Tag Archives: retelling

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows

Author: James Lovegrove

The Cthulhu Casebooks, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

The general public is well familiar with the stories of the great detective Sherlock Holmes as written by his friend and partner in crime-fighting, Dr. John Watson. What they don’t know is that those stories are just a cover, an embellishment of certain insignificant events in order to hide something of far greater import–something the public should never know about. Because, while in these stories, Holmes is presented as an extremely logical and brilliant man who always a scientific reason for events, the truth is that he and Watson have encountered things that defy science. Horrible, ancient things that could spell  the end of mankind if left unchecked. And together, they have pledged their logic and skill to defending mankind from behind the scenes. This is the true story of their initial meeting and subsequent first encounter with the occult, as told by Dr. Watson himself.

Retellings and spinoffs of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories seem ubiquitous, and I’ve personally had mixed experiences with them. Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows belongs to a niche segment of these stories, ones that–like Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald”–cross over with the Lovecraftian mythos. It’s an intriguing mixture, and I found it to be quite well executed in this book. It is couched as being a confession of sorts, written by Watson late in life and never meant to be published. As such, it evokes a tone quite similar to that of the original Doyle stories–I actually found this aspect of it to be fairly convincing. The author makes a lot of comparisons between what was written in said stories and “what actually happened,” which is intriguing to say the least. I found my vocabulary challenged repeatedly, which was refreshing. Unfortunately (although perhaps necessary to evoke the correct feel), the writing expresses period-typical ways of looking at certain people groups, as well as some terminology for such, that could be offensive. Regrettable, that. The actual story and the way the mythology is interwoven into the story is quite well done, a credible way for Holmes to get dragged into this mess. All in all, I found Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows to be a solid, enjoyable story that I would recommend.

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Will Williams (Short Story)

Author: Namwali Serpell

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Strong/offensive language

Will knows he’s done plenty of bad things in his life. But the things he’s gotten caught for, gotten in trouble for? He swears those were never actually him. . . .

In this contemporary retelling of Poe’s “William Wilson,” we are given an intriguing look into the mind of a very paranoid, disturbed individual. Everything is told in first person, with an older character in prison for the rest of his life looking back on how his downhill road all started . . . with a gravely-voiced doppelganger–same name, same clothes, even the same tattoo–that no one else seems to notice or remember. You’ve got an obviously unreliable narrator, and it’s interesting to see the persecution complex that builds in his mind throughout the story. There’s a strong use of dialect that adds quite a lot in terms of character development as well–though strong warnings for the language, including some racially offensive terms. I haven’t read the original Poe, so I can’t say how they compare, but “Will Williams” was an interesting character study, with a nice use of dialect, rising tension, and sense of madness.

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Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined

Author: Stephenie Meyer

My rating: 2.5 of 5

You’re likely all familiar with the story of Bella and Edward, star-crossed lovers who obsess over each other–one human, the other vampire, a love-story fraught with complications. But what if, perhaps in another universe, things had been just a little different. What if Bella had been a guy–Beau–and Edward a girl–Edythe? Would fate have still drawn them inexorably together? And would their choices lead them to the same conclusion? This is Beau and Edythe’s story.

Having just read (and enjoyed) Meyer’s The Chemist, I decided to (finally) give Life and Death a try. And I have to say that, having read Twilight a few times in the past, the experience of reading this book was immensely strange. I guess I was expecting something along the lines of a retelling–you know, the same concepts, but genderbent and retold. This is more like a genderbent manuscript rewrite with an alternate ending. There are areas where awkward phrasings were corrected, certain concepts were delved into more, obvious changes due to the altered gender of the characters . . . but there are also huge swathes of story that are exactly the same, down to memorable phrases being word for word. None of this is exactly bad, but . . . it also feels kind of cheap to be marketing this as a whole new book, you know? I did enjoy the alternate ending, and I think it was fitting. And yes, the gender swap did make the romance less weird and creepy that it was in Twilight, I guess. But on the whole, I honestly wasn’t super impressed. I probably would have liked Life and Death a lot more if I hadn’t read Twilight first, so there’s that . . . if you haven’t read either and are interested in trying one, this one is probably the better book. Otherwise, not particularly recommended; it was okay, but just generally a strange reading experience.

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Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984 Anime Movie)

Kitty Films & Toho

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The kids at Tomobiki High School are all gearing up for the cultural festival, preparing shops, fitting costumes, and getting into their usual hijinks. They’ve been so busy, they’ve even been staying overnight at the school! But wait . . . how long have they actually been working on this? Once they start paying attention, more and more things don’t add up. Parents don’t answer the phones at home. When a staff member goes home, he finds the place covered in layer upon layer of dust. When the students go out of the school grounds, they find the city oddly deserted . . . and find themselves mysteriously re-routed back to the school. Someone should probably freak out or do something, right? But it’s kind of fun just hanging out together without a lot of responsibilities, isn’t it?

Beautiful Dreamer was just recently re-released in a beautiful collector’s edition, making this classic film once again readily available to the general viewer. Not being particularly familiar with Mamoru Oshii’s directing work, I can’t specifically comment on how this movie compares to his other work; however, I have heard others say that this is an excellent example of his early work, for those of you who are interested in that. The animation and story content do certainly show the age of the movie to a certain extent, while still being pleasant and enjoyable. For those who have watched or read Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, I think Beautiful Dreamer will definitely strike a chord. While somewhat dated, the art is also undeniably classic Takahashi, giving it a timeless quality that is quite endearing. The story is classic for the series as well, full of hijinks and strange, unexplainable occurrences galore. Also, Ataru chasing girls and Lum shocking him for it. There’s actually a nice focus on a large number of classic cast members, which is fun. But this movie also manages to be more pensive, to delve into Lum’s mindset and Ataru’s relationship with her . . . it’s just generally a bit more thoughtful and philosophical than the rest of the series. Surprisingly, it works well and I found the movie to be enjoyable. Fair warning, those unfamiliar with the series would probably have a difficult time jumping directly into this movie, but for those who have enjoyed Urusei Yatsura in the past, I think Beautiful Dreamer would be a nostalgic and amusing choice.

Written and Directed by Mamoru Oshii/Produced by Hidenori Taga/Based on Urusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi/Music by Masaru Hoshi/Voice Acting by Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Saeko Shimazu, Machiko Washio, Mayumi Tanaka, Shigeru Chiba, Akira Murayama, Shinji Nomura, Issei Futamata, Kenichi Ogata, Natsumi Sakuma, Michihiro Ikemizu, Masahiro Anzai, Tomomichi Nishimura, Ichirō Nagai, & Takuya Fujioka

 

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Happily

Author: Chauncey Rogers

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Laure hates Éclatant; she can’t wait to get away, just as soon as she can manage to come by (read “steal”) enough money to afford the journey. Seriously, the royalty here are either mad or idiots. Just look at this latest debacle–the prince dances with a girl at a masked party, falls madly in love, the girl disappears, and the prince can’t seem to remember her name or any defining features. But rather than do the reasonable thing and take the girl’s disappearance to mean that she’s just not that into the prince, the king issues a decree: the girl left behind a glass shoe, and whatever girl can be found to fit the shoe will be legally declared to be the girl the prince fell in love with at the party (whether she actually is or not) and will wed the prince. Pure absurdity! But . . . there may be a way Laure can use this to her advantage, if her newly-found concern for her mark-cum-traveling-companion Luc doesn’t get in the way.

What a delightful take on the classic Cinderella story this is! Rather than getting Cinderella’s view at all, we are presented with quite a different, er, well, heroine seems to be stretching it a bit, but she grows into the role rather. Laure is sassy, crabby–and open about it. She’s a girl who once knew a happy home but who lost it long ago, and it shows in the way she’s isolated herself from all close connections, living on her wits and making do as best she can. It’s actually quite vicariously liberating to read from the perspective of such an openly ornery character; she’s rather a delight. Moreover, it’s great to see the way that she grows and changes as a person through her time with Luc and the events that unfold; there’s some huge character development going on there. And the writing itself is just lovely–comfortable to read, humorous, vibrant, and rich. I was very impressed with the story, would certainly recommend it, and am looking forward to trying some of the author’s other books.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Happily from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.

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Wisdom’s Kiss

Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

My rating: 4 of 5

You might say that there were many different things–different people’s lives interacting–that ultimately contributed to the debacle that later became known as Wisdom’s Kiss. The Princess Wisdom (better known as Dizzy) herself, for one, what with her tendency to belie her name and throw herself headlong into drama and adventure. The Duke Roger whom she was to wed, as well, although he was truly a pawn in the hands of his overbearing and scheming mother. Then there was the dowager queen Benevolence, Dizzy’s grandmother, who with her far-too-intelligent cat Escoffier discovered the schemes of said Duchess. Less immediately obvious, yet equally influential, were the presence of Trudy, a young kitchen maid with second sight; Tips, her childhood sweetheart; Felis el Gato, Tips’ mentor and a grand performer; and the Emperor of the whole land himself. But it was the interweaving of these individual lives that allowed even the possibility of such an event, one that would shape the course of the land for generations to come.

I’ve enjoyed Murdock’s writing before in her story Princess BenWisdom’s Kiss actually ties in with this earlier novel, although it is certainly not necessary to read the one to enjoy the other. They’re more loosely connected tales rather than anything like a series. Wisdom’s Kiss is really fascinating in the way it’s written. You don’t really get any straight-up narrative, although the sections taken from Trudy’s memoirs read essentially like a regular novel. But for the most part, the story is told in letters and diary entries and, yes, even articles taken from an encyclopedia. It’s honestly enough to be a bit hard to piece together where the story is really going at times, although everything comes together nicely by the end. And I did enjoy the different perspectives and the way the different characters’ personalities came through from the different sources. It was interesting–and something I haven’t seen done much–to see the same character from multiple different perspectives, including their own; it gives a different appreciation for the individual. As for the writing style itself, I’ve heard the author’s writing described in the past as “frothy,” and I can’t honestly think of a better word to describe it. There’s a lightness and wit to it, even in the sections where things seem dark and awful–but in this particular story, there’s also a busyness and a constant activity from all sides that I might almost better compare to the fizz you get when you first open a soda. I think that this is one of those stories that would tend be polarizing; you would either love all the novelty and the different perspectives or it would drive you mad trying to keep up and make sense of it all. Personally, however, I enjoyed Wisdom’s Kiss and look forward to reading more by this author.

Note: It’s implied at the end of the story that this is a retelling of Puss in Boots . . . and I guess it sort of it, but I would never have caught it if it hadn’t been mentioned directly. For what that’s worth.

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Frau Faust (Manga)

Mangaka: Kore Yamazaki

Status: Ongoing (Currently 3 volumes available in the U.S.)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The old stories tell of a man named Faust who sold his soul to the demon Mephistopheles in order to gain his heart’s desires . . . but what if the stories don’t tell the whole tale? Marion finds himself intrigued when he encounters a mysterious woman by the name of Johanna Faust who first rescues him and then blackmails him into helping her in her search for a piece of, yes, the demon Mephistopheles. It’s impossible, but this vivacious, smart woman claims to actually be the Faust, the one who sparked all the old legends. Only, even if she were, she should have been dead ages ago. Intrigued, Marion finds himself unable to let her go, so he follows her as she continues on her journey to reclaim Mephistopheles from the inquisitors.

I’ve only fairly recently discovered Kore Yamazaki’s work, but this mangaka’s writing is rapidly becoming some of my favorite. It reminds me a lot of the things I love most about Fullmetal Alchemist–great characters, interesting plot, a sense of mystery, vibrant art.  It has a josei flavor, and I like that it’s a bit more mature without being unnecessarily M rated; it’s actually pretty clean. It’s more that Johanna herself is old, like impossibly old–while still appearing young and having an insatiable curiosity about the world–so you get some of that depth that comes from experience playing out in her character. I enjoyed having Marion placed alongside her character, since he is in many ways like a young version of herself; their characters sort of mirror each other and provide some interesting character insights. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the characters that have shown up in this story, and much like Fullmetal Alchemist, it looks like we may end up with a pretty extensive cast. I’m interested to see how that develops, since this series is still in its early stages (I hope, since it certainly has potential to be pretty long). So far, there’s a nice balance of present-day action and flashbacks/explanation of things that happened in Johanna’s past. There’s a lot of mystery involved in said past, which is pretty interesting; I’m very curious to see how that is developed in future volumes. Also kind of random, but I liked the author’s choice of setting for the story–a somewhat medieval Germany (of a country based off of that). European settings just work really well for Yamazaki’s stories, or rather, Yamazaki does European settings quite well. In any case, I’ve enjoyed Frau Faust a lot so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this story goes.

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