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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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on 20 September 2014
Personally, I didn't enjoy the story, but a good little tale.
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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 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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 13 May 2013
Disney won't like it, but who cares about that?

Pinborough takes "Snow White" and applies a little twist... make that a few little twists. For one thing, nobody is quite what they seem. Even the Wicked Stepmother, while being VERY wicked and VERY stepmothery, gets some sympathetic backstory. She's portrayed as a real person, and with some sympathy - as is Snow White herself, not just a cut out Good Girl but more of a real, actual person with real desires and appetites.

So while this book has dwarves, castles, magic, princes and poisoned apples, it also has some acute dissection of the place of women in a kind of fairy-tale land (it's all joined up round the back: we learn the true nature of that unpleasant boy Aladdin, and a couple of rather PTSD characters turn up who have apparently wandered in out of other stories). And sex - which Pinborough is rather good at describing (no danger of this getting a Bad Sex award, I think).

It's quite a quick read, very enjoyable, actually quite thought provoking. Definitely recommended.
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on 19 April 2013
I purchased this at the hardback book launch last night and made the mistake of starting it on the way home. It hooked me so fast, I really had to carry on reading from 4am this morning.

It's a fairy tale, which takes the familiar and adds poisonous twists in the telling. These are the characters and stories which most of us will know, given a psychological depth and then woven together. And it is fun; in a darkly, sexy, way.

As a child, I distrusted illustrated books, as those pictures often gave the game away. Here, Les Edwards's illustrations illuminate the text without being spoilers.

In this instance, I think reading it in the beautiful hardback edition, really adds to the experience. At 200 pages, it's light and easy to carry, and the turning of the physical pages took me back to the experience of reading books as a child; when stories were set in far off kingdoms, with kings, queens, princes, princesses and delightfully malevolent witches--and there was magic in the dark forest.

This adult child wants the next two books in the trilogy. Now, please.
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on 8 October 2015
Firstly the cover is amazing in the hardcover, looks very good on the shelf. However when I was reading the story, while it is an interesting take on a classic story, I was hoping for something a little bit darker. It feels hard to connect with Snow and the prince, but the stepmother is more engaging, for the first time you actually get her side of the tale and her motives behind her actions. I will say that I didn't see the ending coming which is always a good thing. For a different take of Snow White I would recommend it but don't get your hopes up for a dark, twisted tale.
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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 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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on 6 June 2013
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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