The Seventh Bride: The miller’s daughter meets Bluebeard

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Seventh Bride by T. KingfisherThe Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher

One of the less well-known folk tales, Bluebeard, the tale of the aristocrat who has married several wives who have ominously disappeared, is dusted off and adapted by T. Kingfisher in The Seventh Bride, a middle grade/young adult fantasy. Note: Kingfisher is a pen name for Ursula Vernon, the Nebula award-winning author of the short story “Jackalope Wives“). Rhea, a fifteen year old miller’s daughter, is unhappily and unwillingly engaged to Lord Crevan, a nobleman whom she doesn’t even know. Her parents urged her to accept Lord Crevan’s offer: their family is having trouble making ends meet and Lord Crevan is a friend of the local marquis. And you don’t turn down lords. But Rhea, who keenly feels her lack of any extraordinary beauty or talents, can’t help but feel he has some hidden, ulterior motive. She’s even more uneasy when she finally meets the suave but much older Crevan.

… she’d had a few daydreams about meeting a man who would kiss her hand, and it would be like a lightning bolt through both of them, and then he’d tell her that he was really a prince wandering the land in search of the maiden of his heart, and, now that he’d found her, he would sweep her off her feet and take her back to his castle, and she would never have to help dig an outhouse again.

 

Rhea’s imagination tended to get a little fuzzy after the bit where they got back to the castle, but the bit about the outhouses was very clear.

 

But this… this was nothing like those daydreams.

Lord Crevan actually tells Rhea that he is a sorcerer, but she is still unable to see any viable way out of their engagement. So when he instructs her to come to his house in three days, she goes, via a mysterious and somehow menacing bone-white road that has suddenly appeared north of town. When Rhea, at her wit’s end, stops to cry, a small, unusually intelligent hedgehog suddenly appears to comfort her. The hedgehog ― which doesn’t speak but does have an unexpected aptitude for communicating with gestures ― ends up accompanying Rhea to Lord Crevan’s manor.

And there Rhea meets Crevan’s wives: a silent woman with a terribly scarred throat, a woman with bandaged eyes, a fat woman who acts as their cook, and others. Something is terribly wrong in this household, and Rhea has only her wits and determination to see her through… and the helpful hedgehog.

Kingfisher’s writing is vivid and witty, with frequent humor and delightfully whimsical details that remind me of my favorite Robin McKinley books, such as a battle with a bullying, lunch-stealing swan and the gremlins that sneak into the mill; they’re fascinated by the millworks but sometimes get caught in the gears: 

If you ground one into flour on accident, the bread had a tendency to explode in the oven, or bleed when you cut into it, or turn into a flock of starlings that would tear around the cottage, shrieking, and then people came around and had words with the miller, and many of the words had only four letters and involved hand gestures.

The humor and writing style is appealing but occasionally too modern for a folk tale-like novel with a medieval setting. Kingfisher’s characters sometimes use current words or phrases like “okay” and “wait ― what?” that briefly pulled me out of my immersion in the story.

The Seventh Bride started out very strong. The tension builds well as Rhea navigates the treacherous challenges at Lord Crevan’s manor and discovers why he has chosen her as his latest bride. Rhea is a believable and appealing young heroine, extraordinary only for her courage and determination. She is described as having coppery skin and black hair, which suggests some unusual and welcome diversity for this type of novel.

The climactic scenes were a bit underwhelming for me and the book’s grip on my attention faded somewhat toward the end. But overall The Seventh Bride is a very enjoyable read that tapped into my love of folk and fairy tale retellings. It’s refreshing that this is purely an adventure, with no romance. I recommend this particularly for readers who like young adult fairy tale novelizations.


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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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3 comments

  1. Cool! I think I bought this for Kindle a few months ago–maybe I should get on with reading it!

  2. It sounds like a good retelling and a good introduction to one of our more disturbing fairy tales. And a cute pseudonym, too!

  3. Clearly, I should stop looking for this at the library and just buy it outright.

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