I’ve been finding a lot of fairy tale retellings lately. Perhaps it’s just a trend in the reading world or maybe it’s just entirely coincidence. But either way, I’m here for all of it.
Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy who, in an act of vengeance, cursed a line of princesses to die. A curse that could only be broken by true love’s kiss. You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? The handsome prince. The happily ever after. Utter nonsense.
Let me tell you, no one in Briar actually cares about what happens to its princesses. Not the way they care about their jewels and elaborate parties and charm-granting elixirs. I thought I didn’t care, either.
Until I met her. Princess Aurora.
The last heir to Briar’s throne. Kind. Gracious. The future queen her realm needs. One who isn’t bothered that I am Alyce, the Dark Grace, abhorred and feared for the mysterious dark magic that runs in my veins. Humiliated and shamed by the same nobles who pay me to bottle hexes and then brand me a monster. Aurora says I should be proud of my gifts. That she . . . cares for me. Even though a power like mine was responsible for her curse. But with less than a year until that curse will kill her, any future I might see with Aurora is swiftly disintegrating–and she can’t stand to kiss yet another insipid prince. I want to help her. If my power began her curse, perhaps it’s what can lift it. Perhaps together we could forge a new world. Nonsense again. Because we all know how this story ends, don’t we? Aurora is the beautiful princess. And I– I am the villain.
This was a slow-burning retelling that I really enjoyed. I know it isn’t perfect and there could have been more enhancing the world building and some of the events that take place. But as a debut novel, the first in a duology, and something that features a lot of humanizing features, you have to give it props.
I think the biggest draw for me in this story is the fact that you don’t need to know the original story. That’s because the story gives you some of the characters and world from the book, but the rest is completely created by the author. I’m a huge fan of authors who don’t stay true to the original story. We have that story already and hearing someone put their own twist on it makes it more exciting for me.
The beginning of the book really dumps a lot of information on you. I would say the story doesn’t actually get going until you’re 100 pages in. When Aurora finally shows up, that’s when things get interesting. But I was interested in the info dumps because it was as much world building as you get in the story. I liked the idea of Graces; different magical beings that can do everything from enhance your beauty to heal your wounds. The only caveat is that Graces lose their power over time; they use their distinct golden blood to create their elixirs and charms. Alyce is a Vila; it’s sort of the same as a Grace except she can’t cast spells for good. So she’s relegated to potions that make people ugly and curses that help people do malicious things. I loved that the author took the old tale and turned it into this complex magic system where the three fairies from the book represent one group and Maleficent represents the other. However, don’t expect any appearances from those folks.
I really loved how Alyce’s experiences in this world reflect on the real world. Her “otherness” causes her to be cast out from the rest of society. People constantly see her as a threat because of her genes and ethnicity. She’s a Vila; the worst of the worst. However, that’s not even close to the type of person Alyce truly is. It’s just another set of stereotypes created by people to keep her being the other. If that isn’t a reflection of reality, I don’t know what is.
I also really like the political/royal intrigue happening in the book. There was some building up to the big reveal and what’s happening in the kingdom, but I also felt like this could have been enhanced. However, this part was one of the main reasons I kept reading despite it coming so late in the book.
But the relationship between Aurora and Alyce was really sweet and somewhat romantic. The only thing I wish the author did more was add more context to their relationship. They went pretty quickly from friends to lovers and much of what I had to do was suspend disbelief that they were so quick to fall for each other. But I did find it clever that Aurora has to kiss every man in the kingdom to break her curse only to find it was Alyce all along.
Overall, a great start to a new duology and a debut author. I’m happy to read the next book and anything else Heather Walter writes in the future.
Thanks Del Rey for the gifted copy of this book. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.