Desert Isle Keeper
One of the most interesting things about fairytale retellings is seeing how authors use predictable elements in unpredictable ways, and Sarah Pinborough’s Poison is one of the best in that regard. The first in the Tales of the Kingdoms trilogy, it can be read as a standalone, but a twist in the ending is likely to leave you with a stunned feeling that the story can’t stop there, so be aware of that before diving in.
As the queen, Lilith tells herself she has everything a woman could want – power, youth, and beauty. But she’s unhappy in her marriage to a coarse, gluttonous king, and worse, she lives in the shadow of her vivacious stepdaughter.
The people went wild. Snow White, the queen of their hearts. The girl who could wow them all with something as simple as an apple. Everything was so easy for beautiful, lovable, perfect Snow White.
Cool, cynical and arrogant, Lilith is the exact opposite of her woman-of-the-people stepdaughter, and she quickly grows to resent Snow White’s freedom and joie de vivre. That said, Snow White isn’t the easiest person to get along with either. At a formal ball, she plays an elaborate prank on her stepmother, and while the prank is funny, anyone but a girl given her own way in everything would have been aware that the queen would not be amused by her public embarrassment.
The Snow White of this story, far from being a meek Disney princess scrubbing the steps and dreaming about her prince, is an earthy wild child who doesn’t want to get married and who embraces her own sexuality. She’s kind and generous, but she doesn’t conform to her society’s expectations – for instance, she can drink most men under the table. And she pays a heavy price for her impulsive, sensual nature. The prince falls for her when he sees her in the glass coffin – in other words, when she can’t say or do anything he finds unacceptable – but when she wakes up, she’s far from the compliant, demure wife he’s hoping for. The result is his bitter disillusionment and the dark ending. This is a great twist on the trope, and I could see Poison being easily adapted into a horror movie.
Another reason I liked this story is the atmospheric writing that paints a lovely picture of the tale’s word. With plenty of references to other fairytales – Lilith’s grandmother lives in a candy cottage and used to smack her with the bones of children when she misbehaved – there’s a definite sense of many other events happening outside the pages of this book. So although the story is relatively short and fast-paced, it feels vivid and complex at the same time.
The sequels in the Tales from the Kingdoms trilogy are just as well-written, and retell other fairytales with the same dark subversions. I have to say, though, that the end of the third book deals with Snow White’s eventual fate, and unfortunately this wasn’t in the least plausible. But on the whole, this trilogy is well worth picking up, especially if you’re looking for something different in this sub-genre. And of course, Poison was unforgettable. I enjoyed reading it.
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I'm Marian, originally from Sri Lanka but grew up in the United Arab Emirates, studied in Georgia and Texas, ended up in Toronto. When I'm not at my job as a medical laboratory technologist, I read, write, do calligraphy, and grow vegetables in the back yard.