– by Brey Willows
Brey Willows‘ latest, “Spinning Tales,” was a bag of sorts….the fairy tale kind. Before reading it, I was told that the story would be about a fairy tale amongst fairy tales. Didn’t have to be convinced much with that description, mind! So, when I received me copy, I was ready to set out on me journey to experience Willows’ land of wonders…fairy tale wonders. So…. Well, as Cypher famously said, “Buckle up, Dorothy, cause Kansas is going bye-bye!” And down the rabbit hole I went!
First off, let me get this out of me chest…. Brey Willows does FUNNY, too! Wicked! I mean, I was chuckling the whole time I was reading the early chapters and then throughout where I found meself chuckling again! I loved Maggie’s hilarious inner thoughts. Her constant confusion about her mates’ colloquialism, always settling on her own assumptions or even just dismissing it rather than asking for an explanation, hence, saving herself from embarrassment! LOL! And then, those “Want Ads!!” Original! Brilliant! Speaking of, besides them sounding a bit mad and amusing, they also kept me on me toes the whole time because I couldn’t stop wondering….! And just so you know, Maggie’s cat also kept me wondering… So, well done, Willows!
And before I move on any further into the story, who can forget the end of the Prologue, eh? Well, I bloody can’t! I mean, when I read the last passage, I was like…”Whaaa?!” No way! Totally didn’t expect THAT! You got me there, Ms. Willows! Brilliant!
Maggie, the protagonist, was written in a way that she was basically the reader’s guide, in a manner of speaking, because she entered the strange world with absolutely no prior knowledge whatsoever and was exploring and discovering as things, events, people appeared before her. Just like the reader exploring the story in the book. In this case, me. So, I felt like I was shadowing Maggie with the same trepidation, excitement, fears, but always with a sense of wonder as Maggie explored the new world before her. I don’t know, it was just how I felt. And, oh, I knew going in that there would be times where certain things would make me think of certain fairy tales, that’s for sure! I don’t think any author could avoid that when the story pays homage to famous fairy tales because those stories are so deeply ingrained in our minds, aren’t they? Well, at least for me! But apart from that, I also felt a whiff of “Once Upon A Time” along the way. The dream seller’s shop, for instance. For some reason, that reminded me of Rumpel’s shop in “OUAT“!! Don’t know why! It had nothing to do with anything! And then there was the book. Interesting, innit, how our minds work with images?
One thing I really love about Willows’ style is that she’s very visual in her descriptions of the set designs of every scene. And that skill worked perfectly in this particular story because it’s about magic. It’s about fairy tales. It’s about imagination. It’s about the fantastical. It’s about the sense of wonder. Willows’ vividly expressed words carried through the colours, the shapes, the backgrounds, the sense and feel into the reader’s mind, in this case, mine. Because me mind works in imagery, visuals, animation, patterns, numbers, figures, Willows’ words just resonated and I could see every scene very clearly. That just made me ride-along as Maggie’s shadow exponentially wilder and more thrilling because I could see the “contents” (so to speak!) of the story in me mind’s eye!
If you’re a fairy tale fan, I think you’ll find this reading experience a little surreal at times. Well, maybe it’s just me, so let me tell you how I felt. At certain intervals, I felt a sense of a surrealism when I spotted familiar fairy tales and characters (or even situations). Immediately I would pause and remember how those tales made me feel as I slowly merged them into Maggie’s journey, giving me a bit of a thrill of excitement! But what really elevated that feeling of enchantment and thrills was not just the influences of the usual suspects, namely the Grimms’ tales but of specific cultures and their folklores, which I wasn’t very familiar with. I thought it was brilliant of Willows’ to pull in so many influences to enrich her fairy tale story.
Now, something a little different from her previous work was that this story was solely based on Maggie’s POV. So even though there was her romantic interest, Kody, and her two other mates/helpers by her side throughout the entire journey, all their viewpoints were deciphered through Maggie’s own POV. I understand why Willows would do that. The story was essentially Maggie’s journey of self-discovery, her pilgrimage, so to speak, in order to fully understand, come to terms and accept who she was and her true purpose in her life and in her world(s). So a single POV would achieve that. Although, I’d have like to at least hear a bit from Kody through her internal monologue, even sporadically, if only just to have a bit of a connection with her character, what she was really thinking deep in her psyche especially because of her compelling past, and also because of her role as Maggie’s love interest, as opposed to knowing her from Maggie’s view. BUT, a big but, yes, we mustn’t forget that this story, is not a romance. To me, “Spinning Tales” is mainly a fantasy/adventure/supernatural story with a dash of romance in it. Honestly, if Willows took out the romance portion of it, it wouldn’t have affected the plot at all because the plot was rock solid. That’s why I didn’t have a problem with a single POV because it served its purpose. It was all about Maggie’s journey of self-discovery and her interactions with all the different people she never knew existed.
Speaking of Maggie’s journey, if I really want to break it down more specifically, I’d say it’s a quest. At least it felt like a quest to me as I read it. As she and her cohorts went farther and farther along, they reminded me of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” where the trio set out in their quest to search for and find the horcruxes. Maggie and her cohorts’ quest was to search for and find the villain(s) who turned the fairy tale world upside down so she could revert everything back to what it was again. Plus, a certain someone reminded me of a certain someone in HP. Read it and tell me you don’t see it, especially if you’re a HP fan like me! Heh!
Now, let’s talk about the essence of the quest and everything that related to that – tale spinners, peacekeepers, story keepers, cottage keepers, realms, how the world worked. I couldn’t help comparing them to the real world. I mean, just look at our world today. Think about how it works beneath all the theatre, beneath all the political hyperbole, the grandstanding, the regions, the alliances, the so-called “good guys,” the so-called “bad guys,” all the events…. Nothing, if you really think about it, nothing is as it seems. We’re inside a masterpiece of a story where every inhabitant, every country, every region, every culture and society… is playing a role on a theatre stage. The phrase, “We all have our roles to play” couldn’t be any more applicable, imo. Willows’ group of tale spinners tasked to create stories for different groups of people with their assigned roles, and the story keepers to ensure the players kept to their roles and positions so that things were in order, well under control so peace and balance were maintained. Sound familiar? And then, just like what happened to Willows’ fairy tale world, at certain points in our world history, there were chaos and disorder. And always, after chaos came balance. What balance means is where there’s good, then there’s bad, light and dark, god and evil, positive and negative, and so on. You get the picture.
In today’s world, we’re seeing another major disorder. There’s a new sheriff in town. There’s a new world order and its name is chaos. And this time, the chaos also includes extreme environmental, astronomical, geological, climate changes (which btw, eerily turned an episode of a BBC series “Powers” that I saw 15 years ago that stayed with me since into some sort of reality! The implications…!). But we’re at the precipice of another change when the upside down world we live in now will eventually regain its balance and order. Reckon when the time comes. So, who are the tale spinners and story keepers in the new world order? Who are the villains whose roles are to shake up our global system after a period of time before they’re whipped into shape again? Speaking of villains, hmm….I wonder if Willows made any conscious comparison between her characters and certain real-life personalities in the real world.. I’d venture to say….prolly? I mean, the villain(s)! Their origin(s)! Well, you just have to read it and find out for yourself whether it’s just pure coincidence or by design. Anyway, with the advance scientific discoveries, where the mysteries of the universe become less mysterious, experiments…. which btw, are there cottage keepers in our real world? Who knows? Reckon how the world works is that there always has to be a balance. When the world tilts off of its axis, something has to give and something will eventually balance it back. Now, we can think that it’s external. But could it be internal? Can we create our own stories within our circles? Are we our own tale spinners? The universe is the mind? Is there anyone pulling the strings? Remember the Architect and the Oracle in the “The Matrix” trilogy?
Oops, I’m afraid I’ve gone metaphysical there. What I’m trying to say is, that’s what Willows’ story has got me thinking about everything around us, our world. Hmm…points to ponder. Another thing is Willow’s story has awakened a subject that has always fascinated me – existentialism/determinism. Read this story and think about it. What I’m realising is that after reading all of Willows’ books now, there seems to be a pattern, a running theme in all of her stories – existentialism/determinism. And the story in “Spinning Tales” seemed to be highlighting this subject even more clearly (to me). Think about those “characters” who chose to abandon their “post” in their stories and did what they wanted during the fairy tale world’s new world order (chaos). Free will to choose. So, existentialism proven, right? Brilliant. But, how long before determinism appeared at their doorstep? So, is existentialism just an illusion? Or is it a manifestation of determinism? We’re free until we’re not and vice versa. But there’s another school of thought – compatibilism. Something that I thought Willows presented in the last chapters of the book. Maggie’s decision. Her decision seemed to allude to the fact that free will and determinism could mutually exist. Hence, compatibilism. Absolutely fascinating, innit? But please bear in mind, this inclination and interpretation are only from me own weird mind. Who knows, Willows could very well just laugh in me face and cries “You bloody idiot! What in the bleedin’ bollocks are you on about now?!” Oh well…
All I’m trying to say is, you can read this story as just a fairy tale story complete with everything you’ll ever expect – a quest, an adventure, a cast of characters that is interesting and compelling, a well-defined protagonist, good vs evil, good winning out – and you’ll be well satisfied, that’s for sure. But if you’re also an oddball like me with a mad sense of curiosity, you’ll prolly think about something else, too, in addition to enjoying a good ol’ fairy tale story that Willows has effectively churned out for us, obvs! Before I shut me gob about it, can I just say, quantum mechanics – parallel universes. The existence and function of the cottage keepers in Willows’ story fascinated me. The notion, itself, fascinates me, in a larger (or rather, subatomic) sense. Just a thought.. me own thought. Ignore me.
All in all, I really enjoyed all the characters and how Willows managed to weave a collection of events with intriguing real world/fairy tale world crossovers, making up this grand quest that I had fun following along! I loved Maggie’s adorably quirky character and all her internal musings! Most of all, I loved her journey of finally discovering and understanding who she really was, her true purpose, and that she mattered. Her fears and insecurities were overshadowed by her increasing sense of self, self-confidence and the belief that she could do anything. Her powers increased when her self-belief increased. I think that’s a great life lesson, innit? With determination and belief in the Self, dreams come true, goals and success are achieved, anything is possible.
“Spinning Tales” was a bloody fun read for me and I recommend it to those who love a big ol’ fairy tale that’s laced with, at least for me, many points to ponder beyond the enchanting and the fantastical. For me it was also the parallel factor in addition to what I already mentioned earlier. The inner meanings of “magic.” What is magic, really?
An ARC copy was given to me by BSB/Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.
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