Tuesday, 16 April 2013 11:33


Written by  Michaela Gray
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Title: Poison

Author: Sarah Pinborough

Publisher: Gollancz

Published: 18 April 2013

RRP: £9.99

It’s Snow White, but not as you know her… take a wicked queen, a handsome prince, a beautiful princess, and a poisoned apple… and now read the true story of Snow White, told the way it always should have been…

We all know the story of Snow White. But most of us are only familiar with the Disney version. Here we have a contemporary Snow White for an adult audience. Inspired by US fantasy drama Once Upon A Time, in which fairy tale characters are trapped in the real world, Poison cleverly takes all the familiar elements of the story and turns them upside down and inside out.

Pinborough deftly breathes new life into what have traditionally been two dimensional characters. Rather than being just jealous, or beautiful, or charming, the characters are rounded and real. The Queen is initially unexpectedly sympathetic, trapped in a marriage to a man she doesn’t love. Her reasons for hating Snow White are intriguingly unclear. Snow White, far from being demure and downtrodden, is independent and tomboyish, preferring breeches and drinking with the dwarves to dresses and parties. The Prince, as so often turns out to be the case outside of fantasy, turns out to be distinctly less charming than he appears. And the Huntsman’s reasons for sparing Snow White are less than honourable.

The Queen and Snow both attempt to make overtures of friendship to one another which all spectacularly backfire; I really liked the way I could see both character’s sides in each instance. Eventually the misunderstandings escalate into Snow fleeing the castle to live with her friends the dwarves.

Poison is a fairy tale which isn’t just about true love and magic. It’s about lust and blood. Sex scenes rather refreshingly take place mostly just because the characters want to have sex; there are morning after regrets, awkward pillow talk and power plays. And of course it wouldn’t be a fairy tale without some characters coming to an imaginatively sticky end.

Poison is part of a loose trilogy of fairy tale retellings along with the forthcoming Beauty and Charm, based on Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella respectively. Any of the three can be read as stand-alone novels, although I am really looking forward to learning more about the Huntsman and the Prince. Both characters have pasts which are just hinted at in Poison in a way which suggests they may link all three books together. I also really enjoyed the way that Poison managed to tie in with and twist other fairy tales, such as Aladdin and the Lamp, and Hansel and Gretel.

It’s only recently that fairy tales became sanitised stories about the power of true love. Fairy tales used to be told as warnings to children. If Poison has a message, it’s that if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

More Grimm than Disney, Poison is a fun, fresh take on Snow White with a sucker punch of an ending. If you’re a fan of Once Upon a Time or Snow White and the Huntsman, you’ll find Poison very palatable indeed. There’s enough sex and skulduggery here to satisfy fans of Pinborough’s other works too.

I’d also add it’s well worth treating yourself to the hardback rather than e-book; it’s beautifully illustrated and the cover is a thing of beauty.

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 14:32
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