The Final Twisted Tales

It is a sad day when you come to the end of a beloved series and a sadder day when that series was 12 books long. There are few series longer than 5-7 books. In my own career of reading, I have read less than five series reaching a length of over 10 books. (It should be noted that there are some that are considered to be more than one series such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus which together include 10 books but each on their own only have five. )


Of the book series I have read with such a great length, only two have stood out to me. One is The Series of Unfortunate Events, a 13-book series detailing the unfortunate lives of the Baudelaire children from the perspective of Lemony Snickett who enjoys breaking the fourth wall in brilliant ways. This middle-grade book series has now been turned into a movie (terrible) as well as a Netflix-original TV show (better).


The other is the Twisted Tales series, a series written by three authors (Liz Braswell, Elizabeth Lim, and Jen Calonita) who ask a "what if?" question about the Disney movies of certain fairytales and proceed to answer the question in their whimsical, magical Disney books for young adults. There are 12 books in this series and I have now read them all. You can find my reviews of the previous novels at the links below:


Liz Braswell's Twisted Tales:

A review of As Old As Time (what if Belle's mother cursed the Beast?), Once Upon a Dream (what if the sleeping beauty never woke up?), and Unbirthday (what if Wonderland was in peril and Alice was very, very late?).


More Twisted Tales:

A review of Part of Your World (what if Ariel had never defeated Ursula?), A Whole New World (what if Aladdin had never found the lamp?) and So This is Love (what if Cinderella never tried on the glass slipper?).


Twisted Tales Part Three:

A review of Go The Distance (what if Meg had to become a Greek God?), Straight on Til Morning (what if Wendy first traveled to Never Land with Captain Hook?), and What Once Was Mine (what if Rapunzel's mother drank potion from the wrong flower?)


Conceal, Don't Feel

Conceal, Don't Feel was the most on the nose of the Twisted Tales. It often used quotes from the movie (usually from the songs) and felt as though the author literally sat down, watching the movie, and described the characters and scenes directly from the screen. I might have had a little more appreciation for this if Calonita had used some of the funnier quotes from the movie (most often those belonging to Olaf) but there were many moments in the book where it felt as though Calonita had little need for imagination while writing this book, she essentially copied the Disney movie.


Anna's story in Conceal, Don't Feel does feel more original than Elsa's. While Elsa goes through the same actions (for the most part) as she does in the movie (down to throwing off her gloves, unclipping her cape, and creating a palace of ice because "the cold never bothered her anyway") in the book, Anna was "adopted" by a family of bakers when she was little and lives in a town on the side of the mountain. It is here that she meets Kristoff (and Sven) and from here she goes on a journey to find Elsa. Though many of the steps on this journey feel oddly familiar (like they were written in directly from the movie) some are different and her past, as well as a different beginning to her journey, gives her a more original feel than her sister in the book.


While the book felt largely like a young adult book version of the Frozen movie, I did still enjoy it. It was very one the nose (at times annoyingly so) and the story didn't feel at all original to me but I still enjoyed reading it and many Disney fans would likely feel the same way. Calonita captured Elsa and Anna (and Sven, Olaf, and Kristoff) well within the pages of the book and a Frozen fan would be likely to find it difficult to put down the novel that retells this tale for a young adult audience.


Mirror, Mirror


Mirror, Mirror was the very last chapter book I read in 2021 and the second to last book overall (I finished off the year with a comic, I am sad to say). Honestly, though, if I hadn't been as motivated to finish the book by my goal to read 100 books in the year, I am unsure I would have finished this book. Perhaps I would've moved on to something else instead. This book often felt like a children's book despite the protagonist being 17 and the book residing in the YA section just like all the rest of the Twisted Tales. While the author did keep the "feel" of the Snow White movie, I felt she did so at the expense of creating an action-packed young-adult novel. Not that there was no action but I found it to be a novel more suitable for a middle-grade audience than for an audience my age.


To make matters worse, it was entirely unclear what time period Calonita was trying to set the story in. Most of the Twisted Tale novels seem to have a clear time period to them. Clothing, food, speech, and other aspects of the novel are appropriate for the time period just as they would need to be for any other novel. Even in a novel with a created world, there needs to be some sense of time to it. In my own novel, the world seems to be a mix of 1800s technology and a medieval "feel" (as well as much medieval clothing). There is no modern clothing, accessories, or tools. In Mirror, Mirror, a pocket knife makes repetitive appearances (even saving the day) and other strange elements are present that seem as though they shouldn't be there if the story is supposed to be set in a more medieval timeline.


My final issue with the novel was the story. While Calonita does seem to tell a reasonably original story (as opposed to just telling the story from the movie), she doesn't tell the story of what would happen if "the Evil Queen poisoned the prince." The concept behind the Twisted Tales is these "what if?" questions. They are asked before the writer begins to tell the story and then it is the author's job to answer that question within the story. I felt, however, that Calonita just tacked the question on at the beginning and end of the book and wrote her own novel. The book begins by fishing forward and showing the prince poisoned and Snow White rushing forward to see him before being carried off. Then the story jumps back and forth from Snow White's POV to Ingrid's (the Evil Queen) in about 20 different time periods, totally confusing the reader as the labeling is not well done. I was often at a loss for what time it was in the book and/or whether it was a dream, reality, or a flashback. Finally, the book concludes with the same scene it started with, a tiny fight (five or so pages) and a wrap-up (another five pages). The poisoning of the prince makes very little impact. The question could have instead been "what if the Evil Queen was Snow White's aunt?" or "what if the Evil Queen didn't poison Snow White with the apple?" Both would have made more sense in connection with the story though Calonita still needed to fix the flashbacks to make them more readable.


Though the story was ok and I would read it again, it wasn't my favorite of the series and could certainly have used some edits. I will admit that Braswell, in my opinion, tends to do better with the tales than Calonita.

Reflection


I waited for a long time to read Reflection. Most of the Twisted Tales books don't have holds on them at the Redding Library. They aren't quite popular enough for that. However, I went to check the book out on the library site and found that there was already a hold on it. I was second in line to read the book once it was returned from December 2021 through April 2022. Finally, I decided to call the library (after all, you are not supposed to keep a library book that long) and found out the book was considered lost. I had to order copy through their system for doing so.


Once I did finally get my hands on it, I found I enjoyed it. Like many of the other Twisted Tales, the book keeps with the culture and overall "feel" of the original Mulan movie. Unlike the other books ("what if Belle's mother cursed the beast?" "what if Anna and Elsa never met each other?") I felt like the "what if?" was off-topic. Mulan having to go to the underworld didn't seem in keeping with the general Mulan story. I would have preferred something like "what if Mulan never defeated the Huns" or "what if Mulan was engaged?" or something similar. Like many of the other books, this one had some mistakes (bad grammar, misspelled words, etc.) but they were, for the most part, minor. Still, the story of Mulan going to the underworld to save Shang's life accompanied by a lion and working against time and all the beasts of the Chinese underworld was enjoyable. It was a good book to finish on.


Conclusion:

After finally finishing the series, I feel I can finally make an overall assessment of the books. I really enjoyed the series (which is why I read all 12 I suppose). Though the books can lean further towards middle-grade rather than young adult, I find them fun reads that twist beloved tales. The characterization of the main characters is spot on and the books, for the most part, keep the overall "feel" and culture that is present in each of the movies. I am interested to see if they do any other books. I know for sure that Almost There (a twist on Tiana's story) is coming soon and is written by yet another author! What about others: Moana? Raya and the Last Dragon? Robin Hood? other non-princess movies? Let me know in the comments which Disney movies you'd want to see twisted by these authors.


Overall, Liz Braswell wrote the majority of the books that I enjoyed the most. While the three authors all did a good job of twisting the tales, I found Braswell's tales to be more interesting to read and closer to the general feel of their respective movies. Many of the books felt geared to a younger audience but Braswell's were the closest one could get to young adult in this series. The first book I read (As Old as Time) remains my favorite of the Twisted Tale books but I also enjoyed Part of Your World and Unbirthday quite a bit and I would re-read all three of these again and again. Some others that make the top of the would be Reflection, What Once Was Mine, and Straight on 'Til Morning. If you are looking for a book with the same "feel" as the movie, I would recommend Unbirthday, So This is Love, or Part of Your World. I definitely didn't enjoy Once Upon a Dream, Mirror Mirror or Go the Distance as much as the others. Check out my reviews of each of the books to learn more and find your favorite Twisted Tale.








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