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4.1 out of 5 stars
Poison
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Like a lot of adults, I don't usually read fairy tales. However, due to the popularity of shows like Grimm and Once Upon A Time, fairy tales are now once again in vogue and are being read not only by children.

In the first of what is a trilogy of adult fairy tales, Sarah Pinborough has written a version of Snow White that has enough elements in it to appear familiar to those of you who read this as a child, but is retold in a way that will open your eyes to questions that your younger self never knew it had.

The story is set in a timeless fantasy world of multiple kingdoms that we expect to see in a fairy tale. The king goes to war, leaving behind his beautiful young queen alone with her step-daughter. The queen decides the key to making her new life bearable is to get rid of the beloved Snow White.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this story was the queen. Pinborough successfully gives this often flat character some much needed dimension, and her motivation to destroy Snow White is more profound than pure vanity. The queen does not hate Snow White, not initially anyway. Snow White represents the freedom that the queen never had growing up in a strict court environment, before being forced to marry a man twice her age. Jealousy and resentment blossom in the queen's heart.

The queen's nemesis is not the Snow White you've seen before. Put aside the twee images of a pretty maid frolicking with rabbits, fauns and bluebirds. Instead, you have a raw earthy heroine, who prefers breeches to dresses, rides like a man and likes nothing more than drinking and singing bawdy tavern songs with dwarfs.

I actually found myself empathising with the queen far more than with Snow White. Her evolution from an insecure new wife to a cold and malevolent antagonist is completely plausible. The story elegantly tracks the transformation of the queen, even illustrating moments of potential redemption, but ultimately reveals the path leading to her eventual corruption

There is a danger when writing something set in a faux medieval fantasy world that the speech could appear formal or overly archaic. It is a demonstration of Pinborough's superlative control of the English language that she comes right up to the line, but does not cross it.

This re-telling is definitely adult in nature. There are a few swear words scattered about but, speaking as someone who has followed Ms Pinborough on twitter and Facebook for some time now, not as many as you would expect. There are some sex scenes, and while they are not quite PG13 `cut away to billowing curtains', the portrayal is by no means overly explicit. I guess if I was pushed to find a criticism with the book, a more explicit description of the sex scenes is the only thing I would ask for, but that is just because I'm an old perv. It does not detract from my enjoyment of the book in the slightest.

Not wanting to give anything away, I would also add that the ending caught me completely by surprise. It didn't feel like the end of the book. Pinborough has very deftly woven in elements of other fairy tales, so I can't help wondering if this is not the last we will see of Snow White.

It's a short novel (just over 40'000 words), and I whizzed through it in two readings. I was delighted to find beautiful little illustrations from the cover artist, Les Edwards, scattered between the chapters. Poison proves that fairy tales are no longer just for children. This is an intelligent, dark and enthralling read. I am absolutely left wanting more, so it is fortuitous that there are two further re-tellings due from Pinborough and Gollancz called Charm and Beauty.
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on 30 March 2015
Sarah Pinborough's Poison was a pleasant surprise for me, because it was a dark and excellent fairy tale for adults. This Titan Books edition made a huge impression on me, because it was my kind of a fairy tale (I've always loved dark retellings of classic fairy tales and this modernized fairy tale had all the elements needed to charm and impress me).

Sarah Pinborough gives a fantastic new twist and punch to the classic and beloved fairy tale of Snow White. This short novel is a beautifully dark, sexy and brutal adult version of Snow White that will charm and shock the readers in equal measure by its contents. It's fascinatingly different from the classic version due to its sexual and brutal contents.

This short novel is subtitled A Wicked Snow White Tale, which is quite accurate when considering its contents, because it's a delightfully wicked and macabre fairy tale. It's something different for readers who are intrigued by classic fairy tales and their modern interpretations. This version has much more in common with the original version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale than the well-known and sanitized Disney version, because it has plenty of sharpness and harshness.

I've noticed a notable increase in fairy tale retellings during the recent years. I think it's great that many authors have begun to write their own versions of classic fairy tales, because they've added something new to them. Sarah Pinborough's approach to classic fairy tales is wonderfully brutal and twisted. Her version of Snow White sparkles with fascinating roughness and sexuality - some of it quite raw and potent.

Here's information about the story:

The queen, Lilith, loathes her husband who is the king. She also doesn't like his daughter, Snow White, and her freedom. She thinks that Snow White is too careless and everything's too easy for her. Lilith often hides in her own private room and collects magical items. The magic mirror tells Lilith of Snow White's beauty and kindness and it fuels her hatred towards Snow White. She wants to get rid of Snow White. When the king goes to war and the queen is left alone with Snow White, things change a lot, because the queen begins to gain more control over many things. When Snow White manages to humiliate the Lilith, Lilith reaches the end of her patience...

This is the beginning of a masterfully told tale of jealousy and wickedness.

I was suprised by how well the author wrote about the main characters. The characterizaton was excellent and worked perfectly, because Lilith and Snow White were interesting characters.

Lilith, the evil queen, has quite a lot of depth to her. She hasn't had an easy life, because she has had to battle for her position and has learned to use power. She resents Snow White's freedom and the way she's been given everything too easily. She can't stand Snow White and her beauty. She wants to get rid of Snow White as soon as possible so that she can have all the power to herself.

Snow White has normally been depicted as a simple, innocent and kind princess, but now she's not as simple and innocent as one might expect, because Sarah Pinborough writes fluently how Snow White rebels againts the queen and her commands. Snow White ignores the queen's commands and does as she pleases.

I enjoyed reading about how Snow White wasn't as innocent as she was believed to be. There's a well written and surprising scene near the end of the story where the author breaks the illusion of Snow White being a decent and proper young woman. The author managed to surprise me with this brilliant scene, because I didn't expect anything like it to happen in the story.

By writing about what the queen and Snow White feel about each other and how the queen hates Snow White, the author brings plenty of depth and style to the story. The hatred and desperation of the queen is easy to notice when you read the story and find out how much she wants to control everything and will do almost anything to get rid of Snow White.

The scene in which Snow White humiliates Lilith reveals just how big the problems are between Lilith and Snow White. Lilith feels that Snow White is an ignorant child and hasn't grown up at all. This incident marks the beginning of Lilith's decline into a dangerous woman who is willing to do anything to get rid of those who threaten her.

All the elements from the original fairy tale can be found in this version. Sarah Pinborough uses them well and adds her own kind of magic to the story by twisting them into an adult format. She spices up these elements with brutality and sex.

Things related to sex and sexuality are handled in an excellent way in this short novel. The scenes involving sex bring a cool edge to the story. It's possible that certain readers may cringe at the idea of a fairy tale having sex in it, but I personally enjoy reading this kind of adult versions of classic fairy tales. I think it's great that there are authors who dare to break a few rules when they modernize fairy tales. Times have changed a lot since these old fairy tales were originally published, so it's good that authors add modern elements to them.

I liked the author's prose, because it had a fairy-tale-like quality to it. Although the author has written a modern version of an old fairy tale, she hadn't forgotten that the prose must be fluent. Her prose flows effortlessly from the first page to the last page.

I have to mention that the appearance of Aladdin was a nice surprise. I'm not going to reveal what kind of a person he is, but I can mention that he's not what you might expect him to be, because the author has her own unique and twisted vision of him.

One of the most interesting aspects of Poison is that Sarah Pinborough examines what happens when our image of another person is shattered by a surprising revelation. In my opinion she writes surprisingly well about the consequences of such a revelation, because the consequences are wonderfully disturbing. I won't reveal what happens in the story, but I'll mention that the happenings are truly memorable.

The ending of Poison is brilliantly disturbing. I'm sure that the ending will please many readers who have read dark fantasy and horror stories, but it will also please readers who want to read something out of the ordinary. If you enjoy reading dark fairy tales, you'll love the ending. In my opinion the ending is appropriately dark and twisted.

The cover artwork in this Titan Books edition looks gorgeous and will please readers who want the best from their novels. In my opinion this short novel can be called a work of art, because the cover of the hardcover edition is stunningly beautiful.

By the way, if you find yourself enjoying this short novel, please read the companion short novels: Charm and Beauty.

If you've ever read fairy tales and have found them fascinating, do yourself a big favour and read this retelling of Snow White. You won't regret reading it, because it's something different and beautifully dark for adult readers. It's one of the best and most fascinating retellings of Snow White available for readers.

Highly recommended!
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on 2 October 2014
Synopsis:

Pinborough’s book is a modern, grown up retelling of the story you already know. It features all the usual characters, the evil queen, the handsome prince and the seven dwarfs.

Review:

This version of the story is definitely not for kids, it features explicit scenes as well as some bad language, but the interesting thing is that it works incredibly well in the setting. When I started the book of I thought that perhaps it would be too jarring, the adult style in the fairy tale setting, but it blends really well and makes the characters more realistic, with more depth and motivations. I particularly enjoyed the retelling of the evil queen – or Queen Lilith as she’s known in the story. Pinborough invents a background for her, and it gives us an insight into her reasons for being so horrible. She is no longer that one-dimension character obsessed with her looks. She does not reveal all however, and these partial glimpses into the past of some of the character leave you wanting more and more. The same can be said about Snow White. Pinborough breathes new life into the well known character, making her more a woman of action, instead of the cuddly, animal loving figure we typically know her as.
The book is quite a short one, it’s just over 200 pages, and you can read it pretty quickly. One of the things I really enjoyed was that it could be read in near enough one sitting, it wasn’t overly complicated, just a really enjoyable story. There’s also a mention of Aladdin which I thought was incredibly clever – I won’t say too much about that because I don’t want to spoil the story for any potential readers!

The book cover is also beautiful, and the inside is graced by beautiful illustrations by Les Edwards on the chapter pages.I have also recently discovered that Sarah Pinborough has written more fairy tale retellings – known as “Tales from the Kingdom” the next two in the series featuring Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. I greatly look forward to reading these as Poison was a really enjoyable and fun read. The story has a very grim ending and it makes the story feel much darker than its Disney counterpart. It’s pegged as a ‘fun, sexy and dark’ retelling, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin. If you’re a fan of fairy tale retellings or the show Once Upon a Time, you’ll certainly love this one.
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on 4 January 2014
Disney's `Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs', is so entrenched in the memory that it's almost become the definitive version of this fairytale. Sarah Pinborough has stripped away the layered years of convention and built an adult story from the foundation of the Brothers Grimm tale(s).

There are no clichés here. The Queen's wickedness is fleshed out from a character so rich in depth as to feel sympathy on occasion. The dwarfs daily life and characteristics read like real working people in this fantasyland; altruistic in their relationship with Snow White.

Along came a handsome Prince: I've always found something creepy in the notion of pinning over an unknown, inanimate princess for her beauty alone. It's an idealised image of a woman in a glass case, re-animated into a person compliant and as pure as her skin. The twist near the end is disturbing as this situation unfolds.

Snow White herself is indeed beautiful, loyal and can drink and be merry with the best of them. This is a contemporary Snow White; fiercely independent and comfortable with her own sexuality. There's a very sensual scene in this book that not only feels naturalistic but also serves to further character behaviour and motive.

Wonderfully written and interwoven with recognisable characters, it's a fresh take on this fairytale with strong female characters battling against their environment. At 200 pages, no word has been wasted in this wickedly sinister tale.

I'd recommend the HB if possible as the publisher, Gollancz, have provided much care, with beautiful illustrations by Les Edwards, and a shimmering cover that an image cannot convey. Confidently written: Poison shows an author right at the top of their profession.
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VINE VOICEon 5 November 2013
Having read a couple of books which were based on the traditional fairytales I had a good idea that this would have a very tenuous link to the original story of Snow White but still be an enjoyable book. I was wrong. Pinborough has written a story in the style of the Brothers Grimm but for adults. Poison doesn't stray far from the tale of Snow White that we all heard as children but it is infinitely darker.

I'm a big fan of ABC's Once Upon a Time and I could see a definite similarity between how this book was written and that series.

The first few chapters focus on the relationship between Snow White and her step mother. I was instantly drawn in to the storyline and almost forgot that I was in the office and meant to be working! I loved the way the conflict felt by the Evil Queen was shown, there's a part of her that is jealous of Snow White and wants to get rid of her but there is also a part of her that wants to be loved in the same way as Snow White and her mother are.

For all that this is close enough to the original storyline that it's instantly recognisable - the evil queen, the poisoned apple, the 7 dwarves, the Huntsman, True Love's kiss. There is none of the living with the dwarves and being a friend to all the animals that was evident in Disney's Snow White. There is a lot that happens before Snow White is taken in by the dwarves and an equal amount after the waking of Snow White.

Throughout, I struggled with hearing Dwarves come out with expletives and with images of Snow White naked. I loved the occasional appearance of other fairytale characters - Aladdin, the witch from Hansel and Gretel.

Another thing that I need to mention is the music, at the change of chapter there are a few seconds of music, ordinarily this just washes over me and I don't pay much attention but the music on this audio book is so perfect, I loved it! It was like a mixture of fairytales and darkness and magic. It sort of reminded me of the Nutcracker.
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on 24 September 2013
I love fairytale retellings. When I saw this I knew straight away that I'd read it.
This is told mostly from Snow Whites stepmothers, the evil queen, POV. She is only a few years older than Snow White and was forced to marry the king. She is unhappy and extremely jealous of Snow.
Poison is dark, delicious and not something you would read to your kids ;) The author took a classic fairytale and made it her own. Lilith is everything an evil queen should be but you see how and why she is like she is. She is evil to the core but you still feel sorry for her. She longs for the freedom that Snow has.
What I Liked :
Sarah Pinborough threw in elements of different tales in Poison. There's a house made of sweets and a boy called Alladin. It added a different twist to the story.
The dwarves were awesome. Grumpy and Dreamy are featured the most. Snow White is friends with them and often visits them and I loved their friendship.
The story is definitely different to what we are used to. Snow White isn't exactly innocent and the twist at the end was devilish.
I loved the illustrations, they really made the book stand out.
What I Didn't Like :
There isn't much I didn't like in Poison. I think the only thing I didn't like was that we only get brief bits about the back story of some of the characters. It was frustrating because they were really only teasers and I'd of loved to have found out more.
Overall Poison was a retelling that I didnt expect. It was sexy, dark and the author has created an unforgettable world. I will definitely be reading more from her.
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on 9 August 2013
Poison is a deliciously wicked, magical, sexy and entirely believable take on the classic tale of Snow White. I honestly don't know where to start. Just wow!

It is essentially the tale of Snow White but not as you know it. Pinborough takes the well known story and whilst keeping it wonderfully simplistic, as all fairly tales should be, and adds the `real life' element it's always been missing.

Before we even get to Snow White eating the poisoned apple we have a whole lot of drama and quite a few scenes of sexual nature! And from there the story only grows. It would be impossible to give a synopsis outline without giving too much away. Only know that while the general premise is the same as the classic telling of Snow White, everything is not quite as it seems in this take and there's a whole lot more story to this tale.

Pinborough fleshes out the once make-believe fantasy characters making them relatable, notoriously human and as modern as a fairy tale character can be! Snow White herself is portrayed as a strong and independent woman, with wants and needs, who contrary to the damsel in distress in the fairy tale, can look after herself. The Queen, Lilith, also has a developed character. Her behaviour is suddenly explained with relatable issues and although her actions are a little extreme - it is still a fairy tale remember - we can start to understand the reasons behind them. And no version of Snow White would be complete without our dashingly heroic Prince who becomes besotted by the Princess Snow White, except he isn't. More like he falls in love with the image of her and the belief that she will be the stereotypical Princess he desires, which is then shattered by reality. I love this controversial changing of roles between the Prince and Princess. And is he really her true love? Once again, Pinborough's depiction of the relationships between the characters is so much more life-like and refreshing to read.

Not only are Pinborough's characters well thought out, so is her world. Pinborough has overlapped the fairy tales, linking them together in a fabulously clever way. Suddenly all these unrelated tales are connected and relate on a greater scale as part of a larger Kingdom. For example, Aladdin plays his part within this story adding a nifty little twist, the huntsman seems to have the glass slippers from Cinderella, whilst the Queen's Great-Grandmother, the crone who lives in the forest, remarkably seems to resemble the witch from Hansel and Gretel. For me, this made the book even better and leaves me wondering what will come next.

I'm not usually one for commenting on illustrations as for me it's all about the writing, and lets face it, adult books don't usually have `pictures' within. However, the art work, both on the cover and within the pages, is simply beautiful. The intricate patterns and depictions only add to the magic and enchantment.

Pinborough's writing is easy to follow without losing its magical and enchanting style. She'll draw you in right from the start making this fun, light-hearted and easy-to-read book tough to put down. She manages to weave humour and unpredictable little twists and turns within her writing which I'm sure we'll see feature within the sequels `Charm' and `Beauty'. I can't wait!

Disclaimer: This book is definitely aimed at an adult audience!
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on 14 June 2013
Drawing from the template of the traditional fairy-tale, Sarah Pinborough cuts a quirky and risqué take on Snow White, adding depth and scope to the original children's story to bring it to an adult readership. Nothing is quite what it seems in this version: the evil queen has a conscience and a past; Snow White isn't a sweet, hapless ingénue; and the prince, whilst charming indeed, has a most unpredictable part to play in the story. The only thing that is to be taken at face value is the cover and the page illustrations, which are a beautiful thing to behold. Whilst I am in a country that makes it more convenient for me to buy this via a Kindle, the book design is truly something quite special, and I would recommend anyone to buy it in hard-copy if they have the chance.

But just as the story goes, once you have delved beyond the glamour and perfection of the surface, all manners of grotesque and shocking things lurk beneath. S.P. takes quite a few risks here, eschewing a predictable retelling of the tale in a contemporary setting, and instead bravely taking us right back into the fairytale world, yet creating a very modern version within the walls of that castle and enchanted forest. She plays with the theme of female beauty and the prowess and privilege it bestows within the traditional tale, but tackles head-on the issues surrounding that theme, and the price that is paid for such a false value. The bitter is sweetened with humour and cleverness in her references to other fairy-tales that weave into the story effortlessly.

However, S.P.'s greatest triumph, as I see it, is how she has rescued the female characters from the realm of one-dimensional cut-outs and fleshed them into believable beings. Here we have women with a past and personalities and solid motivations - not to mention sexualities. Whilst I think the sex element isn't as prevalent a part of the story as many other reviewers seem to feel it is, the roles of the Queen and Snow White as "Vamp versus Virgin" are certainly challenged and changed here. With a nod to the folkloric origins of the story, S.P. cleverly uses elemental descriptions to portray the differences in how the two women relate to the world, and to their lovers. The queen's evil is no longer all rage and lust, any more than Snow's goodness is all sweetness and light. A more subtle and convincing story is told here, of one woman in touch with her heart and soul, and one who is not. The envy that binds this classic fairy-tale - as surely as the glamorous covers bind this brilliant version - stems from this difference, rather than the beauty both women equally possess.

A delicious poison, indeed. Take a bite.
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Originally published on Serendipity Reviews.
Over the years I've read a few retellings of fairy tales, but this one far outshines all of them. It's the best twisted retelling I've ever read. The author takes the traditional tale of Snow White and completely makes it her own.

You can't read this book without commenting on the cover. The picture above doesn't do it justice. It really is quite stunning in real life. The illustrations on the cover and inside on the place really add to the beauty of the book, making you want to keep it in your permanent collection.

Surprisingly, my favourite character within the book was Lilith, the wicked witch. Even though she was evil to everyone around her, her vulnerability and difficult childhood were easily glimpsed through her coldness. If her life had been different,she wouldn't have turned out the way she did. I felt that she had been brainwashed to a certain extent to become the person she is. If I'm honest, I liked her so much more than Snow White, who had that teenager angsty attitude about her. Don't expect to find a meek and mild Snow White, as you are more like to find her downing a pint with the dwarfs. She is much more of a feisty character in this version and a bit of a strumpet on the side; quite happy to lose her innocence as soon as she could. Less Snow White, more Grubby Knickers Grey!

I loved the inclusion of characters from other classic fairy tales. It was interesting to see how the witch from Hansel and Gretel as well as Aladdin were included in the story to give it a fresh appeal.

The writing really stands out as the sentences flow beautifully. Very poetic prose. The words almost sing to you and your easily lost in the story. I actually read the book in one sitting as I couldn't put it down.

If you are expecting the traditional ending to Snow White, you will be sorely disappointed, as the author has given it an unusual twist, creating a much more edgy, modern finale to the tale. I adored this book and can't wait to read more from this author.
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Poison is the first book I've read by Sarah Pinborough and it definitely won't be my last. It's a dark, contemporary retelling of the Snow White fairytale and is perfect for fans of Snow White and the Huntsman and Once Upon a Time. Fast-paced and completely addictive, Poison is a joy to read and I was hooked from chapter one. I love twisted fairytales, and this is just that!

Poison tells the story of Snow White, but not the usual version we all know. It's a lot darker, with many unexpected twists and turns. It's not as black and white as the original tale, and I like that about it. The ending certainly surprised me - I wasn't expecting the twist and I do hope a couple of loose ends might be tied up in a future novel. Even just a quick mention of Snow's future would suffice. Here's hoping.

Poison is illustrated by the very talented Les Edwards who has provided line drawings for the beginning and end of chapters. This adds even more to the fairytale element of the book and gives it a beautiful, memorable presentation. You'll see what I mean if you read it! Even though this is an adult novel, it definitely has crossover appeal and is a good read for the YA audience. There's a bit of sexually explicit content but probably nothing much worse than is found in some YA books these days.

Like Grimm's fairytales, Sarah Pinborough has tapped into the more evil side of Snow White and its cast of quirky characters, while still keeping in theme with the original tale. There's Snow White, a prince, a wicked with and seven dwarves with names like Grouchy, Dreamy and Stumpy. Pretty genius, I think. The story flows fast and there's never a dull moment, especially not when my favourite seven dwarves get page time. I would love to hear more about them and the wars of the past, and that leads me to my only quibble with this book - I wish it were longer!

There are at least two more books to come in this series: Charm, a retelling of Cinderella, and Beauty, which focuses on Sleeping Beauty. I'm going to pre-order both, and hope July and October come round quickly. What an exciting new series!

4.5/5
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