Review: Jessica Grey, “Views From the Tower”

Jessica Grey loves fairytales. And this is a very good thing for readers because she continues to write her own wonderful adaptations of our best-loved stories.

Earlier this year, I wrote about how much I loved her novel, Awake, based on the Sleeping Beauty fairytale. Her recently-published short story collection, Views from the Tower, is an enjoyable, if too short, jaunt back into fairytale lands.

The first trio of stories are based on the story of Rapunzel, the girl with extremely long hair imprisoned in a tower. These stories (short enough to be called vignettes, actually) set an unexpectedly dark tone at the beginning. Grey shows us the story as it might have been lived by the young girl in the tale — a girl who realizes that she is trapped in a tower with no means of escape. The changes in point of view when telling these stories show us something new about a story as familiar as Rapunzel. Here the title of the book — Views from the Tower — resonates most soundly.

Though the next stories take on a significantly lighter tone — a style in which Ms. Grey shines the brightest — the idea of “towers” where heroines are imprisoned runs throughout. Running closely with this theme is the idea of “escape.” In these stories the heroines all dream of or achieve escape, and they usually do it for themselves rather than waiting for a prince to rescue them.

The idea of escape takes its most thrilling form in “Chasing Storms,” which tells us of the heroine’s ride on a dragon’s back. There’s also a fun retelling of “The Miller’s Daughter” tale in which the heroine has a lot more business sense than she does in the traditional fairytale and recognizes a bad bargain when she sees one.

In my opinion, three stories really stood out from the rest in this collection. There is a humorous tale of an evil queen and incompetent tech support in “Magical Spell Support.” Anyone who’s ever dealt with customer service will laugh with glee at the idea that even magical beings sometimes need tech support.

Perhaps my personal favorite story was “In Her Service,” an extremely inventive take on “The Princess and the Frog.” The story is set in the Regency era (think Jane Austen’s time) and involves a frog in a reticule (a nineteenth-century handbag). I laughed with delight at how the enchantment was resolved.

Coming a close second in favorite stories from this collection is “Down the Rabbit Hole,” a particularly interesting noir-style take on Alice in Wonderland. Ms. Grey absolutely shines when she creates strong first-person narrators and this story is no exception. She effortlessly evokes a world and quite naturally imbues it with fairytale creatures. I would never have imagined these two genres together, but now I want more! Not to put more projects on her plate…

Jessica Grey’s Views From the Tower is a charming little book of fractured fairytales that will make you smile. I highly recommend it!

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