Get caught up in Tangleweed and Brine’s feminist fairy tale retellings


United By Pop received a free copy of Tangleweed and Brine in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are our own.

Title: Tangleweed and Brine

Author: Deirdre Sullivan

Purchase: Available in the UK and the US

Overall rating: 5/5

Great for: Fans of Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, and the Brothers Grimm

Themes: Young adult, short stories, fairy tales, retellings and feminism

Review: ‘Tangleweed and Brine’ is an anthology of thirteen tales of darkness and disorder featuring the gorgeously eerie illustrations of Karen Vaughan. Based on the writings of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, these fantastical re-imaginings transcend the conventional image of the female, immortalised in these early, traditional fairy tales.

Fairy tales were traditionally used as a moralistic warning for young readers, but here they warn against overlooking the females they focus on. Instead of fainting damsels awaiting a young knight to rescue them, these princesses are saving themselves!

“Words are not truth”, so begins one of the tales in this anthology. And the author has proven this. ‘Tangleweed and Brine’ reworks the thirteen original stories focused on and transgresses the boundaries of the image of the hapless heroine whose destiny lies in the hands of another, to one who would look internally for a saviour. This feminist vision of the female condition and a scathing insight into a society that would see it silenced is both profoundly complex and easily accessible.

Retellings are popular and numerous, but with so many already available how does this one begin to compare and compete?

Well, the answer is: with ease!

Read on to discover what wonders it has in store for its readers.

Tangleweed and Brine by Deidre Sullivan

Slippershod – 5/5 stars

“People like their women to be lovely. Women are a lot of different things.”

The Tangleweed portion of the title, ‘Tangleweed and Brine’ begins with this tale.

This ‘Cinderella’ retelling immediately intrigued me with its wry-sounding title. The details of the original tale are well-known and the title recalls the defining and timeless imagery associated with it. Sullivan uses the reader’s knowledge to her advantage and cleverly allows the same image to define her story, but with a very different meaning behind it.

This evokes a campfire-feel as the narrator appears to be divulging this tale directly to the reader. The use of ‘you’ in place of the character’s name gave this a distinctly eerie feel from the very beginning. The reader feels they become the infamous Cinderella and so feels every one of her burdens and, later, every one of her hopes for the future.


The Woodcutter’s Bride – 5/5 stars

“Hoods are funny things. Mostly dark, evoking executioners.”

Red Riding Hood‘s story is retold from the perspective of the title’s namesake. The young girl of the original is an older female, here, and has seen such sorrow as to make this a darker tale than the original could ever be.

The narrator’s suffering is painfully clear and the clever use of the abundant and untold horrors of the forest is used to illustrate this. Nature depicting emotion seems to be a theme in this anthology.

Of the real horrors she faces; these are abstractly referenced, allowing the reader to use the darkest parts of their imagination to fill in the blanks. The fantastical wolf of the original could never be as evil as that which is inflicted by man.

I again felt an affinity for a female only introduced a few short pages ago and felt a fierce hope for her future happiness. The open-ended conclusion allowed the reader to further impart their own vision on to the affairs that followed, however.


Come Live Here and be Loved – 4/5 stars

“there is more love inside you. There are many chambers in a heart.”

This ‘Rapunzel‘ re-imagining precedes the events of the original. This gives voice to the longing of a child in such a lyrical way as to evoke the protagonist’s feelings in my own heart. Her longing is total and her grief at her lack is sublime. Once finally blessed with a child the imagery of nature is used to display pregnancy in all its wild, feral beauty.

This begins as a far softer piece than the previous two, but no less feminist for its lack of gore. It heartens me that this proves to all the disbelievers that feminism can be many things. And one of its faces is an appreciation for the magic of women. And what is more magical than carrying the life of another inside of you?


You Shall Not Suffer…  – 4/5 stars

“The world’s not built for soft and sturdy things. It like its soft things small and white, defenceless. Princesses in castles. Maidens waiting for the perfect sword.”

Hansel and Gretel‘ has always been my favourite fairy tale and I found the gingerbread house, and the slowly fattening children within, a deliciously terrifying image, as a child. I never gave much thought to the crone that put them there.

This gives reasons for my childhood horror, and the reason is not so horrifying after all. With only a heart that wants to nurture, the evil of the original tale is shown in a less harsh and more protective light, here. The actual evil comes in the form of society’s judgement, throwing the original in an entirely new light.

Tangleweed and Brine

Meet the Nameless Thing and Call it Friend – 3/5 stars

“There are so many creatures in the world. Horrid, grasping things. And was she one? Is the lack she always felt inside her a sign of something broken, something wrong?”

Rumplestiltskin‘ is given another unique title!

This story speaks of man’s ideals concerning the female body. It gives voice to the female the patriarch would see silenced and, in doing so, shows the individual as far more than what society values her for.

The female in question is beloved for her golden hair but denied a husband due to her larger than average stature, calloused hands, and hefty strength. Far from the wilting and petite image of the accepted female she is shunned by her father and and society. But fate has other plans for her…

This gives reason behind the Tangleweed of the title, ‘Tangleweed and Brine’, and invites to reader to assess their valuation of themselves and others.


Sister Fair – 4/5 stars

“You are a collection of your parts… Beauty and a womb.”

I was not previously acquainted with the original tale, ‘Fair, Brown and Trembling‘ but have since learnt that it is an Irish ‘Cinderella’ story.

Told from the perspective of one of the ‘ugly stepsisters’ this transforms their position from the traditional jealous siblings to something more. And something less. They are simply other females expected to perform to society’s set expectations.

Cinderella, or as she is here named Trembling, is seen as the fairest and, thus, excluded from family life and relegated to the kitchens. She has a distinct lack of understand about the way of the world and, without even realising it, her sisters protect her by allowing her this enclosed existence. Not from hatred however, but from fear. Fear for themselves; for if she were to marry first everyone would know the eldest not to be the fairest. Fear for her; an innocence shattered by the men who wish for conformation. It isn’t the stepsisters who resigned their youngest sibling to her fate, it is society.


Ash Pale – 3.5/5 stars

“It is heavy being white as snow, with rose-red cheeks and hair so dark that combs of ebony get eaten up and fade to naught inside.”

As may have been gathered from the title, which references the heroine’s renowned, pale skin, this is a ‘Snow White‘ retelling. The queen here is not the evil crone of the original but simply a female, also abused by a society that would see her conform or be damned. Instead of driven by a raging jealousy for her step-daughter’s beauty, the queen is, instead, simply content with her lot.

It is Snow White who holds the evil inside of her, and the former innocent being who would see her new mother’s reign at an end. Opposed to the commoner-come-queen – lacking any royal lineage of her own and simply a vessel for the future heir – she takes actions into her own bloodied hands.


Consume or be Consumed – 5/5 stars

“There is a fish that lives inside the body of the female. She consumes him and he serves her well.”

The original ‘A Little Mermaid‘ is far darker than the Disney movie adaptation, and this new reworking is darker yet again. The Brine portion of the title, ‘Tangleweed and Brine’ begins with this adventure into the murky depths of the sea.

This completely de-romanticised the original tale. Instead of simply longing for another, this about the mermaid sacrificing all she is for a man. It allows an aggressive insight into the world, from the perspective of one new to it and the reader is invited to share in the absurdity of how we treat the female of our species.

Tangleweed and Brine

Doing Well – 5/5 stars

“In Every castle there are hidden rooms. For hidden women.”

The Frog Prince‘ is one fairy tale difficult to acquire unless in a bind-up including other of the Brothers Grimm’s tales, so it was refreshing to see it reproduced here.

This again allows the reader to focus on the cruelty inflicted on females and the narrowness of options open to them by using the fantastical elements of the text to reflect real life. One of the most abstract pieces in the anthology, this blurs the lines between the frog and the human being it once was. Both are mirrored in the actions of the other and the female is dually its saviour and its prisoner. Any romance of the original is eradicated here and is, instead, replaced by a blunt narration of events.


The Tender Weight – 5/5 stars

“Princesses are bred to feel things more. To fear the ways in which the world can hurt them. To close their eyes. To listen. To say yes. To bruise.”

Another favourite of mine, this reworks the legend of ‘Bluebeard‘. I wondered how Sullivan’s re-imagining would compare to Angela Carter’s previous, renowned feminist retelling in her anthology, ‘The Bloody Chamber‘.

This did not try to compete and, instead, became something entirely its own. This begun much like the original but the differences lay into the portrayal of Bluebeard, himself. He is gentle and kind. He is not the traditional figure of demanding authority. Knowledge of the former, however, continues to shadow the text and the reader is given many moments in which to pass judgement, all adding to the surprise at the outcome.


Riverbed – 4/5 stars

“Witches burn, and sometimes men catch fire.”

The original, ‘Donkeyskin‘, was another I was unfamiliar with. I love how ‘Tangleweed and Brine’ has provided me with both the known and the unknown!

This was, perhaps, the most distressing read of all. The bleakness depicted is that of the female condition. One where even to be queen is still to be a silent, powerless thing. But this also a story of hope. One where a female takes her destiny into her own hands and rids herself of the evil surrounding her.


The Little Gift – 5/5 stars

“There is no end of hurts that can be visited on the powerless.”

The tale of ‘The Goose Girl‘ became a tale about something else entirely! Instead of a tale about a princess, this is of the woman who attends her. Rilla, raised with and now attending to the princess, tells the tale of her lowly lot in life. Despite a shared upbringing with her upper-class companion, her lesser status means the blame for any of their wrong-doings was always hers to bear. Whip marks and bruises are the artwork that adorns her body and tell of their sins. The thing that binds them, however, is that whether high-born or low, they are both destined to become property of a man. The other thing, is their love for each other.


Beauty and the Board – 4/5 stars

“Her mother knew the value and the danger. Of being something people liked to watch.”

With the recent release of the movie adaptation starring Emma Wason, as well as the lasting popularity of the Disney version, the tale of ‘Beauty and the Beast‘ has continually been retold, with a variation in success. One of my favourite YA book series is also a loosely-based retelling, so this story had big opposition to appeal.

This was the most dissimilar to the original tale but I loved it nonetheless for it. This seemed to have a modern feel to it or, dare I say, one as told as time? The focus was entirely on one female and her commandment of a spirit to save her from the beast to be her husband. Short but startling in its confrontation of the issues of an enforced matrimony that would leave an individual to go to such grave lengths.

So explore the absurd and re-imagine the expected: pre-order ‘Tangleweed and Brine’ today.

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