(2020) Menna van Praag, Transworld, £12.99, hrdbk, 485pp, ISBN 978-1-787-63166-3
The title of the novel, The Sisters Grimm by Menna Van Praag, evokes an obvious connection with the Brothers Grimm and the books do have a fairy tale quality and references for each character.
Four girls born on the same day are connected by an absent father, but also by a magical childhood. They must reach into their lost memories and find each other if they hope to survive what is coming. The girls are Grimms, born into fight of good against evil destined to fight or die.
Liyana, based loosely on Snow White, just wants a quiet life with her girlfriend, but her aunt obligates her to marry well to provide for their future.
Scarlet, based loosely on Little Red Riding Hood, looks after her grandmother and runs the cafe so dear to her heart but yearns for something more in her life. Bea, from Beauty and the Beast, knows who she is and which side she will choose, she just wants her sisters to come with her.
Goldie, loosely based on Goldilocks, wants a simple life and someone to love her and maybe Leo is that somebody.
Leo, the fallen star, wants Goldie to live, but knows he must kill her one day soon.
There are some interesting themes, which would appeal to a young adult audience in particular: growing up, secret magical powers, love, and destiny. The idea that we, the reader, could also be a Grimm sister without remembering has such an appeal. It is perhaps less appealing for a male reader to know his only magical role in the tale is to keep killing the magical sisters, perhaps it is better that it is not suggested that you could be one of those without knowing.
The male characters in the books are not generally sympathetic: Goldie had an abusive stepfather and loses her job due to a lecherous boss; Scarlet is seduced by the man trying to buy her café; Bea is sleeping with an older, married university lecturer, Liyana’s prospective husband is not immediately likeable; even Walt, the handyman so friendly with Scarlet gets a creepier overtone when you remember that she is only seventeen years old. All that is before you realise that they could all be fallen stars, just getting close to them so it is easier to kill them. On the even creepier scale is the implication that both Bea and Goldie’s mothers are Grimms, meaning they slept with their own father, and that Leo is also a son of the same father (although not necessarily biological) making him Goldie’s half-brother.
The dominance of the father, Wilhelm Grimm, to the storyline despite not being a perspective character, is interesting, he appears to be the biological father to the girls and at least an adoptive father to the fallen stars who he refers to and trains as his “sons”. Given the nature of the man or the sons are not explained it is difficult to know if this is a biological relationship or not. He sets the premise of the seemingly unavoidable conflict, that on the girls’ eighteenth birthday they must choose between good and evil. If they choose good, he will kill them for this.
The structure of the book gives the differing perspectives and experiences from the five main characters and flashbacks of scenes in their past, which creates intrigue in the tale as it is gradually set out. This makes it very readable and gives it a fast pace. Ultimately the finale of the girls choosing, and the outcome is something of an anti-climax, given the build-up that goes before.
This is an engaging coming-of-age tale, with echoes of fairy stories and hidden worlds which might appeal to older teenagers in particular.
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