In the saturated market of retold fairytales, it can be hard to stand out. The past decade or so have seen gritty remakes on the big screen, noir reimaginings on the pages of comic books, dark video games, jukebox musicals, and endless shelves-worth of novels rewriting these tales from centuries past.
There’s a reason a reason authors return to this well time and again. Even a mediocre creator can bring something new to Cinderella or Snow White if they want to.
M.L. Farb is no mediocre creator, and the tales she weaves together to craft her novel, Heartless Hette, are not so pedestrian as a reworked Disney movie from decades gone by.
Lovingly threaded with pieces of eight different fairytales and legends, with nods to German history, lore, and court culture throughout, Heartless Hette is not your average entry into the annals of retold stories.
Helmed by a protagonist who knows her own mind and stays true to it throughout, with a delightful supporting cast that includes a talking toad, an insubordinate maid, and a court fool complete with a bell-laden cap, Heartless Hette follows this unlikely quartet in their quest for (what else?) a heart. Along the way they tangle with naiads, puzzle through an inordinate number of riddles, and keep the promises they make to each other, and those they meet.
No re-told fairytale would be complete without magic, and Heartless Hette has magic in spades. Predicated on some truly cockeyed logic, and delightfully mechanical at times, Farb’s magic system is not typical for the genre, and works seamlessly with the world she has crafted for it. Magic in this world can be a tool, a weapon, a map and an inconvenience all rolled into one, and is never the same thing twice. In the hands of an unskilled author that could be confusing at best and outright annoying at worst—luckily Farb is skilled at her craft and her magic, with all its contradictions, fits the story nicely.
Lush in details, rich in characterization, and written with (forgive me) heart, Heartless Hette is far more than just another rewritten fairytale. This is many fairytales woven into an epic quest, one that will test Farb’s characters and delight readers for generations to come.