By: Sarah Pinborough
Poison is a wicked retelling of the classic Snow White tale which takes the elements we all know (the handsome prince, a jealous queen, the beautiful girl, and of course a poisoning) and turns them on their head. The motives of each character are sometimes dark and sinister while others are innocent and misguided. But which is which? A story for fans of Disney, 1001 Arabian Nights, and Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
This is another example of a book I’ve had on my shelf for years that I was just tired of looking at. Something that would be a quick read at only 178-pages. I knew going in that I’m generally not a fan of fairy tale retellings because they are a dime a dozen. You can walk into any Barnes and Noble and find probably 5 Snow White, 5 Cinderella, and 20 Beauty and the Beast retellings. So, what made this one special enough for me to pick up? Well, it had a de-bossed cover, I found it at Half Price Books for cheap, and it was short. Nothing remarkable beyond that.
I’m very confused by the Goodreads blurb which stated that this was a “contemporary retelling” because it still takes place in a land of kings and queens with magic and no technology. This isn’t set in modern times, and contemporary is defined by “anything that is happening in the current moment.” How did the book get categorized this way, and who approved that description?
Getting into the review, I’m going to start off by saying that I’m no prude. This is an odd and defensive way to start a review but it’s because I was genuinely shocked that this story began with a rather open sex scene. The story then proceeds to have even more graphic sex scenes later. It’s not that you can’t have that in a story, but it almost felt like the narrative was a vehicle to get to the “juicy bits” instead of focusing on solid writing. Many stories anymore start off as smutty fan fiction before the author realizes they can make money by turning it into a novel, and that’s exactly what this felt like. Snow White fanfiction. I generally think that proves that this story is YA fantasy/romance because adult fantasy would be more about world-building and less about the angst of young and lustful people.
In this version of Snow White’s tale, Lilith (the evil stepmother queen) was only twenty-four and Snow White was twenty. I kept envisioning Lilith as an older character like in the cartoon or in the live-action movies, but both were younger than me. This is another YA indicator since almost all the characters with romantic inclinations are in their late teens-early twenties. Lilith is also petty and jealous of Snow White in a way that no mature person would be, but I guess that’s the point.
The repetitive phrases and themes were very annoying as well. Phrases like “she was the queen,” “she was beautiful,” or some variation of how the queen would have the peoples’ fear because she did not have their love. Those phrases would sometimes only be a sentence or two apart between uses which is sloppy, and I don’t know how that got through editing.
Pinborough did not do a good job of explaining the queen’s motives either. In one scene, she feels horrible because she injured Snow White by forcing her to wear a painfully tight dress. As an apology, Lilith earnestly gives Snow White a decorative hair comb that turns out to be poisoned unbeknownst to either woman. The comb kills a servant before Snow White receives it and Snow White accuses the queen of attempted murder. Lilith panics telling her that she didn’t know the comb was poisoned which Snow believes. The reader gets a moment to speculate that maybe Lilith will see the error of her ways and attempt to befriend Snow White but instead, randomly, she decides to hire a huntsman to cut out the princess’s heart. We go from the queen not wanting to harm Snow to full fledge first-degree murder with nothing in between. I thought the story would be more nuanced, but I was sadly mistaken.
The best parts of the novella were the horror elements. Themes of murder and ghastly fates. The twist at the end was 100% my favorite part of the whole story and I was genuinely shocked. The author did a good job of tying all the elements from start to end together for a cohesive conclusion. I liked the tie-ins from other Disney stories being incorporated with Grimm fairy tales as well because this is far more than just a Snow White story. That said, a compelling ending does not a book make. But it can save a book from the dreaded two-star rating of mediocrity.
I also want to make it a point to say that the cover for this book was too pretty for this story. As in, Poison did not deserve a cover this nice, but some authors are lucky. I tip my hat to the marketing department because I’m sure many people picked up this book for the design alone.
Overall rating: 3 stars