As soon as I finished Sarah Pinborough’s Poison, I knew I needed the next two books in the series in my life as soon as possible. I am a complete sucker for fairy tale retellings, and although the first book wasn’t amazing enough to blow my mind (I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads), it got me invested in this world enough I wanted more.
Charm is a retelling of Cinderella, and in it we find the usual trappings of the familiar tale; there’s Cinders nasty step-mother and her two ugly (though more plain here) stepsisters, a handsome prince, Buttons the servant, and a mouse. As with Poison though, the beauty lies in the finer details and how, exactly, Pinborough twists the tale.
In this, Cinderella isn’t just a sweet, downtrodden girl. Her father is alive, and her stepmother isn’t necessarily abusive towards Cinders, but more neglectful, focusing on her daughters and trying to enable them to have the sort of life she gave up. One of the sisters is already married by the time the story starts, to an Earl, and through them the stepmother and remaining sister get invitations to the balls held at the castle.
This book is a continuation of the first one, so spoilers following for Poison.
In the Snow White retelling, Snow married the prince, but between the wedding and their happily ever after, he used the piece of apple – ground up into her drink – to poison her again, and make her the beautiful, silent wife he had originally wished for.
Many of the elements laid out in Poison are returned to here. The mouse has a familiar-to-readers scar, which gives some very er, entertaining if creepy moments when Cinderella interacts with the mouse. We see the return of the queen, and discover Cinderella’s beloved prince is hiding a dark secret of some sort.
I really like the way Pinborough plays with the characters, how the women involved have more agency, and the focus really is more on them than the prince sweeping in to save the day. We see an actual relationship between Cinderella and her sister, we delve more into her stepmother’s past, and we get a more solid understanding behind the motivations of the characters.
‘Evil’ characters become more sympathetic, and ‘good’ characters are shown to have shades of grey, instead of existing purely as wonderful beacons of light. Cinderella herself is a selfish child, so desperate to leave her family she ignores what is right in front of her.
As with Poison, Pinborough presents the original fairy tale with intriguing twists and added elements, creating a whole new fantasy world with effective worldbuilding and morally grey characters, rather than the pure good vs evil we’re used to in these stories. It makes for an intriguing, entertaining read, and I can’t wait to get started on Beauty, the final book of the series.