Curiosity Quills Press, 2013, 317 pages
The secret of having an adventure is getting lost. Who ever visited an enchanted kingdom or fell into a fairy tale without wandering into the woods first?
Well, Mary is lost. Mary is lost in the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and that is a cruel and murderous story. She's put on the red hood and met the Wolf. When she gives in to her Wolf's temptations, she will die. That's how the story goes, after all.
Unfortunately for the story and unfortunately for the Wolf, this Little Red Riding Hood is Mary Stuart, and she is the most stubborn and contrary twelve year old the world has ever known.
Forget the Wolf's temptations, forget the advice of the talking rat trying to save her - she will kick her way through every myth and fairy tale ever told until she finds a way to get out of this alive. Her own way, and no one else's.
I'm a fan of Richard Roberts's Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain series. So when this ebook was available for free, I downloaded it, but it took me a long time to get through it.
That's not entirely the fault of the book — a lot of it is the fact that I was reading it on my phone, and whenever I am on my phone I am more likely to get distracted by Facebook or Reddit.
(Read: Another reason why I've been terrible about finishing AQATWA.)
Anyway. Quite Contrary starts with our protagonist, a misanthropic twelve-year-old with the mouth and attitude of a sailor twice her age, going to a party she wasn't invited to, being mocked by all the older kids, and crawling under the house on a dare. This is a pattern for her — she does things she knows are stupid and dangerous but does them anyway because letting someone laugh at her or force her to be reasonable is worse.
For readers of my Alexandra Quick series: if you think Alexandra was an unsympathetic little brat in the first couple of books, Mary makes Alex seem like sweetness and sunshine.
Under the house, she meets a talking rat. Who leads her to a fairytale realm. As Mary will find out repeatedly, fairies are jerks.
Quite Contrary is a portal fantasy with a twist. Mary's Rat explains to her that she is now in a Story — and that whatever Story she is part of will force all the characters in it along its narrative path. This is particularly bad when one winds up in a grim fairy tale, or a horror story.
So when Mary comes across a little red riding hood, and Rat warns her not to put it on, of course she puts the damn thing on.
For the rest of the book, Mary is pursued by a Wolf, who is a genuinely terrifying and creepy villain. He loves his Little Red Riding Hood, loves her the way a man loves a juicy steak, loves her the way a baby loves candy, loves her the way a pedophile loves...
If it's not clear that the Wolf is a metaphor for something very dark (as were most fairy tales to begin with), we eventually learn more about Mary and just why she's such an unsympathetic little bitch. Quite Contrary is stuffed full of allusions to every other tale Roberts could fit into this bloated story. Which was part of the problem — Mary goes from Story to Story, adventure to adventure, finding herself in one land after another on her quest to get home (where she really doesn't want to go) and escape the Wolf. She acquires and loses friends along the way, but at times the story was almost episodic, and many of the transitions didn't entirely make sense. And Mary's volatile behavior manifests itself in volatile actions that make her seem like an inscrutable manic-depressive at times — "Wait, she did what? Why???"
Richard Roberts has a great imagination and a gift for storytelling, but I think he needs a lot more discipline in his writing. This story wasn't as much fun as the "Supervillain" series, but it had the same merits and flaws. I'd read more by him, and hope he continues to polish his craft.
Also by Richard Roberts: My reviews of Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain and Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon.
My complete list of book reviews.