‘Poisoned’ is marketed as a dark, feminist retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The darker aspects are exceptional, creating a beautifully atmospheric story – but, to me, it doesn’t feel overtly feminist. This is definitely a clever and fun adaptation, but it doesn’t blow me away.
In ‘Poisoned’, the princess – Sophie – has an evil stepmother, the queen. The queen favours a reign of fear, believing that this is the only way she will retain control of her Queendom. Sophie is too kind-hearted to follow in her stepmother’s footsteps. When the queen’s magic mirror tells her that her stepdaughter will bring about her fall, the queen takes immediate action, sending a huntsman to steal her daughter’s heart. This follows the Grimm’s fairytale – but whilst in that version, the huntsman feels remorse and instead steals an animal’s heart, in this version the huntsman is too scared of the queen to defy her wishes. Sophie’s heart is stolen – but with the help of seven mysterious men (and their friendly spider chef), she survives, her heart replaced with a clockwork. Now all that remains is for Sophie to reclaim her title – assuming she can survive her stepmother’s increasingly desperate assassination attempts.
Sophie is an exceptionally naïve, sheltered character – accurate for her station but at times irritating to read about. In almost every situation she’s completely helpless, relying on others to rescue her or point out her terrible decision making. I’m unclear how old she’s meant to be, but her demeanour is exceptionally childlike. For a supposed feminist retelling, Sophie spends most of the book being rescued by others – and whilst I’m definitely in the ‘complicated female characters not strong female characters’ camp, it would be nice to see her make a single good decision. Based on this book, Sophie will make a lovely but terrible queen.
The queen is definitely the most interesting character. Aged twelve, she survived a horrible accident at the palace thanks to a magic mirror – and the mysterious man who spoke through it – and ever since she has relied on the mirror to rule. She’s a horrible person – to her daughter, her staff, her citizens – all because of fear. I’m unclear whether or not the reader is meant to be sympathetic to her, but she’s not a character that deserves it – yes, she went through some terrible things, and clearly had to fight much harder as a female ruler, but nothing excuses the sheer horror of her actions. The queen gets occasional scenes throughout the book, and I wish these were longer so her story could be more understood.
The – all male – supporting characters fit nicely into their allotted stereotypes (evil prince, loveable rogue, entirely unsuitable love interest), but play their roles well. The seven men of the Hollow are all absolute sweethearts and, like the queen, deserve more page time. I also love Weber, the spider chef – his presence is never explained but the mere idea is brilliant.
The setting is absolutely standard for a fairytale but very nicely depicted, with the menace of the Darkwood clear. I like that the basics of questing across a queendom – finding food, shelter, washing – aren’t glossed over, and Sophie’s struggles with all these things are highlighted. It’s nice to see a book acknowledge that these basics exist and are very difficult when trekking through a wood.
Overall, this is an enjoyable YA fairytale retelling, but not a standout edition to the genre.
Thanks to NetGalley and Hot Key Books YA for providing me with an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review
Published by Hot Key Books
Paperback: 20th October 2020