I follow quite a few writers that I like on Twitter and through them I discover other writers that I might not otherwise be aware of. This has become something of a phenomenon for me, finding writers on social media, making their acquaintance and then feeling like you sort of owe it to them to read their work.
Sarah Pinborough (@SarahPinborough) is one of those whom I found via Joe Abercrombie (@LordGrimdark). Having followed her for a while (she makes me laugh every day and she pisses off Steven Leather) I finally found the money and the time to get one of her books and to read it. These things are more difficult than you might think when you’re writing yourself all day every day, looking at another book can become painful, especially if they’re better than you – which Sarah is. Still, I managed it, and I’m glad I did.
In the interests of full disclosure, I quite fancy Ms Pinborough* but I’ll try not to let that get in the way! *Grin*
Poison is part of a series of books by Ms Pinborough (Poison, Charm and Beauty) that re-tell well-known fairy tales but with a twist. Really, it’s more like an un-twist since anyone with a passing interest in fairy stories knows that the original versions of a lot of these tales were pretty goddamn fucking grim and they got cleaned up and Disneyfied over time. Ms Pinborough sets about putting the grim back into Grimm with gay abandon and it works incredibly well.
There’s a nuance here that you simply don’t find in the children’s versions, along with a wonderful way of playing along with and then subverting the kind of stereotypical expectations you have of the story. All the normal ingredients are there and a whole paragraph can tease you along with its typical, traditional, stereotypical nature before suddenly – BAM – subverting it and making you grin and chuckle like a loon.
The evil queen you almost sympathise with, Snow White is so sickeningly saccharine that you almost want her to get her comeuppance. The seven dwarves have an air of the friendzoned nerd boy about them and both Prince Charming and The Huntsman are as much a pair of dicks as the contents of their tights.
Things are further played about with by hints and mentions of other well-known fairy tales, crafting the appearance of a much wider fairytale world beyond the contents of the single book (or even the series). Talk of giants, mentions of Aladdin and genies, some horrible clues as to the final fate of Hansel and Gretel. It’s Shrek, as written by George R R Martin and while an enjoyable read you welcome the fact that it’s set far, far away because then it can’t get you.
There’s no happily ever after here, not really, not truly, not for anyone but it’s all the better for it.
There’s just not as much sex as The Sun claimed and while saucy it’s all a bit coy. Maybe two shades of grey rather than the full fifty.
It’s a great book and it’s fantastic to see publishing houses willing to put out fantasy-type books that aren’t bricks you could clobber a policeman unconscious with. I hope more books of this sort of size, enjoyable reads that don’t overstay their welcome, continue to come out.
*I’m married, not dead. Besides, what’s not to love about a saucy former English teacher with a foul mouth who can drink you under the table?