By Warren Rochelle
Genre: Fiction, Fairy Tale, Romance, Fairy Tale Retelling, Fantasy, Gay fantasy, Gay romance, Adventure, LGBTQ+
Word count: 76,446
Format: eBook (Kindle, Kobo, Nook)
Publication date: Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Publisher: JMS Books
Type: Book, Short Story Collection
Warnings: violence, one rape (not described)
*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. No compensation has been given and I write this book review willingly. A big thanks to Warren Rochelle and Other Worlds Ink!*
When I saw Other Worlds Ink offering a blog tour for Warren Rochelle’s The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories, I immediately felt compelled to sign up and review it. Kindly enough, I received an ARC of what felt both a revelation and an exciting event: an LGBTQ fairy tale retelling book by an own voice for us! I. just. couldn’t. resist!
There are so many good sides in this book to explore. Care to do so with me?
Read on, loves!
Fairy tales. We all know the traditional stories, right? Prince Charming, the hero, fights evil, wins the princess, happily ever after. Three sons, three wishes, witches, dragons, a quest, and happily ever after.
These stories are part of our cultural fabric. We retell them, over and over, and the stories change in the retellings, to reflect contemporary culture, such as Princess Charming, heroes and heroines as people of colour. It has been only relatively recently that queer folk have found their way into the retellings, as they have here, in this collection of stories, stories that grew out of questions:
What if the prince falls in love with Cinderella’s gay stepbrother?
What if Rumpelstiltskin doesn’t really want the Queen’s child? He wants his old boyfriend back, the King.
What if Beauty and the Beast were two men?
As fairy tales do, these stories explore the human condition, human experience, through the metaphors of magic and the magical, exploring what it means to be human. After all, all fairy tales are true. But this time, with a gay perspective.
In these tales, retellings and original ones, readers are asked to consider what price must be paid for happily ever after—which is not guaranteed. Love, on the other hand, without a doubt. These tales are love stories.
Duty or love? Is love worth great sacrifice?
So… once upon a time…
The Positive Sides
First, these stories are so poignant, they grabbed my heart and never let go. They’re beautiful, emotional, and intense and true. I swear, I would go about my day and think about the stories and the characters’ feelings or woes at work! Doing the dishes. Cooking up lunch. That doesn’t happen with all the books I read, but this one, it burrowed itself a den in my heart. And you know what? I’m happy it’s there.
Funny enough, the stories are interrelated!! They have references to the others embedded in them! So clever. I am pleasantly surprised and impressed as I wasn’t expecting this—I figured they were all standalones in their own little world. But oh, was I wrong. The stories also touch on deep important matters in the LGBTQ+ reality, like cultural divides, hope, acceptance, what’s expected of you, and so on. It was very poignant and much needed.
On a side note, I particularly enjoyed how amusing and foreign he made another language feel and how he wrote it out. As a polyglot myself, it was fun to see! Because I felt this on a personal level, haha. The author used a clever way to visualize not understanding another language, or at least its foreignness, like the pronunciation and how hard we try to associate it with the sounds we know.
As for the stories themselves, Rumpelstiltskin’s (the first one) made me cry with belonging and feels. I thought there was no princess like me ever even in a gay fairy tale retelling, but hey! I was proven wrong (again! Notice a pattern, here?). From the bottom of my heart: thank you. She was great and lovely. And the story itself with the fey and the long-lost love was perfect, so emotional. I still think about it spontaneously during the day.
I love that the Beast’s house is in-between worlds and states of mind… It explains all the magic and mystery surrounding it and how some people can find it and not others and when they do so. Nice! There’s also an invisible in-between crew (which is quite funny and hot-headed!) in the Beast’s house. And it’s the first time an author made me relate to the beast on a deep level, what with his insecurities and sadness and longing.
Can I say this too many times: I looooove the emotions, angst, and sheer love of all types (whether it be romantic, platonic, family, friends, etc.) in these stories! I don’t think this book will let my heart go anytime soon, if ever.
(This quotation comes from my favorite story in the collection, which happens to be the very first one!)
The Negative Sides
I should really say “the negative side” here and not “sides”, but oh well. There’s way too much telling in the The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories. While I don’t mind it much, I felt the stories were sometimes lacking in terms of connecting with the characters or “discovery” (at least from a reader’s perspective). Nevertheless, it didn’t ruin my experience but I’m pretty sure that’s because I find telling to be okay. Though I think it might be an issue with other readers, hence my mentioning it.
All in all, it was lovely and touching to finally read about LGBTQ fairy tales. It was high time someone did this, by us, for us. I give this beautiful and poignant book, The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories, a rating of 4.5 out of 5. I had a pleasant time every time while settling into bed with my Kobo to read these enchanting stories of love, acceptance, struggles, and flawed but lovable characters. Please, give this book a read! Not only will you feel attached to the stories, their situations and characters, but you’ll also help to spread own voices LGBTQ fairy tale retelling fiction, which we’re in great need of. I recommend it to anyone with an open mind, a desire to travel into pages of a book and find themselves, and those looking to broaden their horizons.
If you want to learn more about the author, you can visit his Facebook author page, you can also follow him on Twitter and Goodreads. You can also add The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories to your bookshelves on Goodreads.
The Author: Warren Rochelle
Warren Rochelle lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has just retired from teaching English at the University of Mary Washington. His short fiction and poetry have been published in such journals and anthologies as Icarus, North Carolina Literary Review, Forbidden Lines, Aboriginal Science Fiction, Collective Fallout, Queer Fish 2, Empty Oaks, Quantum Fairy Tales, Migration, The Silver Gryphon, Jaelle Her Book, Colonnades, and Graffiti, as well as the Asheville Poetry Review, GW Magazine, Crucible, The Charlotte Poetry Review, and Romance and Beyond.
His short story, “The Golden Boy,” was a finalist for the 2004 Spectrum Award for Short Fiction. His short story “Mirrors,” was just published in Under A Green Rose, a queering romance anthology, from Cuil Press. “The Latest Thing,” a flash fiction story, is forthcoming in the Queer Sci Fi anthology, Innovation.
Rochelle is also the author of four novels: The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010), all published by Golden Gryphon Press, and The Werewolf and His Boy, published by Samhain Publishing in September 2016. The Werewolf and His Boy was re-released from JMS Books in August 2020. The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories is forthcoming from JMS Books in late September 2020.