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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review: Toads and Diamonds

Title: Toads and Diamonds
Author: Heather Tomlinson
Page Count: 288 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: retold fairytale, YA
Copy for review obtained via my public library

Cover Summary:
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?

Back in April, I heard about this book from The Book Rat as a part of Fairy Tale Fortnight and immediately wanted to read it.  I have, and I was pleased!  I was vaguely familiar with this story before I started reading but I loved the way that the story (two sisters go out into the woods and meet a divine being who bestows each of them with a "gift") was expanded into a full-on legend all its own.  There's a lot to digest in this story, but it's still very easy to read and I was engrossed from beginning to end.

Contrary to most fairy tales, there are no evil stepsisters here, nor are there 100% good sisters.  There are just two girls, trying to figure out how to live in the best way possible and make the best of their situation.  Both meet the same goddess in the woods, and one speaks jewels and flowers while the other speaks toads and snakes- it would seem that one is blessed and one is cursed, but the story isn't so straightforward as that.

Diribani (flowers and jewels) and Tana (snakes and toads) both have to live with the gifts and the danger that comes with them, and both of them see their kingdom from an entirely new perspective.  Both of them realize that the "gifts" will only go away when the goddess decides that they don't need them anymore so they'd better figure out what the goddess wants them to learn.  The fact that neither of them figures it out right away adds depth to the story and allows for plenty of themes to be explored.  This is one of those books where you could take something different away from it each time you read it.

Many of the themes addressed by this book deal with issues that are quite complex, such as issues of social justice, how to best use public funds, and who should decide what benefits a community.  The presence (or absence) of the snakes in this story also add the element of needing to see past immediate consquences of a decision to more long term ones.

If you're a fan of retold fairytales or just like YA books that steer clear of the paranormal and venture into the territory of fantasy and magic from a different perspective, give this one a try.

Overall Rating:

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