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Book Review: The Seventh Bride

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on July 14, 2016

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This article was updated on November 9, 2016

With everything in the world being so chaotic recently I have been at a bit of a loss as to what to read to give myself a little bit of mental calm. I even went back to the old well of epic fantasy to draw from those still waters but it really didn't help. The Seventh Bride by T Kingfisher, the adult pseudonym of Ursula Vernon, gave me the peace that I was looking for by its end. I fell easily into the gentle rhythm and quick wit of the narration and by the end of the story I was no longer feeling uncertain.

The Seventh Bride is a fairy tale for adults, not one of the thinly veiled paranormal romances that are dressed up as a fairy tales, a real one, hearkening back to the Brothers Grimm and Italo Calvino's work. In turns it is horrific and charming, just like every real fairy tale, but a solid foundation of character is what carries the whole story. Rhea is a miller's daughter, she spends her life working in a mindless job and the only excitement that she experiences is an ongoing battle of wits with the swan who tries to steal her lunch. When the local lord asks for her hand in marriage she is understandably upset, if only because she has never met the man, but her family sensibly decides not to cross a nobleman who could have them all slaughtered in the night for no other reason than a fit of pique. Her time spent out in the real world and her real life establishes her personality and I was surprised to find how swiftly she got her hooks into me. The story kicks off when she travels along a mysterious road to her new husband's manor house and crosses paths with her Lord's previous wives. I went into this part of the book fully expecting a retelling of Bluebeard and was horrified to discover that the Seventh Bride is actually worse.

This constant back and forth switch between the horrible and the adorable, the gothic horror of the new wife in isolation and the Terry Pratchett style asides into the absurd humour of the situation, should have been jarring but within the shape of a fairy-tale all of these elements come together into a seamless flow of narrative. It follows all of the necessary rules of a fairy tale, including the rule of three and a proliferation of Chekov's guns that could have kicked off a new cold war. As a result we are left with a multi-layer, simple story, told with precision and heart. I defy anyone to read this book and not love the characters. At the very least Rhea and her hedgehog are deserving of some adoration.

The ending deserves a special mention because the story existed as a sealed package and it was absolutely vital that it turned out precisely as it did. The good people survive the story and have a bright future ahead of them, the evil ones are punished in poetically just ways and the people who teeter on that thin line between the two sides find something very like redemption. The solid moral framework of a fairy tale is hidden here underneath the surface levels of modern storytelling and cleverness; it gives the reader great satisfaction to feel that justice is done. Even if it is only make-believe.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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