Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
There was a lot I liked about this book, and a lot that I didn't, or a lot that I was just indifferent to. Weaving the tale of Hades and Persephone into Snow White always seemed superfluous and odd; there are no natural parallels and the ones Lee makes feels like one tale being forced onto another, and sometimes the elements of Snow White, of which this is allegedly a retelling, disappear into the other. And there are what I feel like small fudgings or just plain mistakes, like saying that it was Persephone going underground that caused the first winter, not Demeter's sorrow at losing her daughter refusing to let anything grow until she got her back. Since this is a story, by nature, of a women who has murderous intentions towards her daughter, the heart of the connection never fit, and that's the perfect example right there.And then there are the characters themselves, the two women. Aloof and inscrutable, I've written about this type before, and how it makes them almost impossible to like, not because of these characteristics, but because giving them these characteristics seems to then make it impossible to relay what they're thinking and feeling in anything but a clinical manner. We know how damaged they are, we want to sympathize, we definitely want to empathize, but I'm sad to say that they both came off as stuck up instead of damaged too often, and more often than that, just plain stupid. There are the good points, like the dwarf "Stormy" (named so to represent one of the "seven deadliest sins" in a show he and his compatriots are forced to perform in); for a book with such a strong feminist leaning, I'm sad to see that the strongest and most likeable character is actually the man, even if all other men come off as nothing but dicks seeking young girls' holes to stick themselves in.Which brings me to the rape. Ah, yes. The rape. Even in the last few pages of the book, and I do not exaggerate, there's an implied male-on-male sexual act of extremely dubious consent. The first hundred pages or so are actually difficult to get through, partly because they focus so heavily on this tale's "wicked queen," but mostly because the prose is still in violent mode, and Arpazia's fears of being raped again are not idle, since every man's thoughts seem to turn to how they can force underage girls under them. Once all of that calmed down, I could just enjoy the book (and then it starts up again and I was able to sort of compartmentalize it.) Being from the Mediterranean myself, the suggestion that that's all men thought about and did in what appears to be Eastern Europe left me with a bad taste in my mouth for more than just the reason that... I've long ago abandoned the idea as a feminist that we have to show men as greedy inferior characters to vaunt the female characters. I like an equal balance. But maybe because neither Arpazia or Coira actually come across as particularly intelligent or controlled characters, they are on an even keel with the men.The prose is beautiful in some places, plain in other, but always readable; Lee doesn't feel the need to go overboard, as I've sometimes read her do. And the story is compelling. The way she bends and twists the story are fabulous, and I would have liked to have seen it without the direct comparisons to Persephone/Demeter/Hades, just have the readers notice that for themselves, so it didn't distract from the cleverness of what she was doing. It was definitely worth the read, especially for someone who adores fairy tales and their clever retellings. But this can't even hold a candle to Lee's earlier Red as Blood. It reminded me quite a bit of Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, and that's good and bad as a comparison, because that had a lot of the same faults.(On a side note, does anyone else think that the seven dwarves could be compared to seven Olympian gods? We find out that Stormy's real name is a tribute to Hephaestus, but what about the others? Is Pride golden Apollo? Vinka vain and jealous Aphrodite? An argument could be made.)