Charm by Sarah Pinborough

Just finished reading Charm by Sarah Pinborough and before I go any further must say what a fantastic little book.  I just loved it.  I don’t know where SP has been hiding but now I’ve found her out I’m going to be backtracking eagerly through any past work of hers.  Also many, many thanks to the wonderful Jenny at Wondrous Reads for putting me onto both these lovely books – you are the beeswax.  I read Poison a few months ago which was also an excellent book and my review is here.

So, Charmed is a reworking of a classic fairytale, with a dark twist.  Cinderella is the central character to this story just as Snow White took centre stage in Poison.  The beauty, for me, of both of these stories is that SP has created this fantastic world in which the fairy tales we grew up with and loved, all live.  There are no real boundaries in that the stories simply tumble into each others territories and in that respect I strongly suggest you read Poison first.  You could certainly pick up Charmed as a standalone but (1) why on earth would you want to do that when Poison is so good; and (2) you would miss all the extra nuances included within this story.  Trust me and just read both okay.

The real magic to these novels is the quality of the stories.  Everyone loved to be read a fairytale when they were little (didn’t they) and these magical books conjure to life the old stories that we love thereby evoking fond memories.  Just look at the gorgeous books themselves and then imagine sitting in the biggest, comfiest chair, in front of a warm fire, on a dark night, reading this story.  The writing is so reminiscent that the story simply comes to life and almost drags you back to your childhood when all of a sudden, as you’re reading the most delicious prose, you have a ‘hello’ moment and have to back track.  Yes, don’t be fooled and certainly don’t try reading these to your children of an evening.  These are no Disney characters.  The characters that we grew to love are cast here in a different light.  Vanity prevails not to mention selfishness, willfullness and a whole other wealth of character traces that we didn’t expect to see.  On top of that we have what one of my blogger friends likes to describe as ‘sexy times’ (you know who you are) so, as I mentioned no reading to the kids at bedtime please.  In that respect, the Hunter, who appears from the first novel is frankly a bit of a hottie and oh my giddy aunt but can SP write a steamy scene!  Dont’ get me wrong, this isn’t some sort of erotica, so I really don’t want to give the wrong impression, but this author can seriously give you the hots for her characters when she puts her mind to it – I kid you not.

Again, as with Poison, the main character is different from what we expect, her redeeming quality being the fact that she is at least aware that she’s not always acting in the best way possible  We have the typical Cinders cast including Buttons and even the mouse makes a proper appearance. The story is a great little mystery with the underlying theme of ‘be careful what you wish for’.  Of course Cinderella madly wants to marry her Prince Charming but is he really all that she thinks and will she be sorry to win her heart’s desire.  Well, you’ll have to read it to find out.

I heartily recommend this.  The writing is beautiful.  It fairly rattles along.  The twistedness is just as good as ever and there’s this whole intriguing plot.  Also, SP manages to make her females ‘real world’.  They’re no fragile, or shrinking violet beauties – they have appetites – and they know how to satisfy them.  A beautiful book and a beautiful story and, yet again, what an ending!

I’m submitting this for Carl, at Stainless Steel Dropping’s RIP event (details here) as it’s a dark little twist on the Cinderella tale.

The next sentence is a bit of a take on something I’m stealing unashamedly, and adapting slighly, from the Little Red Reviewer -(namely if you like …., ……, or ……. then you’ll like …..)  Therefore, if you like Neil Gaiman: you’ll love Sarah Pinborough (frankly I can’t think of any greater compliment because I adore Gaiman).

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.