When two stepsisters meet a goddess at a well, one girl is cursed to drop flowers and jewels every time she speaks – the other, snakes and toads. The first girl’s jewels catch the eye of a prince, while her sister’s snakes drive her from her home. In the classic fairytale by Charles Perrault, the story stops there, but Heather Tomlinson takes it step farther by translating the tale to pre-colonial India. There, the sisters find themselves swept up into a tangled web of political intrigue and religious division – and romance.
What I liked best about Tomlinson’s retelling was the changes she made to the fairytale. In the original, the flower girl was a Cinderella-like victim, while her stepsister and stepmother were vain and selfish. In Tomlinson’s version, the stepsisters have a wonderful relationship with each other. Both have their charms and faults, allowing the reader to sympathize with each girl’s plight. Additionally, the vibrant fictional Indian setting provided a lot of interest with the foreign customs and scenery.
With the Indian culture, however, come Eastern religions. Two modified religions play an integral part in the plot. While the characters do learn some universal principles, several pagan ideologies are portrayed, most notably reincarnation. Even though the religions are fictional, they do share characteristics with real-life systems and should be approached with caution.
In addition to the Eastern religion, the romance is of some concern. Both girls fall in love with men they cannot have because of the strife their gifts create. While the romances remain chaste, there are numerous sensual descriptions and lingering moments. The emotion is highly charged, making it hard not to fall in love along with the girls.
Outside of the romance and religion, the other content issues are minor but worth noting. There is no hard language, only some name-calling. There are several instances of loosely-described nudity in regards to bathing and dressing, although never sexual in nature. A girl is abused by some soldiers, but their torture is disrupted before it becomes graphic.
From a technical standpoint, Tomlinson’s writing is an enjoyable balance of description and smoothly-moving action. However, there were a few places, especially towards the end, where the plot twists seemed abrupt and the characters’ motives were unclear. I also found the ending slightly rushed; while the main conflict was resolved, the author did not revisit most of the subplots and secondary characters. We are left to assume that everything turned out all right, but with so much at stake, being forced to assume is less than satisfying.
Overall, while Tomlinson’s retelling held my interest, the content issues will discourage me from rereading this book, and the abrupt ending left me feeling as though something were missing. It was an inventive retelling and may intrigue fairytale enthusiasts, but I cannot fully recommend this book. Approach with caution.
Published on 31 January, 2012. Last updated on