Book Review: Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe, by Valentine Wheeler
by B.B. | 02/10/2021
If you’re new here, you might not know that I am a sucker for fairy tales, especially when they are LGBTQ+ retellings of the fabled classics. If you’re an avid reader of The Queerblr, then you absolutely know how much of a sucker I am for fairy tale retellings! Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe by Valentine Wheeler is a short story retelling of Cinderella with a different kind of love in the happily ever after that I was delighted to have a chance an advanced copy of.
Before Catherine’s father died, she was his treasured daughter and the heir to his textile empire. Now she’s just her stepmother’s servant and a pawn to be married off. A ball at the castle might be just what she needs to take her mind off her upcoming marriage to a horrible wool merchant.
Prince Heinrich doesn’t want a wife, but as the only heir to the throne he knows he’ll need to marry–even though he has no interest in romance or sex. When a mysterious woman at the ball in his honor is completely unimpressed by him, he’s intrigued. Could she be the partner he’s been looking for?
And when catastrophe strikes both their families, how can their arrangement hold together?
Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe is short, just over ninety pages long, and averages about a two-hour read according to Amazon. It is a retelling of the classic Cinderella fairy tale of a woman whose father has died and left her to live under the thumb of a contemptable stepmother. True to the fairy tale that most of us grew up with, Catherine, the Cinderella of the story, has two younger step-sisters; but in Wheeler’s short story, Catherine also has two even younger brothers. There is a ball where Catherine meets the Prince and she loses an ornate shoe as she tries to make it home, the Prince searches the land for the mysterious woman of the ball by making all the women in a certain age range try on said ornate shoe, and other major points of the classic story. Wheeler, however, takes this tale as old as time for a little bit of a twist.
With this story being so short, the narrative relies on the reader knowing and understanding the original source material. Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe glosses over the whole fairy god mother thing and how magic works in the realm – they just work and the reader has to accept it because we’re already at the ball; there’s no time to worry about the magical logistics of the house cat turned carriage horse. Really. It’s no big deal. Catherine’s fairy god mother, who has regrettably been a little absent in her life, has the night of the ball on lock and that’s all the reader needs to know. So long as the reader is alright doing a little bit of the setting work by relying on their memory of the tale, the story reads pretty well. It speeds through most of the story that the original tale covers and for a short story I was fine with it, though there were definitely moments where I was a bit confused as things happened in quick succession but eventually caught up after a paragraph re-read or reading ahead a page or two.
There are a lot of little things that I really enjoyed about this book. In the original source material for Cinderella, things are done for her through magic or through the Prince Charming character proposing to her and whisking her away from her evil step mother. Though being proposed to by the prince holds true in this retelling, Catherine is the one who solves several other problems, not just for herself but for her family. She has a strong affection for her step-sisters and even her younger brothers, despite them trying to dowse her with chamber pot refuse in the opening scene which also goes against the original fable. Catherine sees a problem and attempts to work through it and doesn’t wait for someone else to fix if for her which I really appreciated.
The other thing I really loved about this retelling is that although it is a happily ever after – it isn’t a love story, not a romantic one at any rate. As the summary of the book speaks to, Catherine is a woman who is attracted to other women and Prince Heinrich is asexual and not at all interested in marriage and the production of heirs. The book shows these two characters coming together by circumstance, being candid with each other about who they are and what they want, and choosing to be together for each other’s benefit. They have open and honest communication and despite how quickly the narrative moves, the reader gets to see the genuine platonic love that they develop for each other and it is quite heartwarming.
My main criticism for Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe is that I wish it were longer, that some scenes slowed down a little, and that there was a little more character development or explanation for a few side characters, like Aunt Elke (who I’m still not sure if she’s actually Catherine’s blood relative or if Aunt is honorific). There is enough material here for Wheeler to turn this ninety-page book into something well over three hundred pages, especially if the narrative explored more of Catherine’s attraction to women and what an extramarital affair with a woman would look like with her arrangement with Prince Heinrich. I mean, it isn’t a bad thing to want more and I don’t see it as a negative on the book by any means! I as a reader just wanted more from Wheeler’s perspective and would have happily read a much longer book because it was unique take on a classic and, like I said earlier, I’m a sucker for fairy tales. Especially if they’re queer. In general I would absolutely love to get lost in a much longer book by Wheeler, fairy tale retelling or otherwise. Wheeler is so good at creating heartwarming stories with characters that I want to know more about and I’d love to be able to spend more time with their narratives, the places they build, and the characters they create that touch a different part of my heart as I read.
The asexual representation and the platonic love in Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe was heartwarming and refreshing to read. This short story is a great afternoon read if you’re in need of a smile and a princess who is fully prepared to save her own self, her step-siblings, a family business, and the whole kingdom if need be.
4 out of 5 Rainbows
Recommended Reader: Anyone. Really – this story is short, to the point, and has a wonderful message about familial and platonic love. If you’re looking for a different kind of happily ever after, this is your book.
Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe: A Cinderella Story is coming out on February 15th, 2021 and is available for pre-order right now!
Book Provided by Author: The Queerblr was provided a copy of Give Way for free by the author; this has in no way affected the review and rating of the book that was written by The Queerblr.
Tune in next week for our review of Felix Ever After, by Kacen Callender!