Book Review: Tangleweed and Brine


Tangleweed and Brine

Written by Deirdre Sullivan

Illustrated by Karen Vaughan

180 pages

Published by Little Island Books

Publication date: 7th September 2017

Age range: Older YA (15 +) or adults

Summary (from Goodreads):

‘Beguiling, bewitching and poetic’ – Juno Dawson

A collection of twelve dark, feminist retellings of traditional fairytales are given a witchy makeover, not for the faint-hearted, from one of Ireland’s leading writers for young people. You make candles from stubs of other candles. You like light in your room to read. Gillian wants thick warm yellow fabric, soft as butter. Lila prefers cold. All icy blues. Their dresses made to measure. No expense spared. And dancing slippers. One night’s wear and out the door like ash. You can’t even borrow their cast-offs. You wear a pair of boots got from a child. Of sturdy stuff, that keeps the water out and gets you around.

Old stories new, you’ll venture where you will.

Sometimes love is something more like rage. It makes you fight.

You feel the future, wide and bright around you, kicking in your gut as though a child. The night spreads wide and you have flown, you’ve flown.

The shape of you impressed in attic cloth is all that’s left.

You wonder how long it will take for them to notice. It is an idle thought.

You do not care.

First impressions: Look at that cover! Not only is the colour and design beautiful but this book also feels velvety and has a good heft to it. Coincidentally, the day I bought it I was wearing a jumper that is exactly the same colour! This book then accompanied me to the airport and was read through the night as my flight was delayed…and delayed…and delayed. A lesser book might not have survived my frustration, but this book successfully transported me into a world of wonder and fairytales,m though not quite as we know them…

I am so glad I found this in the Waterstones in Belfast when I was home for a friend’s baby shower – it wasn’t even officially out yet but I found it on the shelf! I haven’t seen it in many bookshops in the U.K. but I would recommend tracking down a copy if at all possible. This is one of my top reads this year and is definitely going to become a permanent favourite with future rereadings.

It is a collection of twelve stories, all retellings of popular fairytales, accompanied by exquisite illustrations from Karen Vaughan. I loved how each story took something familar and twisted it just a tiny bit to make you as the reader wonder why you had never thought f it that way before.

My personal favourite was The Little Gift, a retelling of The Goose Girl, one of my favourite fairytales. In this version, the princess asks her maid to take her place because she does not want to marry the prince…yet regrets her decision when she sees her maid living in comfort. The familiar tale, yet with a twist and a darker undercurrent of power, who wields it and the impact of careless actions.

Each story is unique, with sharp edges that will stick under your skin and in your mind for a long time after you have read them. This is no tome of comforting bedtime stories but instead a call to action.

I am not a servant or a princess.

I am a person just about to die. To die for love.

I look at her. I knew just what she was. I knew the risks. And yet I ventured in.

‘From her own lips’ a courtier proclaims, ‘she chose her fate.’

And isn’t that what every woman wants?

What I liked: Beautiful language, twists to a familiar story to bring out new facets and raise questions, the feminist messages. This is definitely a book that will challenge you and make you uncomfortable because of the issues it raises. I think one of the reviewers on the jacket put his finger on it completely when they said that: “Sullivan’s prose is delicate and masterful, but there’s a belligerence to it as well – these stories demand that we go as deeply with our reading as she has in her writing – that we listen to the women at the heart of these stories, that we see the shadows beneath the trees.’ (Dave Rudden, author of Knights of the Borrowed Dark) Couldn’t have put it better myself!

Even better if: I want more! This is one of my top reads this year so I just want more where this came from!

How you could use it in your classroom: I would recommend this in a secondary classroom or as a recommendation to older readers, but definitely judging your pupils well because of the dark themes in these fairy tales. A lot could be drawn out of these stories through comparisons with the ‘original’ versions and discussions about feminism and stereotypes.

What did you think?

Have you read this book or do you plan to? (Spoiler, you should!)

What is your favourite fairytale?

What other fairytale retellings would you recommend?

Let me know in the comments!

While you’re here, why not have a look at my reviews of The Cruel Prince, The Hazel Wood, Gilded Cage, The First Dance or Spinning Silver?

Find me on Twitter , Goodreads or Instagram

Thanks for reading!


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