Hero, by Alethea Kontis

>> Friday, March 21, 2014

AUTHOR: Alethea Kontis

PAGES: 304
PUBLISHER: HMH Books for Young Readers

SETTING: Alternate world
TYPE: Fantasy
SERIES: Second in the Woodcutters series

Rough-and-tumble Saturday Woodcutter thinks she's the only one of her sisters without any magic—until the day she accidentally conjures an ocean in the backyard. With her sword in tow, Saturday sets sail on a pirate ship, only to find herself kidnapped and whisked off to the top of the world. Is Saturday powerful enough to kill the mountain witch who holds her captive and save the world from sure destruction? And, as she wonders grumpily, "Did romance have to be part of the adventure?" As in Enchanted, readers will revel in the fragments of fairy tales that embellish this action-packed story of adventure and, yes, romance.

Hero is the second in a series based around a family that will sound familiar from pretty much every fairy tale you've ever read. Saturday Woodcutter's magical brother and sisters have had all sorts of adventures already. One sister married a king, a brother was once captured by a witch and managed to escape after stealing her eyes, that sort of thing. Saturday is the only one who doesn't have any magic of her own, but it's been predicted she'll have some sort of Destiny, and as the book starts, things get going.

One day, Saturday accidentally breaks a magical mirror and calls up a huge sea. Her Pirate Queen sister sails up to her door and Saturday goes with her, only to be plucked from the deck by a bird and taken to the same witch who'd captured her brother all those years ago. Turns out Saturday, who is tall and strong and wears trousers (and who has cut off her hair) has been confused with her brother, and the witch is demanding her eyes back.

Joining a young prince who was tricked long ago by the witch's daughter into taking her place, and some interesting creatures, Saturday must figure out how to stop the witch from releasing a dragon and causing the end of the world.

There were things I liked about Hero. I liked the role reversal of having a heroine who has the characteristics more commonly ascribed to male heros in fairy tales, and a hero with traditionally 'female' characteristics. I also like it very much when authors chop and mix up different fairy tales and create something new.

And yet, this did not work for me at all. It all came down to me not being able to buy the internal truth and coherence of the plot and characters. The plot felt disjointed and confusing and made little sense to me, and the characters didn't feel like real people at all. They kept behaving in ways that made me go "Hang on, what? Who does that?". I didn't buy the characters' motivations and often didn't understand why they did what they did.

It was a pretty quick read, thankfully, and I give Kontis points for originality, but it felt very unsatisfying.



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