If you enjoy fairy tales and need something to listen to while driving a long distance or doing some dull job, try Dearest written by Alethea Kontis and read by Katherine Kellgren. As in the first two books of The Woodcutter Sisters, Kontis loosely retells one tale, in this case “The Wild Swans,” while intertwining it with several others and telling a unique tale.
Dearest takes place right after Saturday inadvertently “broke the world,” sending an ocean into the formerly landlocked Arilland and flooding most of the kingdom. This has brought a kingdom’s worth of refugees into the castle where Queen Sunday and King Rumbold house them, feed them, and wonder how long they can continue to do so. In the middle of this, Friday climbs the stairs to the Sky Tower and discovers seven sleeping brothers. Swans by day, and men by night, the brothers have been cursed and may only be freed if their sister, Elisa, weaves them shirts out of nettles—without speaking or crying until the curse is broken. Friday, who has “a heart as big as the moon” becomes a part of the tale, falling in love with one of the brothers. Dearest pulls the tale of a kingdom struggling to survive together with that of the exiled brothers and the sorceress who enchanted them.
The tale is the most gripping of the Woodcutter Sisters tales so far. There is more at stake here than in any prior tale, and the ending is achieved with greater difficulty and pain. In Dearest, two right choices can conflict, or there can be no right choice apparent. By the end, everyone has paid for their solutions.
Like her sisters, Friday has a prophetic name, “Friday’s child is loving and giving.” She is open to everyone and falls in love heedlessly and easily with the world, and, generally, it loves her back. This kind of character is more difficult than a angrier or more conflicted type, and Kontis comes close to succeeding with Friday. At the same time, while I liked her enormously, I found the power and admiration Friday accrues to be over the top at points, though I am not sure how much of this is reader bias: There is no particular reason why the ability to read and act upon other’s emotions should be more overdone than the ability to slay giants or escape dragons.
Katherine Kellgren, who read the two previous books in the series, read Dearest as well, giving it a range of tone and voice. Between the story and her reading, this is a book that made me want to continue weeding rather than switch to a chore where I could not listen.
It is only fair to note that Kontis herself writes I Wrote a Book About Refugees and No One Noticed which is true enough; I noticed that the refugees were there, certainly, one could scarcely miss them, but I was more concentrated on the love and adventure side of the tale, myself. True, the princes were among the many refugees—but a prince in exile remains a prince, just the same, especially if he is truly and undeniably the rightful prince.
I found the essay while looking to see which of the Woodcutter sisters would have her tale told next—I really want Monday’s story to be more fully told! Sadly, the answer for the moment is “No one,” as the Woodcutter Sisters contract was not renewed. This doesn’t mean the end of Arilland, or even of the Woodcutter family—there are two books with Trix as the hero already and more to come.
The list of Arilland Books in their best reading/chronological order, according to Kontis (who should know!)
Available in Multiple Formats
Not Yet Published
Trix and the Faerie Queen
Trix and the Fire Witch