What if the events in the fairy tales you heard as a child didn’t really happen that way at all? This is the question posed by Martha Brockenbrough’s Into the Bloodred Woods , a savage spin on happily ever after.
The novel takes place in a mythical kingdom ruled by a king, his gold-spinning queen and their twin children, Ursula and Albrecht. Ursula, a serious and thoughtful princess, can transform into a bear, which gives her tremendous physical strength. She dreams of the day that she will become queen and can free other shape-shifters from the oppressive rules that limit their freedom. Cruel Albrecht fancies himself an inventor, but his horrifying creations often involve unwilling test subjects. When the king dies, his kingdom is divided between the twins until Albrecht invades Ursula’s half, usurping his sister’s land. To save her people and protect herself, Ursula must destroy her brother or die trying.
Brockenbrough offers a thoroughly feminist novel that reimagines many well-known fairy tales. In her versions, Little Red Riding Hood falls in love with the wolf, while Hansel and Gretel are kidnapped by Albrecht and forced into servitude. Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella and the Pied Piper are also referenced, but Brockenbrough reconfigures their stories so that they’re far less Disney and far more Grimm.
Toward the end of the novel, a character muses, “Why was it a crime to be more than one thing? Why could people not be exactly who they chose to be in the world? Who was harmed when people lived their own truths?” It’s a striking moment that will resonate with teens who have asked themselves similar questions about their own world. As potent an allegory as the fantastical stories upon which it draws, Into the Bloodred Woods reminds readers of the power such stories hold—and of their own power to rewrite them.