There's an element of personal preference that one has to take into account after a while. I found myself charmed by Sunday Woodcutter, her gently playful, sweet personality and her adoration of stories. At a certain point, I start to long for a heroine who is, well, more like me than the kick-ass, weapon-wielding protagonists; they're important to the status quo, I know (though they get typical and flat themselves if the character and motivation doesn't work), but every now and again, a character shows up and illustrates, for me, that you can be innocent, friendly, girlish and outgoing while still being a likable, interesting and relatable character. For me, this was Sunday.
Even more so when she fell in love with a frog. I sorta loved the romanticism of the book. I'll say that right away. And realized, later, that the reviews I'd read had influenced me into thinking in terms of tropes, like insta-love, but I can suspend belief enough in a fairy tale to understand that it as love at first, er, sight? Maybe not, unless Sunday has a frog fetish, heh. But I would have maybe liked more of Grumble and Sunday in those beginning chapters--just a little. And also, to have had more information sprinkled there, since the uneven, janky pacing of the overall story is the biggest criticism I have of the book. Some important things felt rushed when they should have been large dramatic beats.
The story genuinely surprised me when Grumble the frog transformed into Rumbold the prince fairly early on, and the main thread of the story changes from The Frog Prince to a mixed-up version of Cinderella, as he orders a series of three balls so he can meet and have Sunday get to know him as the man he is. And to maybe win over her family a bit, since he's not their favorite (due to circumstances involving eldest Woodcutter son, Jack Jr.) We meet loyal guard Erik, and Rumbold's cousin Velius (oh, please tell me that we're going to see MUCH more of him in the future!) and their interactions are a joy; their dialogue, their playful banter, never failed to make me smile. The same goes for Sunday and Rumbold, when they actually have scenes together. Though, for a while towards the end of the story, I felt almost as if Rumbold and his character development eclipsed Sunday as a character, and that was... I have mixed feelings about it, because I did like Rumbold, and I liked that he got so much development.
For the first time, reading a book with as many characters as this had, I had no trouble keeping track of who was who, even concerning the seven sisters named for each day of the week. And I can't wait to read about each of them, hoping that Kontis will explore absent sisters like Thursday and Tuesday, as well. I can still hope for a book about Wednesday with some heavy Velius/Wednesday, right?
I think what I adored the most was the fact that, unlike many retellings published in YA today, it's not simply a justification to tell a familiar, or semi-familiar story with whatever twist the author's cooked up; the story, twining together many fairy tales, including the obscure, and the original versions of the tales, feels more like a love letter to the fairy tales, and it's obvious that Kontis shares the same love for the stories that I do. It's much more in line with, say, Into the Woods, The 10th Kingdom or Once Upon a Time, where the story elements are taken and woven into something entirely new, but still recognizable. The romanticism, the cleverness, all felt at home with the fairy tale themes.
And it is clever, and witty, with some smile-worthy dialogue. It never felt sly, though, or as if she were crowing about her own cleverness. The prose is far above what is typical for YA (which can get very flat, very generic), with more than a touch of magic to it. The first of the fairy tale novels I've read this year, since I've been on my insatiable fairy tale kick, that I'd recommend.