Curse of the Thirteenth Fey, by Jane Yolen

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: the True Tale of Sleeping Beauty, by Jane Yolen (Philomel, middle grade, Nov. 2012), has a somewhat misleading title.  It is actually the tale of the family of fairies who came to the christining, and how the princess ended up falling into her enchanted sleep.  And more particularly, it's the tale of the youngest daughter of this family, young Gorse. 

Gorse was left home sick when the rest of her family--aunts, siblings, and parents (no uncles--they were humans and didn't stick around long, but Gorse's father is an elf, and stayed), troop off to the castle to fulfil their part in a bargain made with the human king long ago.  The fairies swore an oath to do the bidding of the royal family, and bestowing Christening magic on the baby princess is part of the bargain. 

But Gorse--thoughtful, brave, impetuous, and somewhat sickly--is horrified when she realizes she's been left home alone.  Will she (and perhaps all her family) explode into light if the family oath isn't fulfilled because she isn't there?  So off she goes by herself to the castle....only to fall into an underground maze.  There a prince of the Unseely fairy court (Orybon),  along with his sworn companion (Grey),  and a clan of cave trolls (called "the McGargles" by the two fairy dudes) are were trapped underground by an imprisoning spell cast long ago (the trolls were innocent, unlucky, bystanders).  Orybon could be free any time--all he has to do is truly repent the wickedness that he's being punished for, and then Grey and the McGargles would be free too.  But repentance isn't actually on Orybon's agenda--he'd rather coerce Gorse into using her family's gift of magical shouting to batter a way through the locked gate to the upper world....

Not surprisingly, Gorse manages to save those who deserve saving, and makes it to the Christening, in time to see her mother cunningly work magic that will free her own family from their bondage to the human royals.  

Surprisingly, Grey, once restored to the upper world, reverts to the age he was when he was first imprisoned--now he's a boy again, just a bit older than Gorse.  And so, with this rather squicky implication that love will blossom despite the age weirdness, we leave them to their magic...

A few quick pluses--An imaginative look at a part of the Sleeping Beauty story that I've never seen looked at before.  Plucky, intelligent, well-read heroine.  Really cool magical book delivery system in which Gorse's father can reach into a magical book delivery slot and pull out random books, allowing Gorse to quote Through the Looking Glass. 

My less plus-like thoughts:  I just never do truly fall for Jane Yolen's books--they just never seem to me to fully deliver numinous enchantment, characters I can take to my heart, and truly gripping stories (and I do recognize that this is my issue--plenty of readers seem to love her just fine).  In this case I was put off by how long it took for the story to actually start--there are seventy six pages of backstory in which Gorse is born, grows older, hears family stories, and tells things to the reader.  Then she falls into the pit, and the pace picks up, albeit in a somewhat choppy fashion.

However, though the story now becomes genuinely interesting reading, the pit has its own problems.   Although the relationship between Orybon and Grey was fraught with all sorts of dynamics (which is the sort of thing I appreciate), I can't really call it a masterpiece of subtle character building.  And I know that I might be over-reacting, but I really didn't care for the patronizing, almost neo-Imperialist way the cave trolls are presented, both with the ridiculous name and the whole sense that I got of them as an exploited indigenous people, in an --isn't it nice that they can care about their families even though they are less than human-- way.

And finally, I was squicked out by Grey suddenly getting younger and loosing memories of what happened underground (which basically erases all of the character development that had happened in his life) and becoming a potential love interest for a girl who started things young enough to be his daughter.

I didn't mind reading it once, but I won't be reading it again.

Other reviews:

The Book Brownie
and the Upper Hudson Library system has gathered the School Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, and Booklist reviews here


  1. I love fairy tale retellings, and I (sometimes) love Yolen's writing, so I'll give this one a chance. Probably I'll end up feeling the way you do, but I want to try it...

  2. I do tend to like Yolen's science fiction better than her fantasy; if I'm not expecting numinous it works a lot better. So I guess I also like her more comical fantasy; I remember her wizard school book being a lot of fun.

    On the plus side, I do like fairy tale stories, especially ones that are true to the tale but come from a different point of view. So I think I'll try this.

  3. I never really took to Jane Yolen, either and for pretty much the same reasons you give. I am still trying to get through Briar Rose, yet most people say they love it.
    I am not terrible keen on fairy tale rewritings, so will probably pass this one up if it comes my way.

  4. I always love a good fairy tale retelling but like you there is just always something about Yolen's books that don't thrill me completely. Part of me wants to give this one a try but after reading this I know that I'll probably skip it and find some other fairy tale retelling to read instead.

  5. Hm. Sounds interesting and goodish? I think I love Jane Yolen more in theory than in practice. I have liked some of her books quite a bit, but they have never been books I return to over and over. She wrote me an extremely nice email when I was a kid in response to a fan email I sent her, and I've always remembered that and felt fond of her on that account. And I have liked some of her short stories a LOT.

    1. How very nice of her--she must get lots of fan mail! I've never read her short stories--I should try them....

  6. This one seems to have appealed to other readers more than me, so I hope those of you who try this enjoy it!

  7. I just finished this one. I wasn't overly thrilled with it. It had its good points, but the first few chapters seemed quite muddled.
    I first read Briar Rose when I was 16 and remember finding the unique spin of the Sleeping Beauty tale fascinating (mostly - there were some slow parts) and was intrigued when I found out she'd done another take on the same tale, but this one fell rather flat for me.


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