Sarah Pinborough – Beauty

Goodbye, fairy tale retellings. Hello, crazy meltingpot of awesome! Ostentatiously, this is Sarah Pinborough’s take on Sleeping Beauty, but in actuality it’s  a mix of all sorts of fairytales. Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Rumpelstiltskin, and Rapunzel are just the ones I picked up on. Still, I can’t complain. My lust for fairy tales has been satisfied and I am ready to move on to space ships again.

beauty pinboroughBEAUTY
by Sarah Pinborough

Published by: Gollancz, 2013
Hardcover: 208 pages
Series: Tales from the Kingdoms #3
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: It was a warm spring and the king and queen took their breakfast on the balcomy outside their private apartments, enjoying the fresh air without the burden of any sort of protocol.

Beauty is a beautifully illustrated retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story which takes all the elements of the classic fairytale that we love (the handsome prince, the ancient curse, the sleeping girl and, of course, the haunting castle) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires. It’s fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of ONCE UPON A TIME, GRIMM, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and more.

Dear book blurb writers. Now hold on just a second! Comparing Pinborough’s books to Once Upon a Time or – worse! – Snow White and the Huntsman (yeah, I tortured myself with that shit) is a huge insult. Once Upon A Time is fluffy and silly and caters to the Disney-generation for season one, then turns to crap in season two. Snow White and the Huntsman, apart from the atrocious acting on the part of whatsherface-twilight-girl, is a badly-told, boring story that has next to nothing in common with the original. There. Rant over.

In Pinborough’s version of Sleeping Beauty, we return to that despicable prince from the previous two books but we also travel back in time (see, I don’t even need a TARDIS to do it). Before he fell in love with the poisoned Snow White, the prince was restless and his parents decided he needed an adventure. Legends from the neighbouring kingdom have reached the palace. The capital is surrounded completely by a dense forest and nobody has entered the city in almost a hundred years. So prince and huntsman/bodyguard trek over to said kingdom and pick up a girl in a red cloak on the way. Petra just wanted to bring some food to her granny’s house, but secretly, she is entranced by the howling of the wolves that roam the forest nearby.

Long story short, the trio arrives at the citybeauty2, everybody’s asleep, the prince kisses Beauty and off we go. This is where it starts getting awesome. Because as familiar as the set-up sounds, the curse, the kingdom, Beauty herself, and the reasons for her enchantment are nothing like what you’d expect. The first two books were pretty sexy, this one adds a layer of creepiness to it all. There is one scene in particular that includes quite graphic descriptions of an orgy. I read this on a train ride and never have I been so grateful that people don’t know what it is I’m consuming when I read. All they see is a girl reading a book.

As much as I still love Pinborough’s portrayal of characters, her language and ideas, I do have some gripes with number 3 in the Tales from the Kingdoms. I enjoy messed-up fairy tales and crossovers, but there was really no reason for Red Riding Hood or the wolf to show up. They didn’t add to the story, they felt stuck in for the sake of another fairy tale. Rumpelstilstkin was a nice addition and he fits so neatly into this story, I’m surprised nobody else has come up with it yet. Sarah Pinborough also sets up some ideas for future novellas in the series (Fingers crossed! I definitely want more.). But for a 200-page book, it dragged along a bit, especially in the beginning. There were frequent shifts in perspective between the huntsman (sigh), the prince (ugh), and Petra (Red Riding Hood). For such a short story, one POV character or two are really enough.

So this was my least favorite in the series but still one of the better retellings I’ve read. See? It’s so simple. Don’t make your fairy tale retellings into mushy, tame, YA romances. Take all the darkness and the grit and the sex and the blood from actual fairy tales, put a feminist spin on them, make the lovely prince a bumbling idiot, and you have a fantastic modern fairy story.

If the author does decide to write more stories in the same vein, sign me up. After all, we still haven’t read about Rapunzel or the Goose Girl or – gasp – Bluebeard! I’ll read a Sarah Pinborough Bluebeard any day.


Sarah Pinborough – Charm

So yeah… I admit I picked up Pinborough’s novellas because they are blissfully short and I wanted to reach my Goodreads reading challenge goal for the year. Call me a cheat, I don’t even care. These stories are awesome and I’m eating them up. I should also warn you: I have done my very best to express myself through words only here, but there comes a point when I find myself needing gifs to help me along. Because reasons!

by Sarah Pinborough

Published by: Gollancz, 2013
Hardcover: 224 pages
Series: Tales from the Kingdoms #2
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Winter had come early.

Charm is a beautifully illustrated re-telling of the Cinderella story which takes all the much-loved elements of the classic fairytale (the handsome prince, the fairy godmother, the enchanted mouse, the beautiful girl and, of course, the iconic balls) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires. This is fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of ONCE UPON A TIME, GRIMM, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN and more. This edition contains 15 original pen and ink illustrations by Les Edwards

Wishes do come true. As Cinderella wished to go the the ball, fall in love with the prince, and live as his princess in the castle, so did I wish that these fairy tale novellas were connected through more than just their Grimm originals. And they are! Remember that Huntsman from Poison? Or the despicable prince? They’re back.

Charm begins exactly the way you would expect a Cinderella retelling to begin. Cinderella is the poor, common girl doing all the housework while her step-mother and sisters galivant around in pretty dresses. But from the very beginning, this Cinderella felt like a real young woman. She is prone to self-pity (which doesn’t exactly make her likable, but all the more relatable) and she has desires like everybody else. Just because you are degraded to a scullery maid doesn’t mean you wouldn’t like to have sex with handsome men, right?

hot in here

That said, this story was quite a bit sexier than its predecessor. Cinderella knows exactly what she wants and while she can’t have the prince ravish her in real life, she is an expert in dreaming about him and helping herself… ahem. This isn’t 50 shades of fairy tales (thank the gods!) but there are a handful of scenes that managed to make me blush a little.

Officially, this is a new version of Cinderella, but it is interconnected with so many other fairy tales. That witch in the gingerbread house? Still eating children. Cinderella’s buddy, Buttons? He’s actually Robin Hood. But never mind any of the cameos. This book – like Poison – was all about the Huntsman for me. If I have one weakness when it comes to stories, it’s couples that OBVIOUSLY want to do it but spend all of their time fighting. Call it a kink or whatever, I just can’t resist it. The bickering, the shouting, the slap slap kiss… yep, sign me up, please.

Let me try and regain some semblance of control.
What fairy tales have always done (never mind which version you heard, it’s true for all of them) is tell stories of awful things happening to women and children. Sarah Pinborough still has awful things happen to women and children, but she gives all her characters a personality and, with it, a choice. Cinderella is pigheaded and naive and oblivious to the pain she inflicts on others. She wants to marry the prince because she fell in love with his picture. When she realises that he neither can nor wants to give her what she wants (emotionally and sexually), that irritating brute of a huntsman suddenly doesn’t seem like such a bad choice anymore. And the one thing that sets these novellas apart from other fairy tale retellings? That silly girl actually goes after what she wants!

It’s so refreshing to read about an empowered female. Disney ruined my entire generation with their princesses and how true love just falls into their laps – sometimes literally. Sarah Pinborough’s characters are different. With the possible exception of the prince, everybody is fairly certain of their own needs, and most characters aren’t ashamed to go out and do something about it. And thank you a thousand times for saying it’s okay for a girl to sleep with her friend even if she’s not in love with him!

Now the rambling about sex and relationships is out of the way, let me tell you about the ending. I won’t spoil it (though I desperately want to) but Sarah Pinborough manages to deliver a happily ever after of sorts, despite all the gloom and disappointment I have come to expect. Snow White’s story is resolved in a surprising, yet totally satisfying way. There I was, reading the last pages with my gloomy face on, when suddenly THINGS HAPPEN and characters realize certain truths about themselves, and when I closed the book, gloomy face had turned into silly happy face.

doctor who happy

Seeing as I’m already halfway through the third book, you’ll be hearing about Beauty fairly soon. It promises more of the Huntsman, the prince, some Red Riding Hood and Rumpelstiltskin, all mixed in with Sleeping Beauty.

So yes. Read these.


Sarah Pinborough – Poison

I completely slid into this book without meaning to. I was browsing my shelves and picked this up because – honestly, look at that cover! Okay, I thought, I’ll just read the first page. Yeah right… It amuses me how reading challenges work on your mind, sometimes. All year, I’ve been looking for new women SFF writers to read. I’ve finished that Worlds Without End challenge a while ago (even read more than the challenge “required”) but my book buying has changed during this year and going for a book written by a female author I’d never read before has become a habit.

by Sarah Pinborough

Published by: Gollancz, 2013
Hardcover: 202 pages
Series: Tales from the Kingdoms #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: “She’s too old for that nickname,” the queen said.

A beautiful, sexy, contemporary retelling of the classic Snow White fairy tale, illustrated by Les Edwards.
Poison is a beautifully illustrated retelling of the Snow White story which takes all the elements of the classic fairy tale that we love (the handsome prince, the jealous queen, the beautiful girl and, of course, the poisoning) and puts a modern spin on the characters, their motives and their desires. It’s fun, contemporary, sexy, and perfect for fans of Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Snow White and the Huntsman and more.

I don’t know what it is about Snow White that’s always bothered me. It has never been my favorite fairytale (The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen… now those I can get behind), maybe because I never really understood the evil queen. Not being the most beautiful creature in the kingdom seems a petty reason for such drastic measures. Then again, the quest for beauty is a very real thing in all our lives. We are taught from childhood that being beautiful is important, it makes life easier for you, people will like you more when you’re conventionally pretty. Maybe that’s what has always made me so uncomfortable when reading this particular fairy tale.

This is the first book by Sarah Pinborough I’ve read. It won’t be the last. Her version of Snow White sticks pretty closely to the Grimm Brothers’ tale, but she does give the evil queen some redeeming qualities. More importantly, she gives the naturally flat characters of the fairy tale personality. Snow White is gorgeous, of course, but she’s also free spirited, likes to drink and dance and play tricks on people. She’s like the girl next door, hanging out with the guys (dwarves, in this case), and just happens to be stunningly beautiful.

The queen is in many ways her opposite, and in others, just a lost soul. Her marriage is one of convenience, of duty. Where Snow White is earthy, dark-haired, and full-figured, Lilith the queen is icy blonde, ethereal and waifish. At first, she is jealous of Snow White not just because she is more beautiful (after all, Lilith may just be a lot of people’s type) but because she is  beloved by everyone she meets. Her easygoing nature, her open mind, the happiness that oozes out of her every fiber, that’s what makes Snow White so irrisistible. The queen wants some of that. And if she can’t have it, she’ll take being feared by her people over being loved.

Men would do a lot for beauty, that’s what Lilith learned in that time. Beauty had a magic all of its own.

This version of the fairy tale deviates in only a few, but key elements. The Huntsman gets a little bit of back story and a personality that made me value him immensely as a character. He is no mere pawn in the queen’s game, he has an agenda of his own, he has rules he lives by, and he is also a man with urges like anyone else. You see what I’m getting at. This is sold as a fairy tale for adults (even though fairy tales have never been only for children) because it contains some sexy time.

I was positively surprised by the depiction of the prince. Being in a coma and marrying the first pretty guy that comes your way has always seemed ridiculous. Sarah Pinborough shows us just how insane it is. The prince, an arrogant boy, really, who only wants beautiful and precious things to own, who wants to be master over his wife, is shocked when he finds out that she has a mind of her own. I loathed him from the get go.

He was married. He would unite the kingdoms. His father would have steel in the land and keep his enemies at bay, and he and Snow White would live happily ever after and produce fit and healthy heirs. Not too soon, he hoped. He’d seen how quickly women’s bodies changed after childbirth and he wanted to enjoy his wife’s for as long as possible before they settled into domesticity and he went back to relieving himself with a mistress.

But what really made this book stand out as a fairy tale retelling was the language. This is a very short book at barely 200 pages, and in order to achieve some impact with it, every sentence has to be in place, has to elicit some emotional reaction. They did. Whether it’s descriptions of Snow White, Lilith’s desperate thoughts, even the sex scenes, they created an atmosphere that immerses you in the story and makes you forget the world around you.

This is the first book in a series (three volumes are out so far) and it is obvious that the author intended to connect them somehow. The Huntsman, for example, owns a pair of diamond slippers (we never get to hear their story), the prince has just come back from an adventure that left him with a scar but we never learn what happened exactly. The queen’s great-grandmother lives in a house made of candy… ring a bell? Or three? I loved the hints at other fairy tales and I can’t wait to discover whether the next volume, Charm, continues in this vein.

A few words need to be said about the ending. You will not find the type of happily ever after you’ve come to know from fairy tales. This is a dark story, one where bad things happen to good people, where things are left unresolved. As a standalone, it was brilliant, but as I’m writing this, I catch myself hoping to find out what happened next to Snow White, the Huntsman, the dwarves and the prince in the next instalment. Even if I don’t, Sarah Pinborough has a new fan.