Fairy tales. Prince Charming fights evil, wins the princess, lives happily ever after. Three sons, three wishes, witches, dragons, a quest, and happily ever after.
These stories are part of our cultural fabric. The stories change in retellings to reflect contemporary culture, such as Princess Charming, or heroes and heroines as people of color. In this collection, queer characters take center stage in 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 but rather the King himself? What if Beauty and the Beast are two men?
These stories explore metaphors of magic and the magical, this time, with a gay perspective. What price must be paid for happily ever after? Duty or love? Is love worth great sacrifice? Once upon a time ...
Publisher: JMS Books, LLC
Tropes: Beyond the Grave Communication, I See Dead People, Magic Talisman, Modern Human in Fantasy World, Parallel Worlds, Portals, Quest
Word Count: 76144
Setting: Joria, Lothia, USA, UK
Languages Available: English
"Well. Lord Culver, are we done? Are there no more women to try on the shoe?" Aidan asked as he stood from where he had sat all morning, next to my grandfather's great tome of a dictionary.
I was about to say no when my stable manager interrupted. "There's one more, Elena. She's in the kitchen, washing dishes. I saw her there when I came up."
Before I could protest, Aidan ordered her brought to the library.
When Elena came in, her hair braided and pulled back to keep it out of the sink, I knew, with a sudden certainty, who had stared at me before running away. She had to have had magical help. She glanced at me before sitting down in the chair facing Aidan and his shoe. A quick flash of triumph.
I hated her.
Of course, the crystal slipper fit. Of course, she had its mate in her apron pocket.READ MORE
"I have found her -- my wife-to-be," Aidan said as he stood, taking Elena's hand, and gesturing to the room. Every woman still in line, all the male staff around me, my stable manager, the prince's entourage, burst into applause. I clapped, too, even though I felt like I was going to throw up.
So much for my half-loaf.
An hour before they left for the capital, after a dove was sent ahead with the news, Aidan took me aside, taking me back to the library. Holding my hand, he sat me down in an overstuffed chair in a reading alcove that overlooked the orchards.
"Cal. It's going to be all right. I have to marry her, and get her with child, but you are my true love; you'll be my mistress -- my lover. I'll fix that house for you. Cal?"
"Aidan, that might have worked with any other woman but not Elena. She hates me, and -- I've not been nice to her. She won't share."
There was a knock at the door, and the soft voice of one of his guards: "Your Highness. The Lady Elena has bathed and dressed. Her companion is ready as well. Your car is ready; another dove was sent to the King telling him you and the Lady are due to arrive soon."
"I will meet everyone at the car in ten minutes," Aidan shouted back through the door. Then he turned to me. "She'll share; she'll have her place and you'll have yours. Here, in my heart, no one closer. Walk with me to the car."
I so wanted to believe him, and I did until we walked down the steps. I recognized the companion, who waited by the prince's car, the little old lady who lived by the river, her old maid. And I smelled her: first folk, a pureblood, a true silver. I clenched my teeth. That old hag had done the magic for Elena. I learned later the old bitch had been with Elena since her birth and with the earl's family for at least three generations. She had been biding her time in that little house by the river. Now she stared at me, with a triumphant smirk. I sniffed again: she was very powerful and she wasn't afraid of me.
I jerked around to face Elena. She was beautiful, as she had been when she came to Colomendy years ago. So, the hag had hidden her weak eye -- some magical disguise. She glanced back quickly to find Aidan, who was at the door, conferring with his head guard and chauffeur, then turned back to me, getting as close as she could without touching.
"You monster. You lose," she hissed, her breath warmth on my face.
"It's not over; he's mine. He wants me, not you," I hissed back.
"He wants you?" She stared at me, incredulous, then glanced again at Aidan who was still talking to his servants. She laughed. "All the better then, eh?"
Then, in a flurry of commands and good-byes and thank yous (and one furtive squeeze of my hand) they were gone.
A month and a half later, on New Year's Day, they were married.
Sharonica on Sharonica Logic wrote:
I absolutely adored this brilliant collection of diverse fairytale retellings put together.
These retellings are dark, realistic and Contemporary.
Each tale has an happily ever after but not before putting the MC's through the wringer and letting them face the harsh realities of life.
I loved that this was LGBT themed and we get to see some good representation here as well.
If you love retellings of the classic but with a twist and some angst, you will love this.
Bob/Sally on Beauty in Ruins wrote:
I love a delightful surprise because at my age you do not get many. Especially in books!! Most especially in “retelling” stories. However, this compilation of fairy-tale retellings was so fresh and alive it thrummed with energy and its own rhythm and warmth, much like a human heart. So much so, after a while, you could feel it begin to beat in time with your own.
I love that while I was familiar with a couple of the retellings, like, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, it was the new take on Rumplestiltskin that stole my heart. I got swept away by the storytelling, the characters, and the friendship between Prince Killian and Caroline Rose.
There were also retellings on offer I was not familiar with that I want to investigate more. A couple of my favorites included the titled, “Feathers,” and “The Boy on McGee Street” (my absolute favorite). The last, a story of grief, loss, hopelessness, and finally of closure, acceptance, and hope for a new day. It is filled will all the emotions we all experience at least once in our lives. It gently reminds us that it is okay and acceptable to feel all we feel for a season of time. It also reminds us life is meant to be lived, so we should grieve while we need to, but not stay stuck in our grief…forever.
To my ultimate delight, the author did something rather special for the reader. At the end of the stories was a section titled, “Some Thoughts on Gay Retellings as Rhetorical Acts,” where the author discusses feminism in fairy tale retellings, and the importance of gay fairy-tale retellings. I enjoyed this part of the book just as much if not a smidge more than the stories themselves. You can tell just how much love, time, and research have gone into the stories from the articles written at the end of the works. Reading this bonus material enhanced my experience and overall enjoyment of this book.
Catherine GV on Ad Librum Aeternam wrote:
In his introduction to The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories, Warren Rochelle writes that he believes “love, in its myriad forms, is the most powerful force in the universe,” and it is that spirit that guides this collection of LGBTQ+ fairy tale retellings.
That being said, these are retellings of the classic fairy tales, not the Disney versions, and that means there’s a lot of darkness and sex to the stories, and happily-ever-afters do not come without pain and self-reflection. Mirrors, one of my favorite stories in the collection, is particularly dark, dealing with closeted love, suicide, and remorse, which makes the eventual discovery of love all the more poignant, while the title story, The Wicked Stepbrother, goes to some very dark, cruel places before finally allowing love to be recognized.
While I wasn’t so much a fan of the stories that brought the fairy tales into contemporary times, something about the contrast between magic and reality in Luck really worked for me, and I loved the interplay of Narnia/Middle Earth and North Carolina Weirdness in The Boy on McGee Street – and it’s last line is poetic perfection.
I was a bit disappointed that all of the retellings M/M queer, when the blurb mentioned Princess Charming and heroines as people of color, but in hindsight I realize that we me misreading context versus content, and it’s a minor quibble. This was a well-written collection that puts original twists on the stories and demonstrates real heart.
Jayne Lockwood on Lady Jane's Pawsome Blog wrote:
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.
Kilian Melloy on Edge Media Network wrote:
I’m a sucker for the reimagining of fairy tales, especially ones written from an LGBTQIA perspective. For a community that has historically few happy endings, it’s great to see the narrative being changed. Also, reading them gives me a warm, happy feeling, even when they turn sinister, as some of these tales do.
These are no ordinary fairy tales. This book elegantly fuses Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and other well-known stories into a collection which has dark elements too. Don’t expect an easy ride to each Happy Ever After. Told in an adult, intelligent way, the book acknowledges there are no easy answers with a flick of a wand or a ride through an enchanted forest.
I particularly enjoyed Mirrors, a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story, but each story was a surprise in itself. They vary in length, some being fairly short, and others serialised throughout the book. It’s an interesting way of presenting them, but makes it hard to find particular stories when I was trying to for this review.
This book is a sexy brew of coarse language, violence and sexy scenes. And some characters are so repellent at first that you wonder how they ever deserve a happy ending, but all does come right in the end, as it does in the best fairytales.
I really enjoyed this collection. With great writing and a real sense of fantasy mixed with realism, it was a joy to read, and surprising too. Definitely a collection of LGBTQIA fairytales written with adults in mind, and a great addition to the genre.
From the wicked stepbrother of the title, to an incipiently magical young man making a life-changing agreement with a talking frog, to a married gay couple tormented by a supernatural Scottish entity, the tales in Warren Rochelle's "The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories" re-cast traditional fairy tales as gay-affirming (and, just as importantly, gay relationship-affirming) lessons on life's hardships and challenges, the difficulties of family, and the hard, sometimes frightening, work of figuring out who one is, and what one's place in the world might be.
The book is more or less the sum of two parts. One comprises a suite of tales that take place in mystical otherwheres — places where magic holds sway, along with monarchal and aristocratic power structures. (The "Wicked Stepbrother" in question is a not entirely kindly man in love with a prince; he's skilled in magic, and the stepbrother of none other than Cinderella, though she's got another name here, and she, like he, is perfectly capable of nasty scheming.)
These stories are loosely linked together, and contained in the framework of the title story, which is divided into three distinct parts, each one a self-contained account that leads into, and builds from, the others. (Taking place across the span of years, these stories also reflect character growth and shifting relationships.) These stories operate according to the same rules and shared history, creating the feeling of a richly detailed world.
The book's second half is set in a reality that's more or less recognizable as our own, although with access to other realities. Denizens of mythical lands (Tir Na Nog, Faerie) cross into our world, their powers intact; like us, they have needs and desires, and like us some of them are LGBTQ+. These stories, too, tend toward the romantic, though they're less drawn from the epic fantasy tradition and written to communicate a sense of realism tinged with magic. A lonesome man realizes, after taking in a stranger and falling desperately in love, that he is living a true version of a fairy tale that, in its various re-tellings, always ends in tears; can he will a different outcome into being? Two college freshmen find themselves instinctually, powerfully drawn to each other — but the adults in their lives have not been entirely truthful with them, and have plans in mind that threaten their happiness. A tender romance rendered as a ghost story follows a university professor during a stint of teaching abroad, in a country where magic can still happen... and does.
Some of these stories tug at the heart; others prompt it to gallop with suspense. More than anything, the reality and primal force of same-sex love in its full suite of manifestations (sexual, spiritual, romantic) illuminates these works — as indeed they have illuminated folk tales and fairy tales forever, with relatively modern, self-appointed guardians of literature and culture stripping out gay references and forcing contemporary versions of old stories through a cisgender, heterosexual lens. As Rochelle points out in his introduction and afterword, there are now efforts to correct and re-balance the literary tradition of the fairy tale, restoring their full spectrum of glamour and enchantment. "The Wicked Stepbrother" contributes substantially to those efforts... and, more crucially to the typical reader, they will sing in your heart.