Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Yay for YA: Toads and Diamonds

Sometimes a stroll down the aisles of the local library is all that's needed to find a treasure.  And treasure is certainly alluded to - and found - in Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson.

Checkouts: Not available
Typical reader: Fans of fairy tale retellings, perhaps
Source: The local library

Synopsis: This is a wonderfully embellished retelling of Charles Perrault's "The Fairies."  Two step-sisters in India encounter a goddess at a well and receive life-changing gifts/curses.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Isn't this a pretty cover?  I enjoy henna/mehndi art, and sari fabric is so pretty.  Also, I was not familiar with the original fairy tale, so I was greatly intrigued by the whole package.

This is quite a different take on fairy tales.  Right away, I was impressed by how the two step-sisters got along well with each other, as did the step-mother/step-daughter set.  The girls are even friends, admiring each other's talents and caring about one another's well-being.  Not something you see normally in this sort of story!  The characters are also far more well-rounded and realistic than in classic fairy tales.  Really, this novel is as character-driven as it is plot-driven; it is about the growth and maturation of two teen girls undergoing unique trials and tribulations.

The setting and catalyst are also refreshingly new.  Toads and Diamonds is set in India, or something like it, at a point similar to/inspired by the Mughal Empire.  (FYI, that's the Muslim empire in the Indian subcontinent that erected such wonders as the Taj Mahal.)  The cultures are based on the native Hindus and the ruling Muslim conquerors, though the author makes clear in her notes/acknowledgments that they are not actually those religions and cultures.  It comes across a little on the "cover your butt" side of things, as the inspirations are quite recognizable if you know much about them, but it's fairly understandable.  No use ruffling feathers.

Forget fairy godmothers and witches.  How about a goddess to get the story rolling?  Naghali-ji, a goddess in the indigenous pantheon, appears to Diribani when she goes to fetch water at the sacred well.  The interaction seems to go well, and Diribani is blessed with flowers and jewels falling from her mouth whenever she talks.  Her step-mother is amazed, and somewhat greedily sends her own daughter, Tana, to the well in hopes of a similar outcome.  Tana encounters a different visage of the goddess, and gets cursed with toads and snakes instead.  And the local governor - as well as others of the conquering people - fears and hates snakes.

And so begins an adventure that lightly follows the original French fairy tale, but diverges for a lot more depth and different results.  After I finished the book, I looked up the inspiration, and this is an improvement.  Even the moral is far more complex, since gems and flowers don't always bring good things, and snakes and toads can be useful.

This is quite an enjoyable retelling of a fairy tale, and worth reading.

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