by MeriLyn Oblad
Fairytales have a certain recurring allure for me, so I thought I’d highlight the “Once Upon a Time” series by Cameron Dokey. We have five available in our Young Adult section, and each is a fresh spin on old favorites: Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella, The Arabian Nights, and Jack and the Beanstalk. At around 200 pages apiece, these are quick but entertaining reads and suitable for young readers and adults alike.
Ms. Dokey takes an interesting stance on the familiar theme of good versus evil in all of these books. Her villains are not wholly bad. Usually, she opts for a redemption theme instead of outright conquering the antagonists. There’s frequently a story behind the story of why her villains are the way they are, often creating a feeling of sympathy for them. Some betrayal or difficulty weighed on them too heavily, corrupting their hearts. Dokey allows for character growth of both her protagonists and her antagonists, though, and it’s a method of storycraft that works quite well and left me feeling good about her characters’ choice of actions.
The author’s twists on these classic fairytales piqued my interest. Her Cinderella story, Before Midnight, featured a story of political intrigue and shifting loyalties, where the power of wishing is a tangible force, capable of moving an entire army and reviving a long-dead tree. Oddly enough, Cinderella’s antagonist is her absent father, not her brand new stepmother. What I found most compelling was the healing that took place during the course of the book for each of the emotionally wounded main characters. Their deepest heart-wishes, which centered around their personal identities, were granted. My only complaint about the book is that it wasn’t longer!
Golden and Beauty Sleep, Dokey’s Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty stories, also had attention-capturing twists. Golden features a hairless Rapunzel who courageously but not without bitter qualms faces an impossible task, that of saving the daughter of the witch who raised her. The ethical lines in one of the love-story plotlines blurred a bit at one point, but Dokey managed to sidestep the issue without derailing the story. Beauty Sleep has a princess who never does prick her finger, nor does she fall into a century-long nap. Instead, she boldly faces her trouble head on. Both of these stories had so much heart in them. The heroines were flawed and human and faced difficult truths about themselves as they worked to overcome their problems.
The Storyteller’s Daughter, which was published first and is a variation of The Arabian Nights, most features the redemption theme. I’ll admit, this story doesn’t usually appeal to me, and I had a more difficult time getting into it. It started out a little slowly and features a bit of direct and bloody violence, which the others lack. Dokey’s style was still evolving in this first book. But, the story is intriguing, for all of that. Shahrazad, the heroine, steps in to save the lives of a people who do not trust her and a king who has lost his way by sharing the magic of a good story.The World Above is the Jack and the Beanstalk tale, though it’s really a mash-up of Jack, Robin Hood, and a dash of Hansel and Gretel thrown in for good measure. Jack and Gen, his twin sister, are exiles from the World Above, along with their mother. They are children of a deposed ruler and create a plan to regain their inheritance with the help of some new friends, a handful of magic beans, and a great deal of courage. Though entertaining, the problems were resolved just a touch too quickly. I felt there was room to flesh out this story a little more.
Overall, they are wonderful books, and I highly recommend any of them, especially if you’re looking for a light but heartening story or if you have a particular love for rewritten fairytales. These are some of the best I’ve seen. They’re short books, and although they could be longer, I didn’t think they were worse for their brevity. If you’re looking for a break from heavier stuff, these novels are a feel-good alternative.