Gollancz Geeks Friday Review: Poison

poison cover

It’s Friday, which means only one thing: Gollancz Geeks Friday Reads! Every Friday we’ll be sharing a Gollancz Geeks reviews with you. Today’s brilliant Poison review was written by Max Edwards. You can tweet Max @onechaptermoreleave a comment for him on our blog or visit his genre fiction blog, One Chapter More. Have you read Poison? Let us know in the comment or by tweeting us @Gollancz.

Check back next week for another Gollancz Geeks Friday Reads review! 

For fear of being cliche and/or stating the obvious, revitalised and rethought fairy-tales are having something of a revival at the moment, particularly on big- and small-screens. Series’ such as Grimm and Once Upon A Time are vying with Hollywood adaptations such as Jack the Giant Slayer and Snow White and the Huntsmen for viewers suddenly interested in how fairy tales can be adapted for a modern audience. Sarah Pinborough’s new novella, Poison, is steeped in this idea.

Quite why fairy tales are such a noveau vogue thing to do is questionable. In the latest edition of The Readers podcast, Gav Pugh argues that it is perhaps something to do with a generation of 30-40 y/os now at the helm of the creative arts responding to the Disney stories of their youth. Disney has come a long way from the one-dimensional tales of Aladdin or Sleeping Beauty, particularly with its acquisition of Pixar, and it is only right that the Fairy Tale story goes that way too.

Pinborough’s tale of Snow White, therefore, brilliantly subverts the classic fairy story, adding dimensions to characters at a rate of knots. The classic story is there for all to recognise: The wicked queen, the dwarves, the prince, snow white in the glass coffin, the apple. Even the plot is broadly similar to the one we all know. But it’s how we get from a to z that is different and refreshing.

The characters are subverted, taken out of their pastiche-filled lining and given motive and reason behind their actions. The queen slowly become bitter over the years due to Snow White’s freedom, her ability to effortlessly charm a populace while the queen must rely on terror and tyranny to achieve the same level of devotion. Snow White is a far cry from the whiter-than-white prissy girl of the Disney cartoon, a free and wilful girl, with a kind heart: she rides a horse like a man, wear breeches, and can outdrink and out dance most.

Pinborough also cleverly manipulates other famous Disney-fairy stories into the piece; both Aladdin and Hansel and Gretel are hinted at, while the trilogy of books (Charm and Beauty are out later this year, focussing on Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty respectively) is not so much linear than circular: When reading Poison, there are distinct references to an action that has occurred before, with regard both the characters of the Prince and the Huntsman.

Outside of the character-based subversion, the plot also makes the fairy tales more real in the action itself. Snow White takes the lead in the bedroom, a feminist icon in handy novella form as she does what she will with her life, and leaves no man to command what she should or shouldn’t do, much to the chagrin of the creepy Prince. There is sex, and it is quite sexy sex – there is no fade-to-black, but nor is the sex lingered on for pages and pages: the scenes are some of the best written out there for judgement of tone, and when its right to cut.

There is a twist, and it made me very angry: just as any good twist like that should. It’s a testament to how Pinborough builds her characters that we have such a depth of feeling for the character of Snow White by the end that we don’t thank god that her namby-pamby prattling is off our screen now, but instead pity her fate and another’s mind for what occurs.

Pinborough lines up her shotgun at the expectations of fairy-tale, and peppers it full of holes. She takes the mundane, and makes it modern, and this is a thoroughly modern take on the genre, even while using its tropes against it.

Huge thank you to Max Edwards for his review, which was originally posted on Max’s blog. Poison is out now where all good books are sold.