History + classic fairy-tale = Success
Author: Elisabeth Sahlmueller
Water Song by Suzanne Weyn is an excellent historical retelling of The Frog Prince. Weyn creatively incorporates the setting and details of the First World War into the story, but also includes important elements from the original fairytale.
The story takes place on the Western Front in Belgium after the war has begun and spans three year from 1915 until 1918, after the allies have won the war. Emma Winthrop is a young girl from a wealthy family who leaves her boarding school in London to travel to Belgium with her mother to make sure their family estate located there is okay. Their family estate is significantly located on top of Vimy Ridge between opposing sides: the allies and the central powers.
Unfortunately, Emma and her mom do not find safety from war’s hardships in Belgium. While visiting Ypres, a city near their estate, Emma’s mother is killed. Her daughter is left alone in the house with Claudine and Willem, the two housekeepers whom she is unable to speak with because they speak a different language.
After seven months, Emma is beyond frustrated. She is unsure of what to do, but knows it’s not safe for her to leave. When Emma receives a letter from her boyfriend Lloyd breaking up with her, she crumbles and throws her golden locket containing his picture into the well. The next morning she realizes that she has made a huge mistake because the locket is a family heirloom and underneath Lloyd’s picture is a photo of her parents.
Determined to regain her golden locket, Emma heads out to the well, only to discover a man lying at the very bottom. This man, Jack Sprat resembles the frog from the original fairytale with his swimming abilities and his strange appearance with the skin peeling off his face as a result of coming into contact with poisonous gas.
Shortly after Emma helps Jack out of the well, they are captured and taken as prisoners by German soldiers, causing Emma to lie about their relationship for their safety. As the Germans take control of Vimy Ridge and the Winthrop estate, Emma is forced to spy for helpful information for the German soldiers. Jack appears to be resting from his war injuries and he is, but he is also engaging in something that will advance the allies’ side.
After Jack seems to have recovered, Emma asks him if he can retrieve her locket, but his response is to strike up a bargain. He will get it for her if she promises to be his true friend. She immediately agrees, not realizing what that really means. Both of them are forced to rethink their prejudices against each other, and, as they spend further time together, they realize that there is more to the other than they previously thought.
What I enjoy most is that throughout the entire book readers gain an understanding of World War One through the characters’ own perspectives. The poisonous gas attacks, air bomb raids, the German U-boat campaign, and the sinking of the Lusitania seem more real for the readers.
There are differences between this story and the fairytale, The Frog Prince, such as using a golden locket instead of a golden ball and a modern wealthy girl instead of a princess, but it doesn’t change this story’s quality. History and fairytales aren’t often brought together, but Weyn’s novel is proof that it can be done and done well. I strongly recommend this book because it’s a great blend of history and a classical fairytale.