I’d love for you to read every chapter, but you can skim the summaries and dive in anywhere that interests you.
Harvest time/Indian Summer. [Planting season, Spring through Summer]. Countryside of an un-named land with a German-English-French feel. 1600’s-1800’s era or so.
Lizzie Borden, 16, peasant, unimaginative but bold
Lord Bluebeard, 40-ish, wealthy and of mysterious reputation
Widow Borden, Lizzie’s mother
Hescher & Jacobi, Lizzie’s older brothers (soldiers for the king’s army)
Bluebeard’s 35 previous wives, most prominent: Joanna, Magda, Taisia, Fabiana
Bri & the ‘Gray People’, unseen servants at the castle
The Horse of Power (and the Horse of Day, Night & Dawn)
Blackwings the Raven
Graylegs the Wolf
Silverscales the Salmon
Baba Yaga, the mother of all witches
The Golem, a clay-and-word guardian
The Chimera, a lion-sheep-serpent hybrid
Sixteen-year-old Lizzie Borden comes home early from the potato field and overhears a stranger (with an even stranger blue beard) tell her widowed mother that he seeks a wife. She’s shocked– but also exhilarated (how many ways can a girl change her prospects?)– to hear her mother agree to marry off Lizzie. They leave that afternoon for his estate.
After riding all afternoon, they arrive at Bluebeard’s enormous estate at dusk. No servants are evident and the house ‘tends to itself,’ hinting at magic. After supper Lizzie stumbles upon a locked tower door. Before she can investigate, her new husband calls her to bed.
Lizzie is with Bluebeard for the first time. Time alternates between fast and slow. The experience is both terrifying and thrilling. Her old clothes are torn and discarded and she doesn’t find them when she wakes.
Lizzie wakes alone and dresses in the new clothes laid out for her. After dining alone, she is reminded of when her two brothers left for the war nearly 7 years ago. She goes to the stable to brush down the horse, but is chastised by Bluebeard who tells her a wife belongs with the house. He tells her he is leaving for business and gives her a key, saying she may open any room except the one atop the North Tower.
After Bluebeard rides off, Lizzie revels in this being “her house,” then falls into a sulk. She recalls how recently her mother had talked of marriage to a local farm boy, and how she had gone to the witch’s well and wished for something better. She knows she’s going to open the forbidden door.
Lizzie finds room upon room of treasures, though none of the doors require her key. She dresses in a new gown and puts on rings and a string of pearls. She stumbles upon the stairs to the forbidden tower. She’s about to go up when a bell jangles. She breaks the pearls, runs downstairs and is shocked to find Bluebeard back. They eat dinner.
Lizzie sits alone at the table a long time, then decides to wash the plates. Her gown, earrings, etc seem to whisper to her about what husbands want. Lizzie is surprised to find Bluebeard in ‘her’bed, and more surprised to discover she relishes “being a wife.” Until she finds the pearls, restrung, on her pillow.
For the second time, Lizzie sleeps late. She is troubled by the bruises acquired the night before. She rallies, even goofs off before the mirror (still naked: there are no new clothes). Bluebeard appears and is angry that she calls herself “Lizzie” and not only “wife.” Again danger/fear merge into seduction.
Some time passes: Lizzie learns the language of sex. She is less and less ‘Lizzie’ and more ‘Wife,’ and drunk on it. Then she realizes she is pregnant. But the news is not received well at all.
Bluebeard is gone much longer than ever before. Lizzie miscarries and is depressed. One night she follows the sound of a child crying: she opens the door of the forbidden tower room. It’s filled with the ghosts of Bluebeard’s wives (and a tub of bodies).
Lizzie meets the ghosts of Bluebeard’s previous wives. She remembers her name, which she hasn’t spoken in weeks. She agrees to save them, and to save herself.
Lizzie has something to eat and changes out of the bloody slip. She talks with some of the ghosts about how Bluebeard came to her village (and to theirs). She learns that the blood doesn’t wash off the key, and will give her secret away when Bluebeard returns.
[Ghosts are nameless and nicknames are assigned]
Lizzie is asked to find the ghosts’ stolen shoes and piece their bodies back together (which will free them, and *might* bring them back to life). But first she makes a poison to kill her husband, who could return at any time.
Lizzie can’t sleep for fear Bluebeard will return. She gets up and opens the front door and realizes the stolen shoes are more likely to be hidden outside, where she is forbidden to go. She remembers playing hide-and-seek with her brothers, takes courage… and stumbles upon a cellar door.
Lizzie tries to get into the cellar— and discovers a green eye looking out through the keyhole. She tries the imposter key… and it works! Before she can get answers, a sudden wind blows the door shut and she tumbles into the cellar with the green-eyed girl, Bri, and other prisoners.
Lizzie is trapped in the cellar. Then Bri explains that the cellar people are in debt to ‘the master.’ She leads Lizzie down a tunnel and reveals a magical copy of the castle. They set the table (and Lizzie learns Bluebeard will return home for dinner). Bri uncorks the wine to breathe, and Lizzie pours in the poison.
Lizzie gets ready for Bluebeard’s sunset return. In the Room of Gowns she remembers her lost child. At sunset Bluebeard returns and the ruse begins.
Lizzie is confused by feelings rekindled in Bluebeard’s powerful, dominating presence. Luckily, the clock chimes and interrupts their passion. They have dinner. Bluebeard notices she hasn’t had any wine and drinks to his “faithful wife.” he carries her to bed, and her sense of self disappears. Then he collapses.
Bluebeard staggers under the effect of the poison, but doesn’t go down. Lizzie’s flees to the North Tower. His taunts prompt her to remember Bri, the only person in the castle whose name she knows; Bri appears and whacks Bluebeard with a skillet. The ghosts tell Lizzie they can help her if she pieces their bodies back together.
Lizzie lays out the cut-up bodies and puts them back together. Tingling heat makes a scar and fuses the bodies whole again. (As she works on this gruesome task she tells the story of helping deliver a goat kid). Moments after she is done, Bluebeard wakes up.
Fabiana stabs Bluebeard— who, again, does not die. He pulls out the knife and threatens to make them cut off each others’ hands (thus making them enemies and unable to use ‘sister magic’). Bri whacks him once more with the skillet and they all pin him down. Taisia, a [Russian] girl, tells of a story that might explain why he won’t die. And why they need to visit the Yaga.
Taisia explains about Baba Yaga, the mother of all witches, who likely has Bluebeard’s heart. Taisia suspects the witch was cheated by Bluebeard and might help Lizzie. But to leave the castle grounds Lizzie will need shoes: she agrees to dress as Bluebeard and seek the Yaga at her hut. The others say they will be with her through the blood-bound ‘sister magic.’
Lizzie saddles Bluebeard’s horse— and is shocked when it talks to her. When she tells it her plan to find Bluebeard’s heart, the horse pledges his help. They break through the boundary… and discover that beyond the estate it is winter.
Lizzie and the horse travel into the forest in search of Baba Yaga’s hut. They find a hungry raven in the snow. Lizzie helps it, and receives a cryptic offer for its help in the future. [editing note: add some menace: the bird could be friend or foe at first]
Lizzie dreams she is a fish going upstream and into a mountain. The horse hears an animal howling and wakes her. It’s a wolf. In the chase Lizzie is thrown from the horse. The wolf says she must choose which of them will be its meal.
The horse sacrifices himself as a meal to the wolf, who then chides Lizzie about being ‘domesticated.’ The wolf offers itself to be saddled and carry her— but she chooses to let it go. It gives her a tuft of hair and the promise that it will help her (freely) when she is in need.
The wolf’s tracks lead Lizzie out of the forest to a snow-covered stream. She meets Silverscales the salmon, who gives her a shining scale. Then a sudden thaw begins, the river floods, and Lizzie does her best to follow the Night Horse to Baba Yaga’s hut.
Baba Yaga’s yard is surrounded by a fence of human bones. The gate is made of interlocking hands. One beckons her closer— and she is caught! She wriggles out of Bluebeard’s clothing and the gate sees she was hiding Goodness under a covering of Wickedness. She greases the hinges with residual butter in her bag, and it lets her pass.
Dawn breaks as Lizzie enters the witch’s yard. It is deserted but charged with magic. She knocks at the door and is tumbled inside. Baba Yaga is not impressed with any good deeds Lizzie might offer, but when she offers to comb the burrs from Baba Yaga’s hair, the witch obliges and takes off her own head.
With the help of her Sisters’ multi-faceted sight, Lizzie works through the tangles on Baba Yaga’s detached head. She hears rattlings and is tempted to look up or check the time, but resists. Just as the Red Rider of Sundown leaps over the hut, she finishes a sleek braid and ties it with a bit of white thread from her own shift.
Baba Yaga is bound by Lizzie’s white thread to grant her a wish. She wishes for what she needs to end Bluebeard’s magic and restore all who have been under his power. The white thread snaps and the magic begins.
A storm of bewitched objects rushed together: A mirror, comb, walnut, pair of slippers, needle and thread. Baba Yaga, obligated by rules of hospitality, offers Lizzie a bowl of stew. The porcelain bowl is the same as the porcelain tub in the tower. Lizzie is horrified and angry, then promises to return the tub after she defeats Bluebeard.
Lizzie discovers the mirror reflects the (multiple) true natures of things. She uses it to learn what each object really is. She finds 7-league boots, a forest, a sword/needle, a map… and in the walnut: the wives’ stolen shoes.
Lizzie is overjoyed to see the shoes. The other women also see them with the ‘Sister Sight.’ But Bluebeard seizes the moment and attacks Taisia. He threatens a horrible fate for them all if Lizzie isn’t back by sundown the next day. Lizzie despairs, but Baba Yaga (uncharacteristically) offers her help in choosing magical tokens.
Baba Yaga tells Lizzie their old shoes won’t fit them anymore: they’ve changed too much. She shows Lizzie the different feelings of outer experience (skin-level) and inner wisdom. The Midnight Horse + Rider approach, and Lizzie chooses the lace, mirror, needle… and 7-League Boots.
Lizzie journeys far via the Seven League Boots to the mountain cave where she believes Bluebeard’s heart is hidden.
Inside the cave is dark and smells of sulphur. She shines the mirror and ventures in, but is stopped by a mud creature: a golem. Just in time, she calls for help, and Black Wings the Raven, a keeper of secrets, speaks a spell to still the golem. She calls the wolf to walk with her, and when the tunnel forks, Gray Legs can smell Bluebeard’s heart.
Lizzie follows the wolf down a tunnel lit with infrequent gas-vent fires to the nest of a chimera. (Lion’s body, snake for a tail, goat’s head on its back). One of the eggs in the nest contains Bluebeard’s heart. Gray Legs fights to buy her time and Lizzie flees further in the mountain with the heart. But when she stops to drink at a stream, she is confronted by an ogre.
A terrible ogre leers at Lizzie and she is unable to run away, held by the power of its one yellow eye. She tries to crush the egg and kill Bluebeard, but can’t break the shell. She throws the egg into the river, calls for Silverscales the Salmon, and blinds the ogre with her needle-turned-dagger. Silverscales comes just in time and pulls her under the river.
Lizzie surfaces in the lake beside the mountain. The sun is beginning to set, but Silverscales tells her she still has time. She doesn’t want to give herself up to Bluebeard— then sees that the fish has retrieved the egg that contains his heart. The needle is still in dagger form, and she makes to pierce the hard shell. But Silverscales tells her that will only break down the visible prisons; unseen bonds of memory will remain. It whispers instructions to her. She finds the Seven League Boots and races against the dying light with Bluebeard’s heart in her hand.
The sun sinks ever lower and Lizzie races back in her Seven League Boots. The heart pushes away, like the wrong end of a magnet, and slows her down. She calls out for help— and comes upon Baba Yaga’s Sunset Rider, who lets her pass him. She makes it into the tower just in time to see Bluebeard kill Taisia.
Bluebeard demands his heart. Lizzie struggles between forgiveness and revenge… and agrees to give it to him. To everyone’s shock, his empty chest splits open, and she puts the heart back in its place.
Bluebeard’s heart burns his body, but he is powerless to get away as Lizzie, using Taisia’s silver hair, stitches it back into place. The Midnight and the Breaking Dawn riders appear simultaneously, accompanied by Baba Yaga. Bluebeard leaps from the tower to his death and the castle begins to fall apart.
Baba Yaga visits Lizzie in a dream and tells her she is ‘marked’ and will see and hear things others won’t; that her old life might not suit her. She also tells Lizzie the other women may come to her hut to reclaim their old shoes if they wish. When Lizzie wakes, Magda and Joanna ask her what all of them should do.
Lizzie feels at a loss of what to tell the women. Then she understands they don’t need to be saved. Scarred as they are, they are *whole*, and together they will decide what comes next. … Weeks later a minstrel happens upon the site and sees 36 upright stones and, growing from the rubble, a patch of white forget-me-nots.
END OF BOOK ONE!