles feel old-fashioned, with little or no references to modern technology, and they still have medieval kingdoms. It was explained later that there are multiple dimensions in this world, yet it was never clear which dimension the story took place in at any given time. With all the references to Disney, I thought the Magic Kingdom referred to the Disney theme park until one of the characters explained that it is a fairy tale dimensions in this world. Another point of confusion is how Grace is somehow both Cinderella's stepmother and Henry's father, even though there are no references to Henry having two sisters and a stepsister as he lives alone with his father in the woods. In another chapter, Belle is revealed as Cinderella's mother-in-law with a cursed family line affecting Cinderella's children, which is when the story really veers away from the mother/son relationship between Grace and Henry.

Regardless of its poor execution, Embers brings some creative new ideas to light when it comes to rewriting fairy tales. What if the wolf never wanted to hurt Red Riding Hood at all, and the danger it posed was just a big misunderstanding? Instead of exploring this, the book takes an easy way out when Grace obtains a potion that will turn her human again so she can reveal herself to her family. It would have been more interesting for her to look for a more creative way to reveal her identity with the handicap of being a wolf. Spending more time on that would have resolved the convolution of the book's middle section that brought in Belle and Cinderella when they had no real reason to be there. There also seemed to be no antagonist, which dampened the significance of Grace's desire to protect Henry in her wolf form. A threat to Henry's life that only Grace could save him from would have really raised the stakes for the story.

Overall, Embers is an attempt to revisit the ideas in Once Upon a Time without fully fleshing out the individual characters and setting. As much as I liked the idea of Henry's mother as the wolf, the story veered off course too many times to become fully invested. I think the author of this book would benefit from writing for a younger audience. and including fewer unnecessary characters and exposition. Using the name "Magic Kingdom" for the fairy tale dimension also caused a great deal of confusion when the book has so many unironic references to Disney movies, implying that Disney and its subsidies exist in this universe. I would recommend this book to fans of Once Upon a Time with low expectations.

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