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.