Charm by Sarah Pinborough
Time from another guest review from MadNad…
It’s Cinderella, but not as you know her…
Imagine an enchanted footman, two ugly sisters, a magical ball and a romance to remember . . .
and now turn the page for the true tale of Cinderella, told the way it always should have been . . .
As Mr Cheesecake tasked me to review Poison, it seemed logical that I would also review Charm, the second in a trilogy of adult fairy tales from Sarah Pinborough, when the opportunity arose.
Boosted by the large and small screen revival of fairy tales, this series of books from Gollancz are perfectly timed. I will state, in the spirit of full disclosure, that despite growing fond of shows like Grimm and Once Upon A Time, I probably would not have picked this book up, and I would have missed out on a treat.
I am never one to turn down an opportunity to read any of Pinborough’s work, although previous things of hers I have read are more horrific in nature. Her writing is so unbelievably skilled. She has a way of painting a picture with a few well-chosen words that leaves me breathless, and her competitors in the dust.
In the world of magical kingdoms in which the story is set, characters from other fairy tales move freely between the stories as easily as they do their kingdom’s borders. I love how Pinborough has carefully woven in characters that you would never expect to see in a Cinderella story. Some characters are expertly used to tie the two books, and I am presuming the third also, together.
In Charm, the story largely focuses on the story of Cinderella. Once again, there are enough elements to this version that will be familiar to you, but Pinborough has given depth and meaning to characters that didn’t really have them before.
Much like in Poison, I found that my sympathies were actually directed to characters other than the lead, such as the wicked step-mother and step-sisters. These characters are not just a one dimensional stumbling block to Cinderella’s dreams of meeting the prince. Their motives are laid bare over the course of the story, where as our protagonist is initially painted as a slightly shallow and vain creature.
Most of you will be pleased to hear there is more swearing and sex, so once again, I caution you NOT to read this to your children at bedtime. I heard some while back there were people complaining about the sex and language in Poison. Seriously? If you are one of those people – then please don’t read this, and go and play with your My Little Pony instead.
Once again, the age old sexisms and misogyny of the fairy tales as we grew up hearing them are subverted, and despite the faux medieval setting, Charm is delivered in a way that more accurately reflects a modern society. The women in this fairy tale are depicted in a realistic way, and are not portrayed as just one flat ideal, but the full rainbow of emotions and personality traits; they can be beautiful and ugly, they are brave but cowardly, they are both kind and cruel. I am delighted to note that Pinborough’s version also returns some of the darkness that was in the Brothers Grimm original that was left out in the more sanitised Disney version.
The moral, if indeed there is one, to this story is definitely be careful what you wish for. Our heroine falls in love with the prince based on a picture of him. Stuck in the drudgery of everyday life, it is easy to look at pictures of beautiful people and imagine them to be as perfect as their expertly styled hair, or finely cut clothes. The reality in this fairy tale, as in life, is often very different.
The novel is short but perfectly formed, and I managed to read it over a couple of lunch breaks. I have to say that I am eager for the final installment, as the trilogy is meant to be cyclical and can be read in any order, so I am curious as to how this will work. If you enjoyed Poison, you will love this. If you haven’t read Poison, then pick them both up.
PS – I think this says more about me than the book, but I couldn’t help picturing Chris Hemsworth every time the Huntsman came on scene.
Charm is published by Gollancz and is available from 18th July 2013.