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Poison by Sarah Pinborough

Poison by Sarah Pinborough
Book Name: Poison
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback
Genre(s): Fantasy / Fairy Tale
Release Date: April 18, 2013

Snow White lives the idyllic life of a fairytale princess, she has the love of her father and of the people, she has the loyalty of the dwarves who toil all daylong under the mountains. But her stepmother – the Queen – is not happy with the way Snow White lives her life and feels it is time she accepted her role and found a husband. With the King away at war the Queen weaves her magical web around the castle and the country beyond, making every-one’s life a misery and threatening horrible punishments on any who defy her. She also sets about pressing Snow White to accept a husband, so the Queen can be rid of her, leaving her no rivals. But Snow White defies her step-mother and she does it with seeming impunity, the protection her absent father offers her a greater threat than any the Queen can make.

The Queen does not take this situation lying down and when her guards capture a Huntsman in the forest, in return for his life she tasks him to kill Snow White, the Huntsman accepts and sets out in search of the Princess, of course he fails, and in order to save his own life tries to trick the Queen, but in this he also fails and the Queen punishes him for trying to trick her. But the Queen’s grandmother is on hand and says she will deal with the problem of Snow White her own way and sets off into the forest with a poisoned apple. With Snow cursed the dwarves entomb her in a glass coffin where eventually the Prince finds her and falls in love, the curse is lifted by true loves first kiss and the couple married to live happily ever after.

Everyone knows the story of Snow White, it is said to be the most famous fairy tale in the world. But the version everyone is most familiar with is the 1937 Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; a twee musical animation, with a stunningly beautiful Snow White running away from her wicked step-mother, and hiding in the woods with the cuddly dwarves in harmony with the forest animals. Now how do you take that image, that icon of purity and goodness, and make it sexy. Why you give it to Sarah Pinborough.

Poison is Snow White with all the Disney taken out and a lot of Pinborough put in, anyone familiar with Sarah’s work will know what I’m talking about. Sarah has a knack of weaving a tale that’ll twist around you making you addicted in no short time.

You know you’re in for something different when the evil Queen performs a sex act on the King in the first chapter. Here you’ll find no gentle tale of good versus evil, what you will find is a head strong young woman fighting against the bonds of her birth and trying to stake a place for herself in a man’s world.

Of course it’s not as simple as that, all the elements everyone has come to expect from the story are there. An evil Queen, a Huntsman, seven dwarves and, of course, Snow White. But here those elements are turned on their head so the traditional roles are seen through different eyes. The Huntsman for one is exactly that, but I feel reading between the lines he is more a hunter of men – a mercenary perhaps – than the forest living hunter-gatherer more traditionally depicted. Hot from a previous adventure he is in the forest on the run when captured by the Queen’s guards. Likewise the handsome Prince, he is every inch Prince Charming from all the fairy tales, but he has an edge that makes him more of a danger than the simpering dandy more usually seen.

In fact out of all the characters I feel that it is the Prince and the Huntsman that are the most interesting, and the two that readers need to pay great attention to in what they say and their inner monologues. Both characters have a history, and I feel they have a shared history. As to what that may be is up in the air, but I’m convinced they are the two characters that link the three stories Poison, Charm, and Beauty together. Whilst this is the first in the trilogy of fairy tale retellings, I don’t think it is the first chronologically.

All in all this is a fairy tale with edge, a sharp edge that cuts both ways and leaves you with more questions than answers. It also has a nice twist in the tale, a twist that I didn’t see coming and makes you sit back and go “whoa!”.



  1. Lorraine Powell says:

    Wow, sounds good, I’ll definitely be looking the one out next time I’m in town.

  2. A.E. Marling says:

    Thank you for the review. I would like to have this story told from the “evil” queen’s perspective. That whole “who’s the fairest” bit sounds like it’s anti-sorceress propaganda. Fleshing each character in a fairy story with nuance also must be a revitalizing experience.

  3. […] Poison and Charm are out now. Beauty is due out October 17, 2013. […]

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