Author: Heather Tomlinson
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: March 2010
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Book Summary (from Goodreads.com)
Diribani has come to the village well to get water for her family’s scant meal of curry and rice. She never expected to meet a goddess there. Yet she is granted a remarkable gift: Flowers and precious jewels drop from her lips whenever she speaks.
It seems only right to Tana that the goddess judged her kind, lovely stepsister worthy of such riches. And when she encounters the goddess, she is not surprised to find herself speaking snakes and toads as a reward.
Blessings and curses are never so clear as they might seem, however. Diribani’s newfound wealth brings her a prince—and an attempt on her life. Tana is chased out of the village because the province’s governor fears snakes, yet thousands are dying of a plague spread by rats. As the sisters’ fates hang in the balance, each struggles to understand her gift. Will it bring her wisdom, good fortune, love . . . or death?
This book I found really exciting. It was on sale, and it looked to be a fairy tale set in India. It looked exotic, and the possibilities for it to be retold were exciting. And, to be fair, it was a good book. But after reading the whole thing, with visions of India in my head, the authors acknowledgement page at the end really turned me off.
First, let’s talk about the book. It is a retelling of the fairytale (whose name escapes me) about the two sisters who live with their widowed mother. One is kind a good, the other is mean and cruel. The kind sister goes to the well to get water and meets an old woman who asks for a drink. When the girl gives it to her, she tells her she’s sweet and gets a reward – roses and jewels shall fall from her lips when she speaks. When she returns home, she tells her sister and mother, and the mean sister goes, expecting something equal. She is nasty to the old woman (who’s really a fairy) and instead is cursed to have snakes and toads fall from her mouth.
This book takes that tale and puts a different spin on it. I really liked that the girls, who aren’t sisters but might as well be, both suffer the same fate, but it isn’t because they’re bad or good. Now, the sister who receives the jewels and flowers is of course the sweet and beautiful one. But the one who receives the toads and snakes eventually learns that it isn’t as much of a curse as she thinks. She does, however, spend most of the book thinking its bad and she was cursed because she is a bad person. What she said at the well wasn’t the kindest, but it wasn’t nasty or particularly cruel.
The story is told in dueling narratives. Each chapter alternates between Diribani and Tana. This works fine, except that the chapters begin slowly, and by the time you’re really invested in what’s happening to that character again, the author switches chapters. This would be fine, but she doesn’t pick up exactly where she left off, so you’re left a little disappointed at times.
The romance woven through is also scant at best, but suddenly becomes the girls’ reward at the end. I wouldn’t have minded, except that their interaction with their “loves” is little to none throughout the book, especially for Tana.
Still, the author’s descriptions and her characters are well done, although I found her main characters sometimes less interesting than her secondary characters. They had a tendency to think over their problems constantly, and it got to be a case of “beating a dead horse.”
My biggest issue, and the one which turned me off completely after I finished, was the author’s note at the end. The book is set in a world that looks like India, smells like India, but the author says that it isn’t India. Instead, she claims it’s a fantasy world based on India. To me, it just seemed like she decided that it was too hard to make it fit into historical India and Hinduism/Islam and took the easy route. I was very, very disappointed.
That being said, if you enjoy fairy tale retellings and literature set in a more exotic place, this would be a good one.
Where to Find the Book
Book was purchased by reviewer.