Fiction Reviews


(2013) Sarah Pinborough, Gollancz, £9.99, hrdbk, 224pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09301-0


Hot on the heels of Poison (guess what that was about?) comes another timely (given all the big screen and small movies and programmes that either re-tell or re-imagine the world of fairy tales) re-working of an old fairy tale by Sarah Pinborough, and this time she has breathed new life into the story of Cinderella, ably assisted with some illustrations by the mighty Les Edwards that are dotted throughout the text of things like a brush and a shovel, a carriage, a slipper, which are par for the course, but then there are darker ones like that of a sword dripping blood and a dark, forgotten corridor covered in cobwebs. These books might well be classed as fairy tales, but like it says on the blurb on the back of the book, they are not as you know them, but in a way Pinborough takes this story and its predecessor back to its scary, lusty storytelling roots, in stories that could be swopped and embellished around a campfire, rather than giving us yet another reworking of a story for children that is still for children and is sweet and insipid and pretty dreadful, ending up as just another tired old rehash.

You know the plot or think you do, and on the surface it appears that all the key ingredients are here – a wicked stepmother, two step-sisters, a fairy godmother, a handsome prince, and a mischievous Buttons, but how they act and behave and the consequences of their choices and actions are as far away from Disney Princesses as you can get. They have real problems, real concerns, real desires and hopes and wishes that are more personal and intimate than broad brush strokes of simple good versus evil.

Well written – obviously – as well as being highly original, clever, funny, sad, shocking, thought-provoking, twisted, dark, a little bit depraved and a whole lot more besides, with maybe a few morals or lessons at its very heart, with perhaps the greatest of all of them being that you shouldn’t always get what you wished for. Charm is definitely a book to read and enjoy, but only if you have read Poison first, as these books are interlinked and some of the characters from that first book appear here, and given Pinborough’s previous form, you can expect a twist or two in the tale (just like Poison) which sets up things nicely for the third and final book in the series, Beauty which is out now.

Ian Hunter

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