Tales with a touch

Written by Samantha Buck
Northwest Asia Weekly

Six Crimson Cranes
by Elizabeth Lim
Knopf Books, 2021

Shiuryanma is the only princess in Kyata and has a secret. In a kingdom where magic is forbidden, it runs in her veins. Usually kept hidden, she ends up losing control of her magic on the morning of her engagement party, as she prepares to meet her next husband for the first time. While this stops the wedding (which she never wanted to start), it also attracts the attention of her stepmother, Raikama.

Raikama, the witch herself, drives Shiori to a far corner of the kingdom and turns her six brothers into cranes – warning the princess that for every word she utters, one of her siblings will die. A voiceless and mute Shiori searches for her siblings. Along the way, she discovers a plot to seize the throne and realizes she can make things right – with the help of a shape-shifting dragon, her trusty kite, and the same boy she fought not to marry.

“The Cranes” is a story that combines elements from Western fairy tales and East Asian folklore.

Lim does a great job of weaving them all together into a story about a young woman who is forced to start her life over, away from everything and everyone she has ever known. I really enjoyed the way Lim took the archetypes many of us know – the “evil” stepmother, a young woman relegated to an inferior social position, and a prince looking for a lost princess, with only a slipper as evidence – and put her own evolution on them. It’s also fun to see how these different elements come to fruition in the end.

Shiori is a strong and intelligent character. And while she’s always had a streak of rebellion as a princess, she never really learned how to stand up for what’s right until Raikama curses her. She shows readers how being voiceless doesn’t mean you can’t speak for yourself.

Anytime Back: A Enchanting Romance Fairy Tale
By Roshani Chukchi
Casablanca reference books, 2021

Meet Imelda and Ambrose, a princess and prince who meet, fall in love and marry over the course of two days. But unlike other fairy tales, a wedding doesn’t follow the couple going out into the sunset and living happily ever after. Thanks to a poisonous tomato that leaves Imelda sick and on her deathbed, Ambrose makes a deal with a witch, who makes them forget their love for each other, in exchange for Imelda’s life.

Then a year and a day passes and their true story begins.

To regain their hearts’ desires, Imelda and Ambrose embark on a quest together, braving magical landscapes and battling horrible creatures along the way. They may not have a reliable horse, but they do have an enchanted cloak that you think is a horse. As they come to the end of their journey, the estranged couple magically approaches and discover what their hearts’ true desires are.

“Again” is a fun twist on the traditional fairy tale that many of us are familiar with. While the story has many of the usual archetypes — princes fighting dragons, a witch’s curse, finding your true love after knowing them for a very short period of time — things aren’t always what they seem. Which I really loved. And because he’s Chokshi, author of my beloved Pandava quintet, there’s humor and commentary from the story’s narrator that will make readers smile all the way to the end.

One of the things I particularly appreciated was how Chokshi takes the popular fairy tale of meeting someone and instantly knowing they’re your true love, and really makes readers wonder through Imelda and Ambrose. Throughout the story, as the couple gets closer, they wonder if love is enough to build a strong relationship and marriage — especially since their past experiences with love meant different things and weren’t always positive. This never happens in fairy tales and I’m all wondering if we should persevere with things just for the sake of tradition or if we should think twice about it.

magic fish
Written by Truong Li Nguyen
Random House Graphic, 2020

As a young child growing up in the United States and an immigrant from Vietnam struggling with the English language, Tian and his mother come from different cultures. One of the things that bring them together is reading the fairy tales they perceive from the local library. The stories allow Tian’s mother to practice her English, while tales of love, loss and travel across the world give him a glimpse into his mother’s experiences coming to the United States.

But no matter how much these fairy tales bridge the gap, there’s one conversation I’m still not sure how to translate into Vietnamese. How does he tell them he’s gay? And if he finds out, will they accept it?

Magic Fish is the story of a family trapped between two worlds. Nguyen contains fairy tales from different cultures – some of which readers will recognize. He does a great job of showing how these stories are truly universal and we can relate to them, no matter where they come from or where we come from. He reminded me that one of the reasons I love stories is because of their universality and how they can bring people together.

In addition to the stories – from Tian and his mother, to the fairy tales themselves – “Magic Fish” is a beautiful graphic novel. I haven’t read much from Medium, but Nguyen shows how a picture is worth a thousand words. He is able to tell these stories without much text, conveying what is happening through images, characters and their expressions. I also appreciate the different techniques he used when transitioning between Tian and his mother’s stories and fairy tales – which were impressive for someone not inclined to art.

Samantha can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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