Graphic Novel Review: The Magic Fish

Graphic Novel Review

Title: The Magic Fish

Author and Illustrator: Trung Le Nguyen


Publisher Website – AUS

Publisher Website – US

Rating: 5 out of 5.

THE MAGIC FISH is a graphic novel that resonated so keenly with my entire being, it felt like it was created just for me. And it some ways, it was – in the way that it’s a labour of love which speaks specifically to the Vietnamese immigration experience. It ponders on the barrier and connections between the languages of first and generation immigrants, a relationship that are not restricted to mere words but to encapsulate our entire identity. Tiến and his family uses the framing of various fairy tales to communicate their truths, and the result is a nuanced, heartfelt story that rises above the trappings of fairy tale archetypes. If you can’t tell, I love this book with my whole heart, and I hope you’ll pick it up – marvel in the exquisite artwork, and let yourself be transported in Tiến’s world.

To me, language is a map to figure out where you are. If you can’t read the map, you’re lost.

As someone who grew up with two languages, feeling that I had to discard one to earn another when I immigrated to New Zealand – the weight of this quote, which appears at the beginning of The Magic Fish, absolutely gutted me. Helen, Tiến’s mother, spoke from similar experiences – her ‘past and present selves speak two different languages.’ She is irrevocably transformed ever since a little boat took her away from the shores of Vietnam, to the promised dreams of a foreign land. Helen’s is a woman separated from her past, rarely speaking about it to Tiến. The void of words in between them are filled by the spaces of fairy tales – a tool this book revisits time and again to contextualize feelings that are too complicated, even for people who speak multiple languages.

The first fairy tale depicted is Tattercoats, and here Trung Le Nguyen’s skills at visualizing beautiful costumes is showcased, alongside with his ability to seamlessly weave between multiple narratives. Both Alera and Helen are haunted by the image of a cruel and unforgiving sea, nostalgic for the voice of their mother – whether projected through a magic ring or a phone call. Tiến’s own story also takes form here, as we see him with his friends Claire and Julian, and the tentative crush that he has on the latter. He goes on to tell us that he struggled to find a Vietnamese term for who he is, a boy who loves other boys. All of this unfold between the panels illustrating Princess Alera, the various disguise and celestial dresses that she dons.

And Tien would finally know we came from the same stories.

The next fairy tale we visit is a Vietnamese classic, Tấm and Cám. A Cinderella fairy tale of our very own, which Trung infused with even more character by portraying it through the lens of colonial-era clothing and buildings. Where the retelling of Tattercoats was filled with wistful longing and half-realised dreams – the version we got of Tấm and Cám was one with teeth. We revisit the theme of death and life anew time and again, a story that continues where you would expect a clean cut ending. The Magic Fish remind its readers of a tale’s ability to transform, whether it’s through the metamorphosis of memories, or the magic of retelling. It also gently warns of the expectation of happy endings, when lives are infinitely complex and has a way of persisting through generations – like Vietnam and her children, a country moulded by the hands of colonisation, yet refuses to fit anyone else’s narratives.

It’s an old, old story. Details change. Things change. And now this story is ours. Yours and mine.

Finally, The Magic Fish ends with a rendition of The Little Mermaid. In the Author’s Note, Trung states that he’s always viewed this Hans Christian Andersen tale as a story of immigration – and I could not agree more. A girl who gives up her ability to communicate at a chance of fulfilling dreams in a distant land, who chafes and suffer with every step she takes. It is my favourite of the tales, beautifully drawn using inspiration of Hong Kong fantasy aesthetic and the imageries of ballet. It’s a tale that encourages the rewriting of our own endings, illustrate how love overcome barriers, and the beauty of a mother and a son learning to speak in one another’s language. It’s a heartfelt and victorious culmination of the narrative threads that this graphic novel is working towards. I’ve never felt more satisfied and joyous on the completion of a graphic novel, and I will treasure this book like a well-loved fairy tale for years to come.

It’s almost unfair how this graphic novel is both beautifully illustrated and poignantly written. As a child who grew up in a family of refugees, who have witnessed the silent sacrifices of my elder, who have learned to love a language and culture I once tried to discard – this book felt like a key to invisible shackles. I know I’ll be putting this into the hand of every Viet person I come across, first and foremost my own mother – who also raised me with the words of fairy tales.

There are a lot of excellent books releasing this October, but please make sure this one make its way onto your bookshelf!

Pre-Release Thoughts: The Bear and the Nightingale


The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is not released until January 2017, but I already know that it will be amongst my top ten list of next year. I adore immersive, dark, and atmospheric folklore retelling. This book dishes all of these elements up and more, here’s a sneak peek as to why you should pre-order this beautiful book.

Summary: In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

Preorder Via: Book Depository ||  Amazon  ||  Booktopia  ||  Bookworld Continue reading “Pre-Release Thoughts: The Bear and the Nightingale”

Book Review: Wink, Poppy, Midnight



Title: Wink, Poppy, Midnight

Author: April Genevieve Tucholke

Series? No

Rating: 3.5/5 stars


Book Depository

Firstly, let me just get it out of my system and gush about that cover! Now, I don’t consider myself superficial – but I 100% purchased this book based on the merits of its stunning cover alone. The typography, colouring and embellishments on it are all A+++ *satisfied sigh*

“Revenge. Justice. Love. They are the three stories that all other stories are made up of. It’s the trifecta.”


Ahem. What about the content, did you say? I know this book has been met with extremely mixed reception – with people either dismissing it as pretentious nonsense or revering it as a masterpiece. I am firmly on the fence regarding this (I know, neutrality is a bit boring – boo!). On the one hand, I found the vivid writing and fairy tale imageries enchanting. On the other, the plot is overly convoluted – with its ultimate execution falling short of the author’s ambitious plans. Continue reading “Book Review: Wink, Poppy, Midnight”

Top Ten Tuesday: Must-Reads for Fairy Tale Enthusiasts

Vector of knight in shining armour by Graphics by yours truly.

I love doing Top Ten Tuesdays, I just wish I could be more consistent about it. This week’s theme is a semi-freebie, you’re meant to give your recommendation to a particular subset of people. I decided to target those who, like myself, adore fairy tales. I won’t be covering fairy tale retellings, because I’ve done that before. Instead, I want to recommend stories which follows fairy-tale narratives and possess the same timeless quality.


1. In The Night Garden by Catherynne Valente: Regulars of this blog will know that I mention this book in basically 80% of my recommendation posts. It’s my favourite of all time – and I plan to reread and review it on the blog this year to hassle you all into reading it (again). This is very loosely based on 1001 nights. Valente accomplishes the extraordinary feat of writing an expansive and immersive tale – spanning several lives and a multitude of stories. It’s multifaceted, subversive, and powerful. Continue reading “Top Ten Tuesday: Must-Reads for Fairy Tale Enthusiasts”

Mini Review: The Sleeper and The Spindle

The Sleeper and The Spindle Neil Gaiman Chris Riddell


Title: The Sleeper and The Spindle

Author: Neil Gaiman

Illustrator: Chris Riddell

Series? No.

Rating: 5/5


The Sleeper and The Spindle was everything I wanted and more. Filled with breathtaking illustrations by Chris Riddell with luxurious gold detailings – along with Neil Gaiman’s masterful and lyrical writing; it’s a definite winner.

At 66 pages, it’s a bit tough for me to review this beauty, so I’ll let you determine whether you should purchase the book based on the questions below. If any of these questions have ever crossed your mind after reading a fairy tale, you need this book!
The Sleeper and The Spindle Neil Gaiman

“A week from today, I shall be married.”

It seemed both unlikely and extremely final. She wondered how she would feel to be a married woman. It would be the end of her life, she decided, if life was a time of choices.

Ever wondered what happened to Snow White after she was woke from her slumber? Was she grateful for the prince, or did she really have no choice in the matter? The Queen that Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell illustrate is filled with misgivings about her upcoming marriage. She’s not content to be bound to a life of domestic servitude (the lady has spent long enough sweeping and cleaning after seven dwarfs, after all) – she’s going to embark on an adventure to save a damsel from distress instead. Continue reading “Mini Review: The Sleeper and The Spindle”

Book Review: A Thousand Nights

A Thousand Nights, E. K. Johnston3star

Title: A Thousand Nights

Author:  E. K. Johnston

Series? No.


Book Depository

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ok, so A Thousand Nights was not nearly as amazing as its perfectly stunning cover.  However, aside from its slow, meandering plot, the books had several merits and I would not hesitate to recommend it if your TBR is looking empty.


Every time, the story began the same way. Lo-Melkhiin picked one girl and took her back to his qasr to be his wife. Some in his keeping lasted one night, some as many as thirty, but in the end all were food for sand-crows.

A fairy tale retelling of 1001 Nights, this story follows an unnamed narrator, who volunteered as tribute when Lo-Melkhiin visits her village to save her ‘sister’.  Like Scheherazade before her, she finds herself surviving the ordeal beyond the first night, and begins to work at ending the cycle of violence.

The Writing:  An Abundance In Purple Proses

I think the most memorable thing about this book is its writing, for better or for worse. The writing in A Thousand Nights is very descriptive, sometimes excessively so.  I understand that the author was going for the whimsical feel of an old tale, but I felt the writing missed the mark on several occasions.  There are times when I think the similes or writing conventions used bordered on pretentious.  This is coming from someone who unabashedly love a bit of purple prose – so if you already have an aversion to these kinds of writing, I think it’s best you stay away.  Here’s the most ridiculous passage in this book:

In the fire of our twelfth summer, before we were proficient enough with our needles to stitch the purple cloth, but after we had come in from the herds, my mother and my sister’s mother told us the story of our father’s father’s father, and how he had become our smallgod.

*dies a little*  Aside from the antagonist, Lo-Melkhiin, barely anyone else in this book has a name.  So we have crazy things like father’s father’s father and mother’s mother’s mother flying around.  Again, I know the effect the book was trying to achieve, but I couldn’t helo feeling it was so contrived.  I do have to admit that on occasions when the writing does pull off its ambitious and luscious proses, the effect is quite gorgeous, here are some of my favourite examples:

Where our skin touched, there was a fire of a different kind.  I thought I could see it, threads of gold and blue, desert sand and desert sky, bleeding from my body into his.

No single tale that I could draw from would save my sister from a short and cruel marriage, but I had pieces aplenty. I held them in my hands like so many grains of sand, and they slipped from me, running through my fingers, even as I tried to gather more. But I knew sand… I knew that I had only to hold it for long enough, to find the right kind of fire, and the sand would harden into glass- into something I could use.

2. The Scheherazade:  A Female Centric Tale

I had long ago resigned to a life in the shadow of my sister, my elder by ten moons and my year-twin. She was the beauty, I was the spare.

Instead of being focused on the romantic aspect of the story, like The Wrath and The Dawn, this book highlight the friendship between the narrator and her sister.  Even when she is taken to Lo-Melkhiin’s qsar, the narrator’s thoughts remain on her sister and how to keep her safe.  I love that the stories she tells Lo-Melkhiin are ones of her sister, of how beautiful and bright she burns, and of how he shall never have her.  There’s in fact no real focus on romance at all, which is refreshing to see – but fresh off the high of The Wrath and The Dawn, it did make me mourn for what could have been.

I enjoyed the mythology hinted at in the novel, especially one involving the devotion of friends or family turning someone into a smallgod, capable of small miracles.  Demons also make an appearance in the novel, though I felt that the supernatural element of the story was never fully fleshed out.  We see the narrator hallucinate, literally weaving visions out of cloth, but we are never quite told how it happens.  I wish the book wasn’t so wishy-washy about the magical aspect of the story, as it took up quite a bit of the text.

3.  The Pacing:  Slow and Directionless

Honestly, the most disappointing aspect of this novel is the turtle pacing of the plot.  As soon as the narrator reaches the qasr, all kind of action stagnated.  She spends her day shuffling from gardens, to weaving room, to servant’s quarter, all relatively uneventful.  Aside from her seemingly random vision, nothing was driving the story forward.  We were made aware there’s a menacing presence lurking within Lo-Melkhiin, however neither it nor the narrator made any real effort to challenge the other person.  I was bored to tears in between the long winded descriptions and the stasis of the plot.  Hence, despite the GORGEOUS cover and palatable writing, I can’t rate it higher than a 3 stars out of 5.

If you’re looking for an excellent 1001 Nights retelling, go read In The Night Garden by Catherynne Valente instead.  If you’re looking for a romantic story in s similar setting, just go read The Wrath and The Dawn.  I’d save this one for a rainy day.

Top Ten Tuesday: Fairy Tale Retellings

As mentioned multiple times on this blog, fairy tale retellings are my favourite ever.  So this Top Ten Tuesday made me jump in glee.  As always it is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish!

Top Ten Tuesday, TTT

The first fives are some of my all time most beloved books.  Catherynne Valente and Juliet Marillier appears twice each because they are literary goddesses, for whom I am not worthy.


1.  Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier is my favourite Beauty and the Beast retelling ever, and I have encountered them in numerous iterations.  From the setting, to the complex characters, to the intense, passionate romance – every part of this book is perfect.

2.  Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier is the book that made me converted from a fan to blind adoration and worship. Based off The Six Swans, this is a heartbreaking, intense, ultimately rewarding tale about the world’s best sister and her struggle to save her brother.  Also the romance? Swoon.

3.  In The Night Gardens + The City of Coins & Spices by Catherynne Valente is the 1001 Nights retelling everyone should be reading.  I reread this series once a year, I will never shut up about it, I will also never stop being amazed at the sheer genius and mastery of language and plot in this story.  There are literal hundreds of tales being tied together seamlessly.  All the characters defy expectations, and amazing female characters bursting at the seams. Omg, read it, read it.  I must review it when I reread it this year.

4.  Deathless by Catherynne Valente gave me the world’s worst book hangover.  This is a retelling of the Russian fairy tale Koschei the Deathless.  At first a fairy tale, then a devastating tale of war, ultimately a dark story about love and finding one’s identity and omg feels.  I want to reread this one, but the last time I read it I literally could not pick up another book for a whole week.

5.  Fables by Bill Willingham is so fun, subversive, unexpected, and with amazingly beautiful art.  I don’t often read graphic novels but I go gaga for this one.  If you like Once Upon A Time TV show, you should be throwing yourself at these books because they are amazing and possibly better.


6.  The Child Thief by Gerald Brom, I always knew Peter Pan was kind of an asshole (all kids are :P) so I am totally all for a dark retelling of it.

7.  Speakeasy:  12 Dancing Princesses (possibly the world’s cutest fairy tale), the Roaring 20s, and CATHERYNNE VALENTE.  I must have it.

8.  The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness I’ve read and really enjoyed though it’d decidedly different from all his other novels (all his novels are different from one another, that’s why I love him).  Plus it’s based on an Asian fairy tale not often portrayed at all in fiction (the only other instance I can think of is the manga Ceres).

9.  The Darkest Part of the Forest in Holly Black sounds like a very interesting retelling of Snow White, plus it has good reviews from sources I trust.  I am intrigued!

10.  The Sleeper and The Spindle:  Neil Gaiman, some princesses that saves themselves, and gorgeous illustrations.  How do I not already own this? *goes off to bookdepository*

For more fairy tale retellings check out my two lists HERE & HERE.


Book Review: Cruel Beauty

Beauty and the Beast by Rosamund Hodge


Title:  Cruel Beauty

Author: Rosamund Hodge

Series?  No

Rating: 4/5 stars


Book Depository

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you already know I go a bit gaga over fairy tale retelling – having composed two lists of all the ones I could find here & here.  Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite tales to see retold, so let me compare Cruel Beauty to the original tale in this review today!


Blending Greek myth & fairy tale, Cruel Beauty is a dark, intense take on the classic tale.


I was raised to marry a monster.

When the novel begins, we learn that Nyx Triskellion has been betrothed to a monster.  Her fate is bound to a bargain her father made before she was born – a bargain that killed her mother during childbirth, leaving her father bitter and hungry for vengeance.  Nyx knew growing up that though she has a twin sister, she’s the one her father chose to sacrifice.  Not only is she to marry this demon lord, she’s to kill him – burdened with the responsibility of saving the whole of Arcadia.


“I was not born to be saved.”

Nyx is a unique protagonist and I loved her narration. She’s been stewing in bitterness since birth – little wonder, as she’s been watching her sister showered with familial love while she is taught the value of heroic sacrifice and the weight of responsibility.  Though she loves her family, she also resents them – I was frustrated and angry on her behalf.

In addition to the great narrative voice and complex emotions, Nyx also has smarts, she’s feisty, and she’s got a helluva lot of agency in the story.  I dislike watching protagonist just bumble along and somehow end up the saviour of the day by blind chance.  It was so refreshing to see a heroine who’s a doer, watching Nyx proactively control her own story was delightful.

Continue reading “Book Review: Cruel Beauty”

Fairy Tale Retelling Masterpost: PART 2


Find Part 1 (Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Red Riding Hood) HERE.


From The Art of Cinderella

One of the most popular fairy tale of all time. Of course it would be: who doesn’t love a rags-to-riches and make over story!

  • Ash by Malinda Lo:  Cinderella falls in love with the Prince’s Huntress instead of the Prince.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer:  The first of the Lunar Chronicles series:  Linh lives in a futuristic world called New Beijing, and she’s half a cyborg! Highly recommended.
  • Bound by Donna Jo Napoli:  The story is retold in a new setting: ancient China.
  • Ash and Brambles by Sarah Prineas:  Pin is a seamstress, forced by the fairy godmother to create ball gowns worthy of those fairy tales. A story on agency and freedom, released in September 2015.
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine:  A classic, Ella is cursed into obedience, but she still finds ways to rebel.
  • Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George: Part of her Twelve Dancing Princesses series. Poppy is the main character, and she finds herself in the middle of a plot schemed by the Fairy Godmother.
  • Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge: A dark novella from the author of Cruel Beauty.  Neither the Cinderella or her prince believes in love. Maia had to pretend to be happy her whole life, as her dead mother made a terrible bargain with the kingdom’s most evil force: any who hurts Maia will be punished by this curse.
  • Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott:  Apparently marketed as Cinderella meets Memoirs of a Geisha. Suzume is trained in the art of shadow-weaving and assumes multiple identities.

Continue reading “Fairy Tale Retelling Masterpost: PART 2”

The Fairy Tale Retelling Masterpost: PART 1


I’ve always been a great fan of fairy tales, whether it be in told through books or Disney movies or comics.  These stories have always been ubiquitous, inspiring generations of writers time and again.  I love a well-done retelling as it refreshes the classic theme to capture a modern audience. However, 2015 is particularly swept up with this fairy tale retelling charm, I can barely keep track of my to-be-read/to-be-watched list.  Below is a list of all the books I have read or hope to read, sorted by tales for your perusal!  I hope someone else also finds this helpful.

Note:  I was inspired to make this post after reading Mishma’s post on book trends on Chasing Faerytales.  I thought that fairy tales, like other trends, aren’t just a passing phase.  They’ve always been around, but it’s our luck that they’re extra prolific on this year’s catalogue of books!

EDIT:  This turned out a longer post than I anticipated, so I will use my authority as blogmistress to declare this Part One of Many.  Featured today are the tales of Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Red Riding Hood and The Little Mermaid.

Snow White

fairy tale retelling, snow white, young adult books
Art by James Jean, Fables Comic.

I’ve always been a little bit creeped out by the tale of Snow White.  I blame this primarily on the dwarves in the Disney version.  It’s also due to the idea of a prince falling in love with a corpse he sees in the forest.  The way the evil queen hounds her in the original version was also dark and twisted – what with poisoned comb and suffocating ribbons.

  • Nameless by Lili St. Crow: An urban fantasy revolving around Cami, the adopted daughter of a mafia lord in a magic-ridden world.  Not sure how this is related to Snow White, but it’s been marketed as such. Plus, bonus pretty cover!
  • Fairest by Gail Carson Levine:  This Snow White isn’t physically beautiful, it’s her magical voice that captivates the prince and enrages the evil Queen.
  • Fairest & Winter by Marissa Meyer:  The Lunar Chronicles series is one big fairy tale story, connecting many beloved princesses. Fairest is a novella that zones in on Queen Levana, whereas we will see Winter feature our dark-skinned Snow White.
  • The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman:  This one mixes Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.  I want it because i) Neil Gaiman! ii) promises of princesses who rescue themselves and iii) the illustrations (by Chris Riddell) that have been floating around the internet are drop dead gorgeous.
  • The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman:   Nag’s End, Rowan’s tranquil village, is thrown into chaos and confusion when five horsemen rides off into the forest and are later found dead.  The book has very polarising reviews, but I’m still interested in checking it out as it seems like a creepy, dark fantasy.
  • Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente:  The protagonist is labelled ‘Snow White’ by her stepmother as an insult, she’s half-native American, so her skin will never be the colour of snow.  This is a mix between Western + fantasy, I do not like Westerns but I do love Catherynne Valente, so I’m very interested in this title.
  • Mirrored by Alex Flinn:  Tbh I was not impressed by Alex Flinn’s take on Beauty & the Beast.  Nonetheless, this version of Snow White focus on the protege of the witch – I love baddies as protagonist so I might have to give this a whirl.
  • Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi:  This book is narrated by the stepmother, her stepdaughter, and her biological daughter.  It’s set in a world without magic and brings up questions about race and identity using the familiar mirror as a symbol.  Again, it has mixed reviews, but it sounds very intriguing!
  • Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis:  Snow White in space, fixing drones in sub-zero temperature.  Where do I sign up?
  • Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Macguire: I confess to never having read any of his books, but I thought he should be included as he’s such a prolific writer of these retellings. It appears to be a cross between historical fiction starring the Borgias & Snow White.
  • Snow, Glass, Apple by Neil Gaiman: A fun short story from the stepmother’s POV, with Snow White as a vampire.
  • White as Snow by Tanith Lee:  A dark retelling of Snow White, with elements of Demeter & Persephone from beloved Greek myths.  Thanks to Glaiza of Paper Wanderer for this recommendation.

Continue reading “The Fairy Tale Retelling Masterpost: PART 1”