I’m a sucker for romance novels based off fairy tales or classic literature but have found the quality of such books to be rather variable. Either it’s more about the romance with only a very loose reference to the original tale or the construct of the story is belabored to death and sucks all the sexy out the story.
Marie Hall‘s Kingdom series not only takes five well-known stories and sets them on their (very) sexy ear, but manages to also reinvent characters and twist plots until the reader is left with a delightful heartfelt romance not lacking in heat.
The overarching theme is that Danika is a fairy who has only a month to get each of her charges – her five bad boys – properly mated or they’ll die. She genuinely cares about each of these rogues who range from morosely unhappy to borderline insane due to the absence of the proper woman in their lives. She reveals that each man’s perfect match resides outside their world – the “Kingdom” – and that’s why they’ve not met her yet. But Danika has her mission.
Because the Mad Hatter is the most damaged and therefore the most in need of the healing power of his true mate, Danika picks him to go first, but the path of love is hardly easy. In Her Mad Hatter, Danika heads to the new cupcake parlor owned by Alice Lu, descendent of the same Alice who inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland book. Alice is the spitting image of her great-grandmother, a fact that Danika realizes will hurt her more than help her as she whisks her away to Kingdom to meet Hatter.
You see, young Alice discovers that her great-grandmother was actually a colossal bitch who was taken to Kingdom – the Wonderland region – and duped Hatter into thinking that she loved him when in actuality she wanted the power he could offer her as his mate. But Wonderland never accepted her as it saw her true nature and she returned to earth. Alice is gobsmacked at the revelation – she was the perennial geeky goth kid, carrying around her Alice in Wonderland book since she had a major crush on the Mad Hatter, to the point where she believed that he came to her when she was dying in the hospital of brain cancer.
Alice is elated to finally meet the man literally of her dreams but quickly comprehends the hate in his eyes when Danika explains her great-grandmother’s deception. Hatter is unbearably sexy and clearly wants her, but blows hot and cold as he fails to believe that she is falling in love with him and with Wonderland. Alice wants his love as much as she wants to help his sanity but can’t fully leave her life behind, a decision that might come at too high a cost.
This book was sometimes a little on the psychedelic side but it made sense considering Hatter’s mental state. The characterization was excellent and I loved how fleshed out all the supporting characters were (a vital piece in a series). The Alice allusions were wonderful but the twist on so many of the established plot points made it an intellectual delight to read. Gobs of sexual tension existed between the characters and the consummation scene was pretty smokin’ hot so Marie Hall has good sexy writing chops to fall back on (a must for any romance book I read)! Finishing it put not only a smile on my face but made me want another one.
Gerard’s Beauty immediately found it’s way into my Kindle. For those of us who have always listed Belle from Beauty and the Beast as our favorite princess, this novella will make you think twice about your admiration. Gerard, whose legacy has been twisted into the pompous, good looking jock of the movie, is most definitely a gorgeous hunk of man and quite the man-whore. Danika has her fairy godmother hands full pulling him out of one seduction scrape after another, but he’s actually incredibly bitter.
He truly fell in love with Belle, who was a beautiful but calculating intellectual. She ditched Gerard, after mocking his illiteracy, for the Beast because of the wealth he could offer. Right now, Gerard is in big, big trouble because Prince Charming is claiming Gerard seduced his daughter by Cinderella. It was more like a hook-up, and one Gerard brought to a screeching halt when her wig tumbled off and he realized that it was a princess he was dealing with. That the chief bitch fairy Galeta still harbors a grudge from Gerard blowing off her sexual advances makes this more complicated.
Danika pleads his case, claiming that she knows that he is about to meet his true mate and won’t be the Kingdom’s playboy any longer. She transports him to the library where Betty Hart, a bespectled, superhero role-playing librarian has already fallen victim to the good-looking, “love ‘em and leave ‘em” type before and she’s having none of it. The crazy frenchman in the rain outside the library gets zero sympathy since he’s clearly a sexist pig with one thing on his mind, but he also seems homeless, so against her better judgement she brings him back to her place.
When a couple of fairies appear in her living room, spouting about how Gerard is in BIG trouble and dangling some necklace Betty must wear, she realizes that she’s not in Kansas anymore. Danika’s lobbying gets him a questionable reprieve – he has thirty days to make this mystery woman fall in love with him…and it’s thirty days where he is “unmanned,” completely unable to get an erection. That Betty has total control of him from that time on just makes him even more incensed.
For Gerard (any Frenchman?) this is intolerable since the core of his identity is tied to his sexuality. Until he looks past the situation and realizes that Betty is not using her power over him. She’s a fun, smart, beautiful woman, but not being able to use sex to keep his distance from her means that they are spending actual time together. He sees what a great aunt she is to her Down Syndrome-affected nephew and also sees how all the other geeks (none so hot in their costumes) cluster around her at her role-playing conventions. Most importantly, when she finds out he can’t read, she doesn’t judge him at all, just goes about teaching him after he reluctantly expresses an interest in learning.
Gerard is so physical and initially shallow that you despair for him until you see how his irritation with Betty blooms into something much more. Betty is a fantastic, quirky character who sees Gerard for who he really is and loves him expecting nothing in return. He’s sexy as hell and we are not deprived of the moment when Gerard gets his mojo back. Oo, la, la!
The wolf has always been my favorite character (so many sexual overtones even in the sanitized version of this tale) so when it becomes clear in the story arc that the Wolf is angry and languishing because he already found his mate in little Red Riding Hood, but she’s disappeared, you’ve got to wonder about what’s really going on.
In Red and Her Wolf we find out just how dark this story can be. The Black Wolf transforms into Ewan, a phenomenally hot and usually naked Scotsman (yes, because being a wolf isn’t sexy enough, you have to be a Scottish wolf). Once working for the dark fairy desperate for power, he was sent with another wolf to kill the Heartsong, the embodiment of all the fairies’ evil, who had been hidden in the woods with one trusted fairy designated as her keeper.
One look at the stunning, blond Violet huddled in her red cape and hood – who has no idea of her origins or her fate – and Ewan realizes that she’s he’s mate. He slays the fairy she knows as her grandmother as well as the other assassin wolf since both were bent on seeing Violet dead. Other fairies arrive on the scene, one of them being Danika with her best friend Miriam, and they realize that the girl needs to be protected, despite the danger she poses. Ewan violently objects to the idea of them taking his mate from him when he has just found her, but they overpower him with magic and Miriam escapes to earth with the girl, whose memories are suspended.
Five hundred years later, and Violet knows that she and her Aunt Miriam are not mortal. They don’t age and recently Violet has noticed that she has strange powers and an attraction to dark feelings. Back in the Kingdom, it’s come to Danika’s attention that Violet’s whereabouts have been leaked to the dark forces who would use her power and she has to confess to Ewan that she has lied to him all these centuries, sending him on false errands to try and find the girl he calls Red. Enraged, he sets out to Alaska, finding Red suspended in death and the fairy Miriam waiting for him. She tells him he must take her back to the Kingdom to be revived and gives him a map with spy contacts to help smuggle Violet to the lair of the dark fairy. Only Violet has the power to destroy her and on the way she will begin to understand her powers with Ewan’s help.
What Ewan doesn’t bargain for is the notion that his Red has spent 500 years misunderstanding him. She’s gotten a sanitized version of what happened and even now, when her memories are beginning to leak back into her mind, she clings to her hatred of the wolf who slew her grandmother. But Ewan’s persistence and unfailing care of her open her heart to feelings she doesn’t want to have for this man, even though everything points to him being her perfect match and one who can save her from the darkness within her.
Ewan is probably my favorite hero of all the “bad five” Danika helps. His unfailing loyalty (500 years of looking for his mate!), his kindness, but most of all his wolfy sexiness and killer mentality makes him a fairy tale ideal. Using Red as a vehicle for understanding the fairy politics and power struggle was also an excellent device and one that sets the stage for other stories.
I really wondered about Jinni’s story. I mean, how much of a romance can you have when you don’t have a corporeal form? Jinni is at a point in his long life where he feels nothing but apathy. Born among the stars, he accepted his assignment as fierce guardian to a king but fell in love and was horribly betrayed by a woman. This wound has festered for a millennia resulting in Jinni’s abandonment of his body. He now just exists as an ephemeral floating body and waits for the moment where he can dissipate and fade into nothing.
In Jinni’s Wish, his fairy godmother Danika is beside herself, praying its not too late. She knows that he’s given up, content to simply exist in his cave and dwell on past mistakes, but his mate needs him. Really needs him.
Paz is a Chicago artist on the rise who wistfully wants what her brother Richard and his partner Todd have. They convince her to go a sketchy carnival because a friend has said the fortuneteller is amazing and Paz needs a reading. She’s shocked and disbelieving when the preternaturally beautiful woman behind the table tells her to purchase a ticket to Anchorage tomorrow otherwise she’ll never meet her soul mate.
Urged on by something bigger than she’s ever felt before, Paz does, and finds herself seated next to hot guy who seems kind of wooden, but she’s more nervous about flying. A justified feeling considering disaster ensues. Yet this diaster reveals Jinni to her and there is immediate recognition on both their sides. As Jinni reveals his tarnished history to his lovely artist, he finds himself making new memories and wishing he wasn’t too far gone, but his time is almost at an end.
This is easily the most spiritual and beautiful of all the love stories in the series. Jinni is a hot, sexy beast, but one from an era and culture filled with courtly love and it shows in his respectful handling of Paz. Because his magic is almost gone, he can only create a couple physical encounters for both of them and even they are of a lighter sensuality than the other books. Hall has written a heart-warming story which is creative in both its understanding of djinn (actually close to the original Arabic folklore) and of its resolution of a happily ever after for two people without bodies when they fall in love.
After a long hiatus from the series, Hall finally came out with the fifth book in the series, Hook’s Pan last month. We’ve only seen a couple glimpses of Captain James Hook, but it’s enough to know that this tale is going to be turned on its head and it is.
James Hook has already known true love. Talia, his beautiful mermaid, stole his heart but the day before their wedding the incorrigible Peter Pan, running amok as usual, killed her. It was probably by accident, but still, his loss felt bottomless.
He’s drowned himself in drinking, wenching, and looting – not necessarily in that order – but nothing seems to help. Hook is more annoyed than anything else when his self-appointed fairy godmother informs him that she’s going to deliver his true mate, which he knows is a lie since he’s already found her before she died.
Trishelle works in the same library as Betty, Gerard’s wife, and is more than a little put out that she’s not spending meaningful time with her newlywed friend anymore. She gets that Betty would want to spend time with Gerard, but to just disappear for months at a time? What’s up with that?
After a rough couple of days remembering her sister’s death, Trish is donning her usual mask and getting ready to perform the role of Peter Pan at the local playhouse – she already plays the role of a happy person every day so what’s one more role? Before her rehearsal Betty and Gerard ask her to go to lunch, springing on her some crazy bull about “the Kingdom” where fairy tales and characters from stories actually exist. Hurt at their mocking, Trish huffs off to get her performance, only to be “rescued” from a fire by Betty and Gerard and…a demon bug.
It’s not actually a demon bug, but some kind of fairy claiming Trish is Hook’s true mate reincarnated. Dropped literally at Hook’s feet onboard his ship, she’s irritated to say the least. Yes, this guy with his sexy British accent and hard man flesh would be great for a tumble, but she’s not going to pretend to be something or someone she’s not and Trish doesn’t believe in love.
Hook can’t help but admire the curvaceous blonde in front of him despite her revolting Pan costume, although he doesn’t believe for a moment she’s his Talia. Her sass and feistiness has him grinning from ear to ear, much to the astonishment of his men. The two of them can agree on some key points, however. Peter Pan is a sociopath enabled by Tinkerbell, Trish and Hook have serious chemistry and there is no way they will fall in love with each other.
James is the classic wounded hero and the richly painted world of the ocean (above and below the water line) is amazingly done by Hall. Trish is pretty damaged herself, and while I’m pretty leery of the reincarnation trope, this was well-handled with everyone acknowledging Trish’s unique personality. Tinkerbell is the psycho helicopter Mom everyone has met, not realizing how her crappy mothering is actually creating the time bomb that is Peter Pan. The resolution is wonderful, although I did wonder why nothing came of her gift of the little sea horse.
The series also has the bonus of being infinitely affordable. I read Her Mad Hatter because it was free on Amazon, but none of the other books broke the bank at a mere $2.99 each (Hook’s Pan is a little more expensive, but still under $4.00), reasonable for a hefty novella slightly smaller than a Harlequin novel. Hall even has a bundled deal, charging only $2.99 for the first three books, and now that the final book is out with Hook’s Pan, I’m thinking she’ll do another bundle. According to Marie Hall’s website, she’s planning on releasing a short about the fairy Danika (something naughty with the huntsman, perhaps?) and her afterword in Hook’s Pan clearly indicates that, while she’s doing other projects, she feels that there are lots of other bad boys in the Kingdom waiting to meet the woman who will redeem them.
Getting to read those stories at the hands of good writer like Marie Hall is a delight I’m looking forward to, particularly if there are little glimpses of my favorite couples while I’m there. Many thanks to Hall for taking what are often shopworn retellings and making them into something fresh, sexy and undeniably romantic.