Review: Poison / Author: Sarah Pinborough / Publisher: Gollancz / Release Date: Out Now
Fairy tales have endured for so long because they’re constantly being re-mixed and rewritten. After all, they’re timeless stories with elements that have been adapted to suit different tastes. Poison is a reimagining of Snow White, designed to suit those of us who like their stories a touch more realistic, a dash more clever and a hell of a lot more sexy.
The plot, for those of you who have just woken up from a sleeping curse for their entire lives, involves a beautiful princess called Snow White, who is much beloved by her kingdom. With her father away at some war or what have you, she is under the protection of her stepmother, who in addition to being the queen is also a wicked witch. The fantasy elements here are played down; we have dwarves, magic spells and even the odd cameo from other fairy tale characters, but the entire thing feels part of a consistent world in which people do regular things. This is in part due to some nuanced characterisation of the queen (which almost makes her a sympathetic character) and an incredibly earthy and emotional feel to the entire piece.
Pinborough is the master of the darkest sort of romance, filled up with bile, bitterness, lost hopes and desperation, and with a narrative that is incredibly compelling and very human. The characters are simultaneously fantastic and believable. It is dark, but in a delicious sort of way, like good chocolate or a fine wine; at no point do we have gratuitous nastiness, all the energy in Poison has gone into making us care about all of the characters (and then making them suffer) rather than adding horror for the sake of it.
Poison is quite a quick read – it’s short and snappy and does what it needs to without lingering for too long. If you need a fix of a truly grim fairy tale in a hurry, then this is highly recommended.