Rumplestiltskin meets a steam-punk-esque post-apocalyptic world and an everyman girl in this fairytale-retelling novella.
The story is a competent recast of the classic, and Ms. Pennington has once again crafted a work with deeper philosophical themes.
The protagonist, Amanda, is mostly satisfied with her life working in her father’s mill and tinkering with the robotic assistance machine, until she meets the governor of a neighboring state and a series of unfortunate misunderstandings lands her in a room of junk and scrap, to create high-functioning AI before morning.
Ms. Pennington does well with fleshing out the motives and desires of all the classic characters, and she paints a gut-wrenching picture of the misery that comes from a life built on lies. Though Amanda loves her new life of luxury as the governor’s wife, knowing she owes her place to the secret work of the mysterious midget “Rumpled” haunts her day and night. Tension builds as Amanda builds her castle taller, each new “half-deception” and missed opportunity to confess adding weight upon the very first lie: when her father claimed she could essentially “make gold from straw”.
Rumpled is much more frank about its fairytale roots than is Death Be Not Proud, and while I prefer Death‘s more subtle approach, the references to a Disney-style tale are an effective motif.
The setting was also fun. I’m sure the author did more world-building than we were able to see in this short tale, but the glimpses of a fractured United States, semi-sentient robots, human augmentation, and a Regency/Victorian-esque lifestyle (with servants and horses) was interest-grabbing.
Promising to exchange your firstborn child for something necessitates, well, a discussion of “having children”. Ms. Pennington deals with this whole concept with frankness, but discretion, and there’s nothing in here to embarrass parents or unduly educate young children. On the whole, her narrative approach was one I could respect and appreciate.
Rumpled wasn’t always an easy read, as it frankly exposes the self-inflicted horror of trying to live a falsehood. The ending, however, points to the freedom truth brings…and while there was a bit much bow-tying, that’s appropriate for a fairytale.
Rumpled is available as a Kindle ebook as part of the Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales collection.
To find out more about the author, visit her Amazon author page.