The final book in our season of fairytale retellings is an enchanting novella from an independent publisher.
Rhea has a hedgehog.
It’s probably not going to be enough.
The Seventh Bride is a retelling of Bluebeard, a sort of gothic horror fairytale in which a young wife discovers that all her predecessors have been murdered by her husband. In this version, Rhea is forced to marry the mysterious Lord Crevan — she doesn’t want to, but neither she nor her family can manage to say ‘no’. When she arrives at his manor house, most of the previous wives are still alive, but have all had something taken from them, and Rhea wonders what it is he wants from her.
I was captivated by the premise as soon as I read the blurb (reproduced above), which is the best I’ve read for absolutely ages — who wouldn’t want to read about a girl and her hedgehog taking on an evil sorcerer?
The story is deliciously creepy, from the way Rhea and her family are forced to agree to the mysterious Lord Crevan’s every request, to the white road lined with talking gargoyle birds that leads to his house, and the assorted women she finds when she gets there: Maria the cook, who has lost her magic, beautiful Sylvie who has lost her sight, and grim Ingeth who has lost her voice. And those are just the wives Rhea can see… The eeriness and pervading sense of fear was maintained throughout, and I was left guessing about how it would resolve right up to the very end.
This creepy setting is offset by the tone of the writing, however, which is colloquial and jolly, and by Rhea herself, who is at once suspicious of all the magic going on around her and determined to make the best of it. She also has a hedgehog, which is probably not a magic hedgehog but definitely more than it appears, and is the source of some of the more comical scenes in the book.
Lord Crevan is an abusive, controlling husband, who sets his wives tasks and punishes them if they fail. He’s so oppressive, even the house itself seems to know whether he’s home or not. Bluebeard was originally a tale warning young women in an age where marriage was much more of an unknown, and in a similar way, this story has things to say about the nature of domestic abuse, coercive control, and the different ways that victims might react.
You can buy The Seventh Bride here.
For another retelling of Bluebeard, try the title story in The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter — the original and the best collection of fairytale retellings.