Cast Long Shadows by Cat Hellisen (book review).

May 31, 2022 | By | Reply More

Many writers learn their skills via fan fiction. These early efforts often use characters they like and identify with and produce more adventures for them. Some of these stories get circulated as fanzines to select groups. Once these were printed but are now more likely to appear on-line. Some authors disapprove of their characters being used this way but others encourage it.

More importantly, the fans develop their writing and sometimes are able to transcend the original scribblings to produce good, significant work that is all of their own. The retelling of fairy and folk tales is another ideal practice source of material.

Cat Hellisen has no qualms in admitting that ‘Cast Long Shadows’ began as a reshaping of the Snow White story. Since the initial draft, much has changed. A few of the elements of the original tale remain, some heavily disguised and the result is something much more original than just a retelling from an alternative pint of view.

The central character is Marjeta Petrell, youngest daughter of a minor duke who feels the necessity of protecting his realm by marrying a daughter to the neighbouring, more powerful Duke Calvai Jurie. Initially, it is Marjeta’s older sister who is selected as bride. She is far more suitable as she excels at feminine arts, such as needlework, and she is a witch. Marjeta would much prefer to be our riding and hunting. When her sister dies, Marjeta becomes the replacement bride. She is shipped off to Duke Calvai’s castle, despite having to wait four years until she is eighteen and the marriage can take place. The Duke is in no hurry to marry but he does want a stepmother for his daughter from his first marriage and would rather they became acquainted before the ceremony.

Marjeta arrives in a strange castle, knowing no-one but the maid her mother has sent with her and with few possessions of her own, one of which is a small, magical mirror her sister had given her. Silviana, the future step-daughter, is only a few years younger than Marjeta but has been kept in almost total isolation for fear that something bad will happen to her. Her main protector is Lilika, who was her wet-nurse and is now her almost sole carer and everything she knows about the outside world comes through her. Lilika is also the Duke’s mistress and is manipulative and ambitious. She would prefer Calvai to marry her, so getting rid of Marjeta seems like a good idea.

While there are elements of the original story that can be teased out of the narrative, the idea of the wicked stepmother is turned about with all, except Lilika, being innocent parties in a situation determined by politics and the misguided over-protectiveness of a parent. The addition of a religious element does not have quite the passion of motivation that is intended as it isn’t a feature of the original.

This is an interesting reinterpretation which is enjoyable without quite having the wow-factor that would make it outstanding.

Pauline Morgan

April 2022

(pub: Luna Press, Edinburgh, 2022. 392 page paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-913387-71-6)

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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