Beauty by Sarah Pinborough

Just finished reading Beauty by Sarah Pinborough which is the final book in this twisted world of fairytales that this author has created.  This series of books are simply wonderful to read and I think the third one is my favourite out of all of them.

In this retelling, as with the other stories, we have more than one tale combined to make up the complete story and we see characters and objects that have appeared in the previous tales.  That being said, any of these books would read as a standalone.

Beauty combines characters from Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Rumplestiltskin in a twisted rendition of all four tales.  At the start of the story we make the acquaintance of a young Prince, over indulged by his doting parents the King and Queen, who have finally realised that he needs to be shaken out of his indolence by the introduction of an adventure.  A grand adventure to bring fame and fortune back to his future kingdom and provide him with a taste for life beyond his own realms.  And so the spoilt Prince sets out through the forest, accompanied by a young hunter who has been coerced, none too gently, into keeping the young heir to the throne alive.

And so we travel to the realm known to us through the tale of Sleeping Beauty.  A kingdom protected by the forest where a cruel and impenetrable wall of trees has grown around the outer edges to deter would-be adventurers.  Of course, over the years, the tales of the kingdom that sleeps within have become little more than a fairy tale told to children at night, a story of myth and legend that is no more believable than a young woman with a long rope of hair living in a tower with an old witch.  Within the outer walls, however, a different story lies waiting to unfold.

Along the way, the Prince and the Huntsman gather a further traveller – Petra, who, whilst loathe to leave her grandmother alone in her cottage deep in the forest with the ever rising fear of wolves, also longs to make the acquaintance of the person beyond the hedge whose lonely lament she has frequently heard and joined in with on many occasions.  And so the three battle the magic of the hedge in order to discover what lies within.

Again, this is far from a tale that you will want to read your children at night.  This is a tale of blood and lust, tempered with love and longing. The Beauty who charms everyone she meets with her sweet temperament and the Beast who craves blood.

As with previous stories the Prince is little more than a good looking and fickle young man and the Hunter is steadfast and true, his knowledge of the woodlands and its creatures proving invaluable and his reasonable and well tempered behaviour making him an immediate favourite of the story.  Pinborough weaves an enticing story, lyrical and beautifully illustrated, that is difficult to put down.

I’ve enjoyed these three books very much and have no hesitation in recommending them to others in fact I really hope you’ll give them a go.  Yes, they’re fairy tales that we’re familiar with but the author has taken our well loved bedtime stories and given them a dark and sinister twist. They’re a touch of whimsy with a surprisingly sexy, sometimes sinister and incredibly entertaining blend of tales.

Poison by Sarah Pinborough

Just finished reading Poison by Sarah Pinborough.  This is a retelling of the Snow White story with a new twist on both the characters and the plot.  I loved it.  I mean, to start off with it really is the most beautiful little book to look at.  The book I read is the small hardback version.  There is no jacket but the book cover itself is decorated and the inside story contains amazing illustrations at the start of each chapter.  It really is gorgeous and, in case you’re wondering – the content totally lives up to the expectations created by those first impressions!

Okay, I should probably keep this short as most of you will no doubt be aware of the tale of Snow White.  So, if you think of the basic premise everything is contained here, except, it’s all a bit, well, slightly different than we thought.  Snow White, called so by her Step Mother – a dark haired beauty, kind and pure and everyone adores her.  The new Queen – exactly the opposite.  Barely older than Snow herself she has captivated the King with her exquisite and cold beauty – plus, lets, face it, she’s not exactly shy in the sack and he’s fairly enamoured by her bedroom antics, read into this that he’s a paunchy, middle aged guy who can’t believe his good luck to have this temptress as his wife.

Definitely a fairy tale for grown ups this story doesn’t shy away from the occasional curse word or sex scene – although stand easy, this isn’t a bodice ripper by any stroke.  I really did enjoy this though, in fact I’m sure I’ve already mentioned that once at least.  I could easily have just sat and devoured this in one sitting but I decided to take my time a little.  SP manages to strike a lovely balance with her writing style.  She captures the fantasy world of mediaeval fairy plus gives this a proper fairytale voice.  I don’t know how else to say it frankly.  Sometimes I think certain retellings lose an opportunity in the making by not quite getting the voice right.  Here, it almost feels lyrical but it’s adult.  It has a once upon a time feel and yet it has something more.  And, for a moment there it almost feels like something that you could enjoy reading with your children – however, I strongly recommend you don’t be fooled into that notion or it’ll be red faces all round! (Unless you learn to read ahead and ad lib as you go along).

You’re probably wondering how the author has managed to give this a different twist.  Obviously I don’t want to give away any spoilers so the only real thing I can say here is she gives the characters motivations – and they’re not altogether what you might expect.  The Queen is just an excellent character.  Really well developed, seemingly cold and evil and yet also unhappy and frankly insecure.  Is she totally evil??  Not really sure about that although her background could certainly argue the case.  And yet, she shows definite moments of potential ‘teetering on the edge of redemption’.   Snow White is much as we expect except she’s not altogether innocent.  She is, of course, divinely beautiful with her pale skin, rosy lips and cascading black locks – yet, she’s not exactly shy.  She enjoys a bawdy song and a beer and wearing breeches and riding horses in, dare I say it, the male fashion (astride!).  Not exactly demure then.

So the author gives us a different insight into the characters, adds another layer to them just in much the same way she does to the world.  As you’ll discover at the end of the story, this isn’t just the world of Snow White, this is the world of fantasy, and no end of characters live in it’s dark forests and peasant villages.  No doubt there are a few wolves there too!

And, on top of all that I totally take my hat off to the author for an ending that made my jaw drop open, literally.  I kid you not!  If you see this coming – then well done you!  But I totally didn’t.  I was expecting something completely different and yet this is carried out in such a gobsmacking and unexpected way that not only are you overawed at the author’s cheek but you actually enjoy what she’s done here.  Yes, you might chafe a little against it and a few days (or hours) later think ‘nooooo’ but really I love that she can pull this off.  And, this is another reason why this isn’t for children as the message running through this is totally not that which you usually try to give out!  I have a feeling, however, that we might revisit this story or at least some of the other characters.

On the whole a lovely, well written, beautifully illustrated retelling of a family favourite fairytale with a new twist.  I really do recommend this to you if you’re not too “grown up’ to enjoy a good fairy story and you like a few surprises to shake things up a bit.  Go on.  You know you want to!

I’m entering this for Stainless Steel Droppings Once Upon a Time event.  Details here.