Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Book Review: A Dance with the Fae Prince (Married to Magic #2) by Elise Kova

“Because I love you, truly. I love you in a way that makes me want to sacrifice for you. That makes me want to move the mountains, or oceans, or stars, to merely see you smile. That is what love is Katria – what it should be. You are worthy of that love, from me, from others, and from yourself.”

Elise Kova is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. Her stories are smart, sexy, emotional, and impossible to put down. A Dancewith the Fae Prince (Married to Magic #2) is the perfect follow-up to ADeal with the Fae King (Married to Magic #1.)

Set in the same world but following a different set of characters, A Dance with the Fae Prince is Cinderella meets Beauty and the Beast, with enough romance and magic to put even the House of Mouse to shame.

(There will be spoilers after this point so turn back now if you want to avoid them.)

Katria has been physically, emotionally, and verbally abused nearly her entire life. Her stepmother, Joyce, and stepsister, Helen, delight in tormenting Katria (for reasons we’re left to assume have either to do with their own shortcomings or an extra bitch chromosome.) As an adult reader, I kind of want to know what drives their behaviour. What made Joyce the real monster of this story? As an adult survivor of childhood abuse, though, I understand that sometimes we never get those answers.


That’s what made A Dance with the Fae Prince stand out for me. I was already expecting the poetic language and the beautifully crafted world from reading read the first book in the series. What I wasn’t expecting was to be personally attacked by Katria’s feelings of neglect and abuse. By her coping mechanisms, which are so perfectly utilized that I have to wonder who hurt Elise Kova in the past – because I don’t know how she could have written these emotions so well without having been through them herself.

And, if she hasn’t, then damn. She’s an even better author than I’ve given her credit for.

This novel did more than just give me feels. It hurt. I cried, y’all, at Katria’s struggle. Before you think I’m just this overemotional nutbag, let me explain…

I’m an overemotional nutbag. And, by that, I mean I have Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, brought on by childhood trauma. It means I have trouble forming relationships, trusting people, and allowing myself to be loved. So… thanks, Elise Kova, for stripping me naked and squeezing me between the pages of your book. That’s gonna be super fun to discuss with my therapist.

Anyway…

Davien (aka: the mysterious Lord Fenwood, who won’t allow his new bride to see his face) is Katia’s perfect match – though, in true romance novel style, neither will admit it for some time. No matter how tantalizingly tense things get between them (and… whoo, boy… do they,) Davien can’t fall in love. He has to think of the throne he’s set to reclaim with the help of the mystical book that makes up Katria’s dowry.

And be honest… we’d all marry someone for the right book, amiright? *cough,cough*The rumoured last Night World book…*cough,cough*

Katria won’t fall in love because she watched love drive her father into an early grave and slowly destroy their family home until it became necessary to sell her hand in marriage to a man she had never seen. Too bad love has other ideas for them both.

The moment Katria and Davien meet, it starts a push-and-pull between them that can only end with the two of them falling helplessly into each other’s arms. Katria has closed herself off so completely to the idea of love, terrified of being hurt by it, that Davien must force her to confront these fears before anything more than meaningful glances and stolen kisses can pass between them. He does this in the sweetest, most intense way ever: by completely baring himself to her, then waiting patiently for her to be ready to do the same.

Davien isn’t just the perfect match for Katria; he’s the perfect match for a queen. He spends the entire story fighting – nearly dying – to become king but, when he learns that he can’t wear the glass crown, he immediately starts making plans to find the true heir. No moping, no feeling sorry for himself, just getting on with it. (Hear that, politicians? It is possible!) Then, when he realises there’s a chance Katria might be the heir, he marches her butt right down to the throne and makes a huge performance of placing the crown on her head.

Great… because what I needed was another book crush.

Like its predecessor, A Dance with the Fae Prince could have gone a little heavier on the sexy time for me but what it did have was very well done. There was less world building in this one than A Deal with the Fae King but more character building – a welcome compromise, since readers familiar with the first book don’t need to be overburdened with those details and there’s enough for new readers to keep up.

Plus, there are some delightful side characters in Shaye, Giles, Raph, Laura, and Oren. Shaye and Giles come with their own baggage and give Katria advice on becoming her own person after living under her stepmother’s thumb for so long. Raph is a cheeky little boy who teaches Katria the dangers of making deals with Fae and Oren is Davien’s most trusted servant, who begrudgingly comes to like Katria despite himself when she insists on making herself useful around the house.

Laura breaks away from the Cinderella trope by being Katria’s half-sister, instead of her stepsister, and just sweet as can be. Rather than being another foe for our heroine to face down, Katria comes to her sister’s rescue, sweeping her away at the end so she can’t become the new focus of Joyce’s anger. Girls saving girls, yay!

I just loved this story. The journey of self-discovery is every bit as exciting as the mad dash for escape from the evil king’s forces and the romance is just the right blend of sexy & sweet. It has everything – except another book in the series I can read right now. The third book, A Duel with the Vampire Lord is entirely too far in the future but… holy crap. Did I just read the word 'vampire?!'

"Hey, Siri. Mark my calendar for August 18th, 2022…"

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Monday, 20 September 2021

Castle Vanian Halloween Special: Sneak Peek

We're going to mix things up a bit for Halloween this year. Instead of doing a month-long countdown, we're going to break the month down into six categories and pick our favourite five from each category. Then, on Halloween day... well, you'll just have to hang around and see! 

So... what are the six categories we'll be focusing on this year? After the usual amount of deliberation (and haggling,) we came up with this list: 

One: Scary Scarecrows

Two: Demonic Dolls and Creepy Toys

Three: Wicked Witches

Four: Werewolf Howlers

Five: Creature Features

Six: Sick Slashers

This should suit my scattered attention span a bit better, eh? I'm especially looking forward to the scarecrow movies! 

No long-lists or short-lists this year... just a month full of surprises! See you then!

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Movie Review: Candyman (2021)

Candyman (2021) is the perfect continuation of 1992's movie of the same name. Even though I'd seen the trailer, I was still half-expecting a reboot when we went to see it this week. I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find that it was actually a sequel - and impressed by how well the two stories intertwined. 

(Warning: there are spoilers after this point.)

It's been ten years since the last of the Cabrini-Green tenement buildings were torn down. Like they usually do in these cases, rich people came in behind the wrecking balls and erected shiny new artisan communities in their places. Anyone who's seen Rent (or, hell, even South Park) knows that the gentrification of the ghetto is far from a new concept in the entertainment industry.


That theme, along with the absence vs. omnipresence of police in the ghetto, underscore the visceral body horror in 2021's Candyman. They add a very real, very recognizable, very social horror that stays with you long after you can sleep with the lights off again. 

(I'm just kidding... I never sleep with the lights off.)

I'm not usually a fan of gore in movies but it does work well in Candyman. Although intense at times, it's never overused. It doesn't linger overlong on the odd severed neck, for example, and the bevvy of schoolgirls dumb enough to say Candyman five times in the mirror are killed just out of shot - though there are plenty of squelchy noises and buckets of blood to keep you clued in.

Probably the most disturbing sight in the film comes in the form of poor tortured artist, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.) The story centers around McCoy and his exploration of Candyman through art but, as it goes on, you learn that he's so much more important to the legend than you expected. 

The grotesqueness starts subtly, when McCoy gets a bee sting on his hand while he photographs Cabrini-Green the same way Virginia Madsen's Helen Lyle did in '92. (There are so many clever little shout-outs to the original like that.) The skin around the sting starts to fester, the infection spreading until OMGWHYDIDIGETPOPCORNBLEGH. Even though it's beyond disgusting, it's also extremely well done because, by the end, his skin resembles a beehive more than flesh. 

It isn't all gore and gruesome displays in Candyman. Much of the imagery is simply stunningly powerful, especially in the way bees travel in and out of mirrors, sometimes impossibly on the wrong side of the glass. There's also Candyman's murderous spree through the mirrors. I love the way that a reflection that can't possibly exist flits from here to there, leaving horror in its wake. 

Maybe it's the English major in me, but I just love the symbolism of the mirrors in Candyman - which, by the way, cleverly start with the production logos being reversed (as if viewed through a mirror,) accompanied by the quiet buzz of bees. Much later in the movie, traumatized youth and local laundromat owner, William Burke (Colman Domingo,) makes the case that Candyman is a coping mechanism, a way to help the ghetto get through the worst of the violence leveled at them. 



It's an idea that's reinforced by one of the movie's final scenes. White police officers - doing what white police officers always do - burst in and murder an unresponsive Anthony (laying on the ground and definitely not able to defend himself.) Rather than ask if his girlfriend, Teyonah Parris's Brianna Cartwright, needs help, they proceed to handcuff her, bundle her into a cop car, and threaten to send her to jail if she doesn't say Anthony attacked the police officers first. 

You can see the moment her faith in humanity dies. 

If, like me, you've spent the last several years watching the police get more and more out of control (getting sicker and sicker of it,) you understand exactly why Brianna does what she does at this point. Maybe William Burke had a point, after all...

The scathing social commentary brings Candyman bang up-to-date and, hopefully, gives some viewers a good gutcheck about how they approach these issues while the frequent jump-scares are enough to keep the more nervous viewers (like me!) on the edge of their seat. To balance out the gore, frights, and heavy social issues, we get the absolute freaking delight that is Nathan Stewart Jarrett as Brianna's brother, Troy.

Troy is fabulous, bitchy, and completely over-the-top in the most endearing way possible. I loved every moment he was on the screen and all of my favourite lines (bar the repetition of the original's "I am the writing on the wall/I must shed innocent blood" bit, which still gives me chills) come compliments of Troy. My favourite line has to be, "Ain't a dick on the planet good enough to offset a demonology hobby."

I mean... I rather think it would improve even the worst dick, but to each their own!

The only disappointing thing about Candyman is that there isn't enough Tony Todd in it. I'd heard that he wasn't in it until the end, but that super brief cameo was such a dirty little tease! At least his last scene leaves you with the suggestion that there will be more Candyman to come.

I disagree with people who dislike this sequel because it's "too political" or "over-focused on black issues." Horror movies have always held mirrors to society and Candyman one is no different. What is different, though, is that it doesn't hide these issues behind layers of half-assed symbolism that you have to sift through microscopic details to find meaning in. Like its title character, Candyman is unapologetically a reflection of the society that created it. 

And that society is fucking terrifying.

Candyman reflects a society where being black is okay if you're the "right" type of black. A society where even that won't keep you out of prison if it comes down to your word or a white man's. A society where a hooked-handed ghost that comes out of a mirror is less frightening than the real horrors you have to face walking home every night. Candyman challenges viewers to face these societal horrors head-on.

And, of course, to say his name. 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐