"Bedtime Stories," Jean Johnson

Pros: Beautiful re-imagined fairy tales
Cons: Some of these really needed more space & development
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of Penguin Group.

 

Bedtime Stories: A Collection of Erotic Fairy Tales is an anthology by Jean Johnson, who brought us the wonderful “Sons of Destiny” series. This time she takes a bunch of traditional fairy tales and turns them on their heads, giving them new contexts and an erotic twist. Or as the back of the book says, “an anthology of scandalous imagination that gives new meaning to the words happy ending.”

The eight stories included in this anthology are The Frog Prince, The Courtship of Wali Daad, The Princess on the Glass Hill, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Puss-in-Boots, and The King Who Heard a Joke.

The frog prince in Johnson’s tale helps the princess to rescue, well, not exactly a golden ball, and the requirements for his transformation are somewhat trickier than those in the usual story. It’s an amusing take on the tale, in particular for the frog’s-eye view on things. The prince is an entertaining character well worth spending time with.

Wali Daad’s tale was my favorite by far, and is both funny and sweet. The erotic part of the tale isn’t even the focus, but that’s just fine—I adored this one. Wali Daad is a poor man who inadvertently ends up playing matchmaker for two very powerful people, and circumstances align in some highly entertaining ways.

The sci-fi take on the tale of the glass hill was the one that fell flat for me. It was a good concept, but I felt that it needed rather more space. The characters weren’t developed well enough for me to buy into the plot and character developments, and there wasn’t enough conflict to get in the way of the conclusion. It could easily have been developed into something twice as long.

The “Snow White” tale will be a real treat for readers of Jean Johnson’s Nightfall books, since it revisits that world and does provide a few small glimpses of familiar characters. They aren’t the main characters, however—instead we get a fascinating glimpse into a very unusual marital arrangement. I think the story would be accessible enough to people unfamiliar with the world, but it’ll be particularly delightful to long-time fans.

“Sleeping Beauty” gets turned on its head, gender-wise, and is the second sci-fi tale in this book. This time the character development and conflict really shine through, and the story is delightfully fast-paced. Like the Nightfall books, it showcases Johnson’s talent for world-building.

As for Beauty and her Beast, another sci-fi tale brings us a nice interpretation of this familiar tale. I won’t say there’s anything amazingly new here, but it’s a solidly enjoyable story.

Puss-in-Boots is another one of my favorites, a tale in which the cat in question happens to be a noblewoman trying to escape an evil rival through shifting her shape. With the help of a handsome young man, she sets out to reclaim her home and take revenge for her family. We definitely get to see Jean’s more playful side emerge in the erotic material here! As long as you enjoy some laughter with your sex, that’s a great thing.

Jean tells a rather unusual version of the tale of the king who heard a joke. In her story, a farmer named Jack King accidentally clues his curious wife in to the existence of an unusual ability he has when she finds him laughing so hard he can’t breathe—seemingly alone in the barn. The only problem is, he isn’t allowed to tell anyone about that ability, and if he does, the consequences will be grave. How he tries to solve this problem is highly entertaining—and deliciously sizzling.

 

I think Jean is a stronger writer in the long form—some of these stories definitely felt like they could have benefited from more space to develop the characters, plot, and/or world. That said, I enjoyed her take on these traditional tales!

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8 comments on “"Bedtime Stories," Jean Johnson
  1. More and more now I’m seeing the big publishers taking forays into erotica, it’s a good thing I think.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Deliciously sizzling? Humiliating and hitting his wife? Equality my as*, what crap. That story had a revolting turn.

    • heather says:

      Jennifer: I see a definite line between consensual, mutually-enjoyed submission/domination (whether or not it’s your thing, some people enjoy it) and non-consensual acts. Some fiction definitely comes down on the abusive line—see also some of Christine Feehan’s recent books (such as Burning Wild). And, of course, the line is different for each reader, as we all have our own mores and morals. To me, this story works because of several things. The husband was trying to find a way to avoid a far worse fate for both himself and his wife. For that time period, his overall behavior was actually quite gentle and caring—that context is relevant. Johnson explains up front that this story was tough for her, as I recall, and that she was doing her best to ride the fine line between the context of the attitudes of the time the story was written in vs. modern sensibilities. And as it happened, the whole experience ended up being satisfying and enjoyable for both the husband and his wife. You’re certainly welcome to view it differently—there are those subjective mores & morals again!

  3. Jennifer says:

    His wife was not consenting, therefore it was wrong; the line is very clear. What she thought afterwards is irrelevant. He treated her like a child and totally abused the entire concept of equality; I was flabbergasted. Apparently, his idea of equality is “if she gets to do something wrong, me too”. We’re supposed to excuse his childishness because in general he was nicer than he COULD have been in that time period? I’ve seen far more abusive spanking stories and both the reactions of the spanked women and the proud attitudes of the husband (always “I love you, I’m doing this for your own good”) are exactly the same as they were in this story. The husband’s excuse was the weakest of all: whapping her was the only way to save them both from disaster? Quite honestly, I’ve seen that kind of pitiful reasoning in various abusive cases and the thought pattern is very dangerous as well as wrong. People need to take responsibility and stop doing wrong because they think it’ll right something. Even in fiction, because stories influence people unbelievably and I’m sick of all the moral relativism that causes pain which I’ve seen, over and over, in “popular” shows and stories. This kind of light treatment of abuse is very wrong and far more dangerous than it looks.

    Thanks for allowing me to vent!

    • heather says:

      If domination issues within historical romance bother you, I recommend that you lay the blame at the feet of readers rather than authors. Authors who write historical romances where the heroine has a level of independence that doesn’t fit the time period (unless, of course, she’s a time traveler from the future, which is how many authors solve the problem) get harshed on by readers who want their historicals to be accurate to the time period. I’ve seen authors try to give their historical heroines more freedom time and time again, only to have audiences reject it. The audience cares more about the accuracy of their historicals than having modern values represented in them—and as long as that’s the case, that’s what you’re going to see published.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Seriously? I’ve been reading historical novels for ages and they’ve always managed to have a reasonably strong heroine who doesn’t behave like a time traveler. Besides this, there have been real strong women throughout history, some would say with 20th century values, but I don’t think women with a healthy concept of self-respect should have to be considered modern. I’m not entirely surprised at what you say though, since historical ROMANCES like the current typical bodice-ripping ones do indeed seem to attract mostly simple-minded and bimbo-like females. The idea that the only alternative is to have the male beat the female lead, however, is nonsense. I don’t see that applying to this case anyway, since Johnson seemed to just think that spanking was either appropriate for the erotica or presenting some other story-purpose. There have been strong women defying thier times throughout history and there IS a perfectly realistic way to write them; it doesn’t have to be at the expense of historical accuracy. For many, in fiction and otherwise, a woman with a strong mind alone suffices.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Anyways, for the most part I loved the book. I loved every other aspect of the last story too, and Johnson’s worlds are fascinating.

  6. heather says:

    The funny part is, just today someone posted a comment on my review of Burning Wild that’s pretty much the total opposite of yours. You might find the discussion over there interesting, as that book is far worse than the final story in this one.

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