Score: 95/100 (9.5 out of 10)
Wow! Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Well, in this case, hell hath no fury like a little German peasant girl abused and scorned.
This dark, Gothic retelling of Cinderella is written in the dark, gory, violent, yet infinitely compelling style of the Brothers Grimm.
If you're not familiar with the Grimm fairy tales as originally written, they often involve severe retribution, torture, mutilation, amputation, death, and destruction. You'll find all of that in Mice! So, parents of young children be warned.
If you're expecting a Disney-like retelling of the tale, look elsewhere. This is definitely for adults and those looking for something a bit darker and more violent. It's actually a perfect little novel for the Halloween season!
Something we loved and appreciated about this book is that it's not just a hollow retelling or retreading of the same ole' story. It actually expands the story and adds a few fascinating twists. This book adds so much depth and layers to the “Cinderella” (or Aschenputtel) character. This is a character who has pretty much remained the same throughout dozens of retellings: an innocent victim who gets her just rewards. Well, while this book respects and follows some of this idea, “innocent victim” and “just rewards” get flipped on their heads. In this book, the Cinderella character goes from being an innocent victim to a homicidal, vengeful maniac. “Just rewards” becomes ravenous, relentless revenge. Incredibly, this book almost achieves something that very few works of literature have succeeded at: a double-turn. This is when the hero becomes the villain while the villain(s) become the heroes (or, at least, the ones who we get behind). This book ALMOST achieves this, becoming a fallen-from-grace type of tale, something we really enjoyed!
Fallen from grace stories are almost always compelling. They challenge our notions of right and wrong, good and evil, showing us the grayness of human nature and the power of perspectives.
This book follows Aschenputtel, a young German peasant girl who is brought in as a lowly servant by a despicable woman named Edna Dusseau and her two spoiled twin daughters, Geraldine and Josephine. As you might expect, Edna takes the role of the evil stepmother while Geraldine and Josephine adopt the roles of the evil stepsisters. However, what adds some intrigue is that we get a surprising amount of time with these characters. We read about how they mistreat and abuse Aschenputtel day after day after day. One of the key moments that stood out to us was when Aschenputtel was placed in solitary confinement and basically fed like a pet or an animal. In fact, she's even referred to as an “animal” and as “Ash Girl” (due to her being dirty from all the hard labor the Desseaus make her do). We also hear about her being “beaten” for the slightest of perceived offenses.
Something else that stands out about Aschenputtel in this book is how drastically and dramatically her personality changes from beginning to end. For about 3/4ths of this book, she is one of the absolutely sweetest and most sympathetic characters we've ever read about. She is kind, polite, and caring. This especially stands out when she feels for animals who are starving. She often says things like, “you poor thing.” She is also scared, submissive, and deferential. We are constantly reminded how afraid she is at different times. Her body language also shows this. In the beginning, she is very closed off and guarded. She folds her arms and often buries her face in her hands or elbows. She shields her face. She has a “cloak of protection.” She hides away. It's amazing that the writer is skillful enough to portray emotions and feelings just through describing these actions.
She also charms us (and Prince Louis) with her knowledge of and ability to garden. She has so many qualities that are endearing and lovable. It's incredible how that gets flipped on its head!
3/4ths into this book, she transforms (both literally and figuratively) into a different person—a monster. Scarecrow-Aschenputtel is one of the most terrifying and tragic characters we've ever read about. Her retribution is beyond severe. In the original Grimm fairy tale, the evil stepmother and stepsisters lost their eyes, toes, and parts of their feet. Yeah, that was bad enough. Well, it's even worse in this book, if you can even believe that! We expected this book to become dark and violent, well it surpassed that!
Scarecrow-Aschenputtel laughs at the suffering of others (except for maybe her animals), relishes in pain, and embraces her deepest, darkest feelings like fury, rage, and anger. She refers to someone burning as a “barbecue” and even partakes in cannibalistic activities. Yes, that's how depraved this character becomes. Speaking of barbecue, the defining moment for this darker, more violent version of Aschenputtel is when she accepts the burning flames of a human carcass into herself. The flame essentially becomes her “heart.” It supplants her old, kind heart, in a sense.
Scarecrow-Aschenputtel is the antithesis to her former self—sadistic, brutal, ruthless, uncaring, violent, forceful, and—you could argue—evil. However, like a character such as Vegeta (Dragon Ball) or Regina (Once Upon a Time), you understand some of why she is the way she is.
So, even after she has committed such horrific acts, some readers may still find themselves cheering for her or to escape retribution from others like the dwarf.
Aschenputtel goes from being the “dirt of the world” (according to the Desseaus) to being the “princess of the fields”--a being with terrifying and terrific magical powers including being able to control elements (like fire) and the animals. Well, actually, Aschenputtel had some of these abilities before her transformation. In particular, she possessed the ability to communicate with animals like the titular mice and crows. She could understand their squeaks, chirps, and caws like a Disney princess.
Her powers and transformation originate from a great tree that holds the power to grant a magical blessing similar to a fairy godmother. Aschenputtel, however, is not content with a mere blessing. The book tells us that she is “consumed by the evil power.” Despite her transformation and change in her personality, there are still glimpses of the old Aschenputtel in her. She still has the ability to emit a cheerful laugh. She is still described as a “beautiful scarecrow” who still folds her hands and protects her mice.
She kinda reminds us of Maleficent or what Elsa from Frozen could have have been like. In fact, she is a lot like Kaneda from Akira. They're almost identical in their arc, although Aschenputtel is given far more time to develop and gain our sympathy than Kaneda did. It's the benefit of having a book to work with as opposed to an animated movie.
This book has a somewhat non-linear narrative that takes place at different times, and we get the perspectives of the different mice. We were also surprised that this book features a lot of fantasy combat. There's a Chronicles of Narnia-like battle sequence in here.
We also loved most of the writing. We loved lines like “squeaks of testimony.” There may have been a few shaky spots here and there, but this was overall an interesting reading experience.
Check it out on Amazon!