Top critical review
Successful fairy tale retelling
25 February 2013
The Goddess's Choice is a retelling of the Norwegian fairy tale The Princess on the Glass Hill and while I hadn't heard of the story before, I do love fairy-tale retellings, so it was interesting to see how Jamie Marchant incorporated the fairy-tale elements in The Goddess's Choice. She succeeds quite well and apart from some problems with the writing and some quibbles with characterization, the book is a largely successful narrative, which managed to charm and entertain me for most of its pages.
For most of the book, this would have made a great YA read; it's only the last few chapters where there are some explicit sexual scenes that make it more suited for an (new) adult audience. I thought that was rather a shame as the story deals largely with themes that define YA: finding one's identity, fighting for your right to make your own decisions, that being Other doesn't equate being evil etc. experienced by protagonists that are teens themselves at age sixteen. While I personally wouldn't mind an older teen, i.e. 17+, reading it - they see far more smutty and less heart-felt things on TV these days - I realise many parents wouldn't approve of their child reading such scenes, so I hesitate to qualify it as a YA book.
There were several elements in the writing that bothered me throughout the book. To start with in at least the earliest chapters of the book there is a lot of repetition of the statement that Robbie is considered a demon due to his looks, he's Mediterranean-looking as opposed to the rest of the villagers' Scandinavian looks. It's made clear that not only do the villagers and his family think so, Robbie half believes it himself. Unfortunately, this is repeated so often in those early pages that I quickly tired of hearing about it and it lost its impact. Of course, the reasons why blond/blue-eyed people have to be the norm, and brunette/brown-eyed people different is a whole different discussion, but in the context of this being a retelling of a Norwegian tale, it might just be defaulting to Scandinavian characteristics. A different version of an annoying repetition was some people's speech patterns. For example, Samantha's secretary Blaine keeps appending 'so to speak' after his sentences which, while life-like as we all know people use filler words like that, becomes really annoying. And lastly, there were the naming conventions. While most of our characters have regular, if not all common, names - such as Samantha, Robbie, Blaine, Gildas, Leigh, and Fergal - the naming conventions for the foreigners encountered in the book are awful. They seem to utilise all the how-not-to-make-up-names-rules, except for using apostrophes. For example, we encounter a trader named Slthethkkne who has a sister named Sphrnztegviza. Both of them have shortened use names, Slathek and Sphry, which are a little better, but the first time I encountered these names my eyes almost popped out of my head trying to make sense of them.
Fortunately in comparison, our protagonists have rather mundane names: Robbie and Samantha. I found both of them likeable and well-developed; though in my opinion Samantha was the stronger of the two as Robbie had some leaps in his development which happened off-screen. This is inevitable, as Robbie has the longer journey to make, but at times the leaps he made didn't feel proportionate. Robbie goes from doubting himself and his nature to being confident and self-assured enough to win his princess. I did love his story arc and his romance with Samantha, which was suitably fairy-tale like. Samantha on the other hand starts off as a strong-willed girl, who knows what she wants; she just has to fight to be allowed to make her own choices. In addition, she has to find out her true nature and the consequences of her powers. They are aided by an interesting set of characters, the old herb woman Myst, the afore-mentioned secretary Blaine, the stable master Darhour, and Samantha's personal guards. With the exception of the guards, who while all distinct characters aren't developed in-depth, all these characters have a well-rounded backstory. We might not learn all of it, but they all feel well-rounded.
In addition to the humans, there are several other beings that aid Robbie in particular and which made my inner horse girl squee: talking horses. Other people might not be so enthused by the idea of talking horses, but for me they are still a weak spot and I loved their inclusion here. There are actually two kinds of magical horses in the story. There are the Horsetads, which are magical and wild cousins to our regular horses, rumoured to be descended from the Goddess's own horse and there are the three truly magic horses which show up in Robbie's father's fields. All of them can talk; though it's not quite clear whether they can actually communicate with all humans or whether they can only talk to Robbie due to his gift. In any case, I loved them and thought they were a great mix of the original fairy tale elements and that which were unique to Marchant's world.
Overall, I found The Goddess's Choice to be an interesting retelling of The Princess on The Glass Hill, which succeeded in Marchant's stated goal to give the princess some agency of her own and not just be a bargaining chip in a political game. Marchant weaves the elements into a more complex tale and one that is both exciting and enjoyable. While ostensibly only the first of several books set in Korthlundia, the book stands completely on its own as a finished tale. This is a story that will appeal both to fairy tale aficionados and people who enjoy retellings of older tales.
This book was provided for review by the author.