Once (A Collection of Retellings of Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Hua Mulan) by Cameron Dokey

While roaming the young adult section of my local library, a certain novel (or, rather, a collection of novels) immediately grabbed my attention. With all of the new takes and spin-offs of classic fairy tales, I’d discovered that it was easy to get wrapped up in a familiar plot with creative twists that can turn any elegant, time-tested tale in a number of different directions. Once, by Cameron Dokey, seemed like an interesting read, at least something that would keep me occupied over spring break. Never having quite enough time in bookstores to find exactly what I want, the book that I finally select is typically a roll of the dice.
The book tells the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Hua Mulan before, during, and after their fairy tale adventures. I doubt that a recapitulation of the three plots is necessary, as most people are at least somewhat familiar with the stories.
In each story, Ms. Dokey devotes a good portion of the book to backstory, something that might ordinarily bother me, but, knowing how each plot ultimately unfolds, actually adds to the three stories. The heroines do not fall into the traps of being overly passive (or overly aggressive, for that matter), instead being relatable characters. The three also had unique personalities, which prevented the stale sense of déjà vu that often accompanies such collections.
The fatal flaw of the stories, I’m afraid, is Ms. Dokey’s writing. It’s not so much the quality of the writing as it is the consistency. At certain points, she narrates her scenes quite well, bringing her characters to life excellently. However, she tends to get carried away with descriptions and her many, many, many metaphors. Eventually, these simply lose their power and become almost laughable during parts of the story. A few “original” characters are also painfully cliché (the wise, old woman who bears no relation to the main character whatsoever, but provides her with an overflowing reservoir of wisdom), as well as the plot (or occasional lack thereof).
Overall, these stories are great for anyone who’s looking for some light reading to pass time during a vacation or long weekend, a good beach book, or just a refreshing break from deeper, darker books that may challenge one’s attention span.





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